How To Optimize WordPress Category Pages For SEO

A lot of SEO companies are misguided when telling their customers to disable or noindex their category pages. Before we can figure out how to improve ranking, we need to answer the following questions:

  • What is a category page?
  • What is a category page used for?

Category Pages Are More Valuable Than Individual Posts If Done Correctly

Category pages are essentially a landing page. These are pages that you want to rank highly in Google because like your homepage, they are a gateway to your content. These pages should be optimized just as much, if not more so, than your homepage and you shouldn’t simply ignore them.

Category pages are great because, like your homepage, they outlive the content that they share. Meaning you will want to make sure to put extra focus on optimizing your category pages.

Category Pages Allow You To Rank For Broader Keywords

Say you own a candle store and you have an online shop listing your various candles. Instead of trying to optimize each product page for the term “Wax Candle,” make your product pages more niche. For example describe them down to the brand or scent of the candle, but then label them in the “Wax Candle” product category. Also include this in your breadcrumb trail.

You can also link to these categories from your own post content to improve your internal link structure. This can lead new customers to other interesting content (AND it reduces your bounce rate)!

Get Some Breadcrumbs

People often forget about breadcrumbs. Apart from getting a nicer appearance in Google, breadcrumbs are an awesome way to improve your website’s link structure and navigation. A common breadcrumb trail for a blog post would look like the following:

Home >> (Post_Category) >> (Post Title)

Users are then able to click the home link as a way to get back to the homepage and the category pages. The category pages act as a landing page for the term you would like to rank for.

Side Note: Breadcrumbs also make changes to the appearance of your website in Google, which is more nifty than useful.

Don’t Duplicate Taxonomy Or Structure

If for some reason, you’re using pages to act as archive pages, or you have duplicate tags, then you have your work cut out for you. If I was a Google Bot and your posts have “Android Phone” as the category and tag, then how am I going to determine which one is more important? In this scenario, you have duplicated your website’s structure and have duplicate pages.

If you are writing a blog post for your website and add it to the category “SEO’ or “Content SEO,” don’t. In this case, it is better to not have any duplicate tags or categories. If you have a category for SEO, then do not create a tag for the same phrase.

For example, if you have duplicate content and can’t get rid of it, then I recommend “noindexing” the tag. If you do not, you aren’t likely to face any duplicate content penalties though.

Additionally, you need to decide if you are going to have capital letters in your tags or if they are going to be singular or plural. For example, don’t have one category that is SEO and another that’s seo. The same goes with WordPress Plugin and WordPress Plugins. Keep it consistent to avoid duplicating categories or tags on accident.

Optimizing Your Category & Tag Pages

Depending on your theme, try visiting one of your archive pages to check for the following:

  • Is your archive page easy to navigate?
  • Does it look terrible?

If you find that your archive pages suck or that they do not fit your site’s overall style, then start with fixing that first. Ask yourself this, why would you want to promote a page that looks terrible? Also, for the websites that have 50 widgets in your posts sidebar, consider setting a unique sidebar for archive pages. Or try using a plugin such as Widget Visibility. If you have JetPack installed, this is one of the modules you can activate to hide widgets on certain pages.

Now that you have spruced up your pages, let’s do the following:

  • Make sure breadcrumbs are active on archive pages. They will only link back to the homepage, but it makes the site feel consistent; with design and navigational structure.
  • Install an SEO plugin, if you do not already have one. I recommend Yoast SEO.

Now go to: category section >> posts >> then categories. We are going to go through the process of actually optimizing these categories; from their title to meta description.

Optimizing Your Category Description (When Applicable)

*If you site does not have a category description option, skip to the next step.*

Some design do not use category descriptions and this is for good reason. It can be a bit odd to have a paragraph of tests below the page title if the user is not expecting it. This is similar for tags too.

If your design does incorporate it and it doesn’t look hideous, then keep reading.

Write a neat little paragraph that makes use of the keyword and describes what your page is showing and/or offering. (Not 300 words. Sorry Yoast!) Keep it brief and concise. A paragraph is enough, but do not stuff it full of keywords where it sounds unnatural and fake.

For example, I have a category for my WordPress “Tutorials” where I write about WordPress. Therefore, I can write a short and sweet blurb like the following:

SERT Media is dedicated to bringing you the highest quality of WordPress Tutorials in an easy to read and digestible format for users of all skill sets. 

