If you’re new to starting a website, you may not truly understand how categories work on your site and may be missing an opportunity to rank more pages on your site with category page SEO. There could be categories in your blog, in your e-commerce stores, or in your portfolio, among other things. On the most basic level, categories are just a way to organize your content by subject. For example, our web design portfolio is organized by industry, so if you are an attorney looking for a new law firm website design, you can narrow down all the portfolio items to just those that are relevant to you. Your blog is similar, it narrows down content by topic. For example, we have an extensive blog and if you really wanted to learn more about SEO, you could narrow down our blog posts to just those in the SEO category.
Not only are categories good for organization, but they are great for SEO too. There are some things you should know when it comes to optimizing your categories for SEO. First, creating lots of new categories for each post isn’t what category SEO is. I’ve logged into many of sites to see that people were using their website categories a lot like hashtags, thinking that by stuffing that post with categories that it would be found for every one.
Or, on the flip side, there are the websites that don’t add any categories, so everything falls into the default category of “uncategorized” which doesn’t help you with SEO at all.
Categories are not keywords. You can’t use them like keywords.
Adding 20 categories to a post won’t actually do anything for your SEO.
However, you can optimize your categories for SEO. It just may not work how you expect. First, understand that in WordPress, when you create a new category (for your blog, store, or custom post type), then that category will have an archive page. That archive page will list everything that’s in that category. All the posts or products in that category are related to that category.
That archive page is a landing page just like any other page on your site, and it can show up in the search engine results just like a regular page. Many people focus solely on optimizing their pages without realizing that category archive pages can rank as well with a little work. It’s worth it to take some time to learn about category page SEO.
A category page needs content too
Rarely will any kind of page on a website rank without content, and that goes for category pages too. If you’ve added a lot of posts or products to a category, there will be some default content that’s being pulled from the category’s posts. But that’s not the same as actual content. Take some time and figure out what your category is about and write up, at a minimum, about 300 words for that category. The content should describe what kind of content the user will find within the posts in that category, why it’s important and/or relevant for them, and include any kind of information about how to use the posts.
In your blog posts, each category has a “category description” area that you can add that content to. At a very minimum, you should have a category name and description for any category page you optimize for SEO.
Don’t forget to select a keyword
I said before that categories are not the same as keywords, but your category can have a keyword. And the category name can be the keyword. Using whatever keyword research tools you want, find an appropriate keyword for your category. See my previous post on how to find the best keywords for your business.
Category pages can be a great boon to your SEO
Because you can use those pages to display keyword rich content, pull in related content, link to posts about the same topic, not only is it a great place to optimize, but it creates a lot of new URLs that can be indexed and show up in the search results pages.
Checklist for category page SEO basics
If you are looking to optimize your category pages, I have a basic list of what you should do after you’ve selected your keyword.
- If appropriate, change your category name to your keyword. This isn’t always ideal. If your category is “sandwiches” but you decide the keyword you want to optimize for is “best sandwiches in Albany”, then obviously, that’s not what your category should be named. The category name should be broad. Sometimes it works as the keyword and sometimes it doesn’t. Use your best judgment.
- Write some content for your category. Don’t rely on the posts it’s pulling into the category page, write some content that uses your keyword and is useful for the person who lands there. Try to shoot for a minimum of 300 words. I know the standard for SEO is long-form content, but this is a category page so probably 1100-2000 words isn’t necessary. 🙂
- Write a custom meta title and meta description. These are what show up in the search engine results pages, and if you don’t designate it, they pull it off the page, which may or may not be ideal. It’s always better to designate what you want to show. This way you can be sure it’s enticing people to click and using your keyword. If you have a WordPress site, you can use many different SEO plugins to help optimize your category page. I use Yoast. Check out the Yoast post for writing great meta descriptions.
- Change your category permalink to your keyword, when appropriate. Like in #1, it isnt’ always appropriate to change your permalink to your keyword, but if it is, go ahead and do that.
- Add a featured image. By default, you don’t get featured images that go with your categories in a WordPress blog, but you do get featured images in product categories. Use them! Find an appropriate photo, rename it using your keyword, and upload it to your category. Give it alt text that both describes the photo while using the keyword.
- Link to your categories. If you are writing a blog post or adding a product, you have a great opportunity to create a link to your category page. Be sure that you use your keyword as the anchor text.
All these little things we do, like adding an image with alt text, changing the permalink, etc, are all small but helpful indicators to the search engines of what that category page is about. SEO isn’t just one thing that you do, it’s the culmination of many small things that make the difference.
And I would remiss if I didn’t include a few don’ts in my list
DON’T hide your categories on each post. Lots of people will, in their effort to have a minimalist single blog post, hide the categories that the blog post is found in. Don’t do that. I get wanting a minimalist blog post but having that category at the top or bottom of the post that links to your category page is a great use of internal links for SEO.
DON’T put all your posts into the same category. For example, I’ve seen blogs that created a category called “blog” and then put all their categories into that. That’s not useful for SEO and it’s not useful for user-experience.
DON’T create too many categories. Categories should be fairly broad and are NOT the same as hashtags. You don’t need 15 categories for each post and if you have more than 20 categories in your blog, then you are probably narrowing you category focus too much. (Use tags to narrow those categories further.)
If SEO is important to you, take some time to start optimizing your categories. As with anything SEO related, you don’t have to do it all in one day. Take your time, really think about the best user-experience for your readers, and optimize your categories to drive more traffic to your website.
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