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Last updated: May 19, 2020
Perhaps one of the most neglected parts of WordPress blogs is the good old category page. Whenever you navigate to a category page within a blog or website, chances are it’s not much more than a list of the latest blog posts within that category.
And worse, often the title of that category page is something along the lines of “Category Name Archives”.
And not just boring, it’s also a missed opportunity to get more traffic to your website.
Read on to learn how you can rank your WordPress categories higher in the SERPs and increase your website’s overall organic traffic, with little effort.
What Are WordPress Category Pages?
If you’re a WordPress blog owner, then no doubt you’ll be familiar with the concept of categories and tags.
Category and tag pages are taxonomies. They exist to help create logical groupings of content withing your WordPress website. Whenever you publish a blog post, you will need to assign it to a category. In addition, you can assign tags to that blog post.
Categories and tags are archive pages that list blog posts associated with them. Most bloggers will never do anything with them.
But when used properly, category and tag pages can actually have a positive impact on your website’s overall SEO strategy. Similarly, when NOT used properly, it can have a negative impact.
A category page is another web URL within your website. It’s a real web page, just like a blog post with 4,000 words is a real web page. As such, category pages deserve your attention, and they need to be looked after.
5 On-Page SEO Techniques to Optimize WordPress Categories
The interesting thing about categories is that you don’t need to do much to get a whole new web page up and running. All you have to do is assign a new blog post to a category and that category page will automatically appear as part of your website.
That’s awesome, right? Well, not really. Suppose you have one blog post within that category. The category would then typically have a title (such as “archives”), no introduction or a very short one, followed by an excerpt of that one blog post.
That’s a typical example of thin content. But don’t worry, you’re not going to get any thin content penalties. Search engines are smart enough to interpret category pages as exactly that: pages that list a bunch of related blog posts.
But that doesn’t mean you should just leave it that way. Here are a few simple on-page SEO tips to give your category pages a makeover, and potentially get more organic traffic to these pages. I am using Yoast SEO to implement these tips.
1. Optimize the Page Title and SEO Title
A category page deserves a good name. A name that reflects what a visitor can expect to find in that particular web page.
The category page title is the name that will appear on your blog. You can set it when you edit the category.
The category page SEO title is the name that you want the search engines to find. This should be the optimized name as you want it to appear in the SERPs.
For example, if your blog is about traveling, and one of your categories is named “Europe”, or “Europe Travel”, you could define the page SEO title as “Europe Travel Tips and Information”.
Make sure you append the name of your blog to that title, consistent with the rest of your blog. Something like this: “Europe Travel Tips and Information | Your Blog Name”.
You can set the SEO title in the Yoast SEO box within the category edit page.
2. Write a Proper Meta Description
You probably already know what a meta description is and why it’s so important for search engines. But just as you would be writing good meta descriptions for your posts and pages, you should also be doing this for categories.
Briefly describe what that category page is about and include one or more keywords that you would like the category to potentially rank for. This shouldn’t be difficult because the category name would typically be (similar to) the keyword.
You can set the meta description in the Yoast SEO box within the category edit page.
3. Add an Optimized Introduction Blurb
This is probably the most important step, and also the one that gets overlooked all too often.
My recommendation is to add 300-600 words of good quality content in this introduction. Whatever you write, avoid fluff content. It needs to be good content that makes sense and is useful to visitors. Also make sure you include (variations of) the keyword.
Make this introduction easy to read, and perhaps add some formatting such as bullet lists.
Add one or more images
It’s good practice to include at least one image that perfectly reflects the topic of the category. Make sure you include an alt tag with each image.
Also make sure you have one image configured as the featured image, so that social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter know which image to use when the category URL is being shared.
Use header tags
If your introduction ends up being quite long, make sure you use paragraphs with appropriate H2 or H3 headers.
Add links to blog posts within the category
Add a few links in the introduction, ideally to your top performing blog posts within that category. For example, in the example of Europe Travel, you could add a bullet list of top destinations in Europe and link to published articles that cover those destinations.
Don’t be afraid to throw in a suitable external link too. External links are an important on-page SEO factor.
Only do this though when the introduction blurb has a good amount of words.
4. Point Internal Links to the Category Page
If you want to tell Google that a certain category page plays an important role within your blog, make sure you add some internal links pointing to this category page.
You can do this from within blog posts in that category, but also from other pages such as the home page.
5. Optional: Remove the Word Category from the URL
This one is optional. The word category is by default included in URLs in WordPress. There has always been some debate in the community about whether or not to remove the word category from the URL structure.