The blurb is short, sweet, and to the point. Note that this is not your meta description but you can incorporate your blurb into your meta description. Some categories incorporate images as well and if it does then include the appropriate alt text and title text. This is not a default function in WordPress, so make sure it looks nice before adding it.

Optimize Category Meta Descriptions

Meta descriptions still make up an important part of how well your website ranks in Google. Unlike, posts or pages, Yoast SEO is not very well equipped to auto-generate meta descriptions for them. Furthermore, the descriptions Yoast does make are often not pretty. You can fiddle with the variables and templates, but you really want to hit this area home.

You will want to maximize your meta description as much as you can. Therefore,  I am going to write an example like I did for the blurb above.

SERT Media is dedicated to bringing you the highest quality of WordPress Tutorials in an easy to read and digestible format. Our WordPress Tutorials are written for users of all skill levels.

This example could be optimized further and I could expand on it more, but this is purely an example. Your SEO plugin will guide you on the recommended number of characters. The important part is that I incorporated the focus keyword WordPress Tutorials into the text itself.

Additionally, the sentence still makes sense and doesn’t feel unnatural to read which is what you want to aim for.

Remember, write something that makes use of your keyword, but still feels natural to read. (In Yoast SEO, the keyword is called the focus keyword.)

Optimizing Category Titles

While our meta descriptions were completely unique, the page titles not so much. We are going to need to make use of Yoast’s variables to handle the pagination.

As early as a year ago, the Yoast SEO plugin recommended that website owners noindex sub-archive pages. This means for our “WordPress Tutorial” category, only the first page would be indexed while the subpages wouldn’t. The is because the primary page would be sufficient and the subpages would essentially be duplicates; only listing different posts. However, in recent years Google Bot has become much more intelligent and knows how to handle paginated content without treating it as “duplicate content”.

If you want these subpages to be indexed you want to be more intelligent in the way you label these pages or else your subpages are going to end up with the same title tags for every one, which is confusing. At the same time, we don’t want to hurt the way our primary category page is labeled by adding a “page number” to it.

So you will want a mix of a unique title template and add the variable so for my example of WordPress Tutorial I am going to show you what I came up with below.

%%term_title%% %%sep%% Unique & Handcrafted WordPress Tutorials %%sep%% %%page%% %%sep%% %%sitename%%

The reason that I relied on variables is that in the event of me changing something, like the separator, which can happen at any time, it keeps the brand consistent.

I also wanted to use the term title variable because you should be naming your categories for what you’re trying to rank for. In the event that it’s not that way, simply remove the variable and then write out the initiator for you title. This can be with whatever your category is to be named.

Now That Your Category Is Optimized, Link To It!

I think that most webmasters are guilty of this, even the best of them. Webmasters put all this work into their site and forget to link to other parts of it. The category pages were optimized in the sense that they got their titles, meta descriptions, and a fancy new Pexels image, but you want to incorporate these pages when writing content on other pages.

If you are writing a post, you could add something like “Check out more of our WordPress Tutorials if you found this one useful!” Link the anchor text of WordPress Tutorials to your category archive like I did above.

If you have a broad category such as SEO, do not link every iteration of that word on your post to the category page. This is unnatural and seems spammy. Only add the links, if they are useful to the users.

Also, avoid using plugins such as “SEO Smart Links.” They are not smart and can get you penalized, especially if every time you see SEO its linked to your SEO category page five times per article.

Closing Thoughts

You need to optimize category pages like they were any other landing pages don’t make duplicates of them through tags, make unique titles and meta descriptions and make them feel like an integral part of your website. If you find it difficult you might want to weigh the benefits of having that category. Then make a decision if its needed or needs to be changed or removed altogether.

Additionally your categories are a great source to link to as they can lead users to other sources of information. Don’t just stick them in your main navigation and expect users to go to them. Make them relevant by linking to them within your articles,  so both the users and Google Bot understand how your content is related and what they can gain from visiting other pages on your website.

I recommend that you take a hard look at your website’s current taxonomy structure and stop noindexing them. If your solution to poor site structure is to noindex everything then that isn’t right. You aren’t really solving the problem.

scott hartley

About the author

Scott is a web performance geek, lover of all things coffee, and avid video game player. His WordPress work delves into web performance, web security, and SEO.

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