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I am in the process of putting together a Personal Blog, powered by WordPress, where I am trying to plan out how I will be looking to integrate the Category and Tag Taxonomies.

Although I have been running many WordPress websites for quite some time now, I have never really given Tags much attention. Instead, I have organised all content solely into Categories. In short, I simply do not see how Tags provide any substantial value that Categories do not already offer (and more). Not without losing greater value, elsewhere, anyway.

Furthermore, I have yet to come across any credible evidence that supports any of the endless praises often attributed to Tags. I am just wondering if I am seriously overlooking something here or whether Tags are simply gimmicky, where many people have just gone along with it, for fear of looking silly if they go against the popular belief.

Categories v Tags: The Technical Differences

There is much debate over how Categories and Tags differ, especially when SERPs are involved. Given the often lack of credible evidence, I feel such debates are usually opinion driven. I would go as far to say that much of what I read online, is recycled material littered with the same cliches.

What cannot be argued with, are the following technical differences:

  • Categories are Hierarchical while Tags are not.
  • Categories and Tags have their own Archive Template Files.
  • Default Category Permalink: www.example.com/category/category-name/.
  • Default Tag Permalink: www.example.com/tag/tag-name/.
  • Unlike Categories, Tags can be presented as a 'Tag Cloud'.

Of course, there are many more technical differences but the above does cover the basics. I feel it is important to highlight my awareness of the technical differences between Categories and Tags, since it is the technical differences that are often referred to rather than providing any insights into any substantial SEO beneficiary differences.

General Viewpoints

When discussing Categories and Tags, the advice is typically as follows:

  • Categories: Consider these as the Table of Contents, in a Book. They should cover broad Topics and should rank in Search Results.
  • Tags: Consider these as the Index, at the back of the Book. They should cover niche terms, which are explored on the page, and should be rel=noindex as to prevent duplicate content issues caused by the Tag Archive pages.

I have no problems in understanding the Table of Contents and Index analogy. On the surface, that makes sense. With that being said, I do have the following queries:

  • Overkill: Unlike Tags, Categories are a necessity. Let's say we have a Category entitled 'Movies', why would I then have a Tag for each Cast Member? Why not simply assign the Cast Member its own Category?
  • Duplicate Content: I understand that a Tag Archive Page will simply pull a mixture of content that already appears in a variety of Categories but why is it generally accepted to rel=noindex a Tag Archive page, so that it does not appear in search results? Firstly, if it is considered duplicate content, then why have the Tag Archive at all? Secondly, when did Tag Archives become duplicate content anyway? Again, lets assume we have a Tag Archive for a Cast Member. What other Category Page will this Tag Archive be a duplicate of? Sure, the Tag Archive Page will pull a handful of content that already exists elsewhere but the Tag Archive will be unique in that the content will be specific to the Cast Member. We can further reduce its similarities by entering a unique introduction in the template as well as various other unique 'signals'. Either way, what is the Tag offering here that a Category page does not already offer?
  • Co-Citation and Co-Occurrence: Many resources have suggested that Tags help to provide context for a page. Just like Back links. Whilst I agree on this matter, the reality is that this is something that Categories can do anyway. Thus raising the same question on what do Tags offer that is not already being offered by Categories?
  • Bounce Rate: I have come across many articles that state that Tags help to prevent Bounce Rates. It is achieved by giving visitors a link to something that they may find of interest. Again, I can see how that may work but I would ask ... If such a Tag page would be of potential interest to a visitor, why is the general consensus to rel=noindex the Tag Archive page? Surely such a page of interest would be worthy of being ranked?

Conclusion

Personally, I do not see any real value in Tags. Especially, any value that cannot be already achieved via Categories. I just feel they are a little gimmicky and are being used for the sake of it. Of course, that is not to say Tags do not provide any value. I could be over looking something here.

As such, I would welcome any responses that explains the true SEO value that Tags offer. By true SEO value, I mean insights that go beyond the observational technical comparisons. So if Tags allow you to Micro Niche content, how does this help with SEO in a way that a Micro Niche Category page would not? If 'Micro Niching' provides SEO benefits, then why rel=noindex such a Tag Archive Page?

Any directions to credible evidence, that supports the various praises placed upon Tags, would also be grateful.

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Categories and tags are tools that WP offers you to organize your site better and interlink your content. Google values a logically organized site since it lets their search crawlers understand your site a bit better and it helps it pick up SERP features like sitelinks to include with your website's search results (potentially giving you more SERP real estate and a boost in CTR).

So let's say that in your "Overkill" example you have an entertainment site that reviews things like Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, Youtube channels, etc. Logically you would organize your content under those "Categories" of entertainment and your URL links would likely represent that like so:

  • example.com/movies/matrix-review
  • example.com/tv-shows/got-review
  • example.com/podcasts/radiolab-review

This structure is easily understandable to both users and crawlers which enhances your user experience and defines a content hierarchy. So let's say that you started mixing in additional categories to organize this content like the cast members example you provided. How would you logically do that in this case? If you included all of the cast members from GOT you would end up with 1000s of categories and your site's structure would be a mess. But if you used tags to achieve this you wouldn't have to worry about this, especially if you no-indexed the taxonomy pages. You could even create valuable pages that have the potential to rank like so and you wouldn't need to worry about duplicate content issues as long as you ket your article previews to a short excerpt:

  • example.com/emilia-clarke-reviews
  • example.com/kit-harington-reviews

These two tag pages would have a link to example.com/tv-shows/got-review and any other content that the cast members are tagged on. Providing both Google and site users an easier way to navigate the contents of your site.

Obviously this all depends on what type of site you are running with WP and the type of content you are managing with it. For many WP users, using both categories and tags doesn't offer them much SEO value because their content isn't as interlinkable as the example I provided.

| improve this answer | |
  • How would having 1000s of Categories result in the Site Structure being a mess, providing they were all well organised? For example, what would be wrong with the URL example.com/movies/got/cast-members/cast-member-name? If I used the Tag approach, then the Cast Member's archived content would not rank, despite it being potentially of interest? I am a little confused where you discuss no-indexing the taxonomy pages and then continuing with You could even create valuable pages that have the potential to rank. Why bother with Tags if you are going to create other supporting Pages? – Craig May 20 at 1:42
  • Another point to consider is where you say that 1000s of Categories would make the site structure a mess. Assuming this would be the case, what would be the difference between having 1000s of Cast Member Review Tag Pages to having 1000s of Cast Member Review Category Pages? – Craig May 23 at 23:34

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