While setting up, customizing and troubleshooting templates and theme, I see a lot of blogs. I mean, a lot. And on many of these blogs I see one thing over and over again: the overuse of labels and categories.
I did a template installation on a blog that had 595 labels. (UPDATE: new record is 729!) The blogger had been blogging for several years and posted a fair number of posts. But this seems like an incredible number of different labels to use to categorize posts.
Labels and categories are an incredibly useful tool for bloggers. So, let’s look at the best way you can utilize them on your blog.
What are Blog Categories and Labels?
For a bit of clarity, when I use the term Category, I am specifically referring to the post organization system used by WordPress. Categories are keywords you can use to organize your posts on WordPress.
WordPress Categories are hierarchical. This means there are “levels” of organization within categories with Parent Categories and Child Categories or Subcategories. Subcategories are an awesome tool that allows you to break your larger categories down into sections.
For example, if you’re a food blogger, you may have a Parent Category called Recipes. Great Subcategories might include Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks, Dinner. Or you might subcategories by type of cuisine like Italian, Mexican, German, Indian, etc.
Labels, on the other hand, when I use the term, specifically refers to the post categorization system used on Blogger/Blogspot sites. Blogger Labels are non-hierarchical without Parent or Child labels.
Using Categories and Labels in your Blog Layout
Blogger