Some say this permalink structure is a good thing, as it clearly indicates to the visitor that they’re on a category page, and not on a blog post or normal WordPress page.
Others say this word is redundant and doesn’t help your SEO efforts. It’s certainly true that, in general, URLs should ideally be short and to the point, but whether removing the word category from the URL makes any difference is doubtful. My personal preference however, is to remove it, simply because I prefer to have a short URL.
If you do wish to remove the word category, navigate to Yoast SEO, Search Appearance, Taxonomies, and select Remove at the Category URLs option.
WordPress Categories and the Silo Approach
There is another, very important reason to not neglect your WordPress category pages.
Let’s be honest here. While the above tips will definitely increase your chances of ranking in Google, it’s still very difficult to achieve. And if the main keyword you’re targeting in that category page is highly competitive, or has a huge monthly search volume, it’s going to take a very long time for that to rank.
Ranking category pages requires a lot of patience. It doesn’t happen overnight. Your blog will need to have a decent level of domain authority, otherwise it just won’t happen that easily.
So why bother giving your WordPress category pages so much attention?
The Silo Approach
Here’s why. Lots of bloggers and affiliate marketers fail to implement a proper site architecture. You may already be familiar with the term Silo in relation to website structuring. If not, you can read more about it here.
But in short, silo-ing means structuring your website in different topics, categories, sub-niches, or whatever you wish to call them.
This is useful for the reader, as they get a much better understanding of what your website is about and how to navigate through all your content. But more importantly, the search engines love it too. Google wants to know what your site is about and wants your content to be structured in a logical way so that it knows what to do with it.
Sadly though, WordPress natively doesn’t support a true silo approach. There are workarounds though and also plugins that can help you implement a silo structure.
However, organizing the content of your blog via well-defined and optimized category pages is a good way to create that much desired structure that resembles a silo setup.
Each category page can represent a silo, or a sub-niche. And each category will have several blog posts that support that sub-niche as a whole.
The more optimized articles within that category, the more important that category becomes, and the more authoritative your website will become in that particular sub-niche.
To further emphasize that logical structure of your blog, it’s good to include links to these categories in the main menu. In addition, the home page should ideally also reflect that structure and have internal links to these categories, or at least the most important ones.
It’s also useful to create internal links between blog posts within the the same category. It’s okay to link to posts in other categories but keep that to a minimum.
What About Keyword Cannibalization?
If you’ve never heard of the term keyword cannibalization before, it’s the concept where one URL is cannibalizing another URL within the same site because they are optimized for the same keyword or keywords.
As a result, only one URL will rank and the other URL cannot be found anywhere near page one of the Google search results. No matter how good the content is on that second URL, it just won’t rank.
In my findings, keyword cannibalization is one of the biggest issues bloggers are struggling with. And the worst part is that they are often not even aware of it. This happens mostly with bloggers who have a ton of content.
When optimizing categories (with the aim to rank them), you need to be very careful that you don’t fall into the keyword cannibalization trap.
Let me give you an example.
Let’s say you have a blog about Bali, and you’ve defined your topics/categories as follows:
Once you’ve got a good amount of content on your Bali blog, you can start optimizing these category pages.
For example, you’ve written a few articles about individual beaches on Bali. You can then turn your category page into a fully optimized landing page with a list of great beaches in Bali, with internal links to individual beaches you’ve already published under that category.
Depending on how authoritative your blog is, you could absolutely rank in Google with that category page for key phrases such as “best beaches in bali” and “bali beaches“.
Now, what happens if you were to publish a separate blog post with a list of the best beaches in Bali? This is where keyword cannibalization could happen. No matter how awesome that blog post is going to be, most likely that blog post will never rank.
Long story short, when you plan your content architecture, you need to be aware of the risk of keyword cannibalization issues, and avoid publishing content that competes with other content on your site.
If you’re keen to learn more about how to implement a true silo structure in your WordPress blog, this article on BloggingX is a good read.
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Hopefully the above tips will inspire you to start giving your WordPress category pages the attention and love they deserve. Categories create structure that both the readers and the search engines will appreciate.
So, while you may never be able to rank your category pages (or at least not in the short-term), by properly optimizing them you are still adding value to your website as a whole.
Let me finish by saying that you should never optimize category pages just to please the search engines. You should always keep the reader in mind as your most important customer.
A category page should be easy to navigate and it should be immediately clear to the visitor what that category is about. Don’t just add fluff content for the sake of adding content. Keep it simple and don’t overdo it.
If your visitors are happy, most likely Google will be happy too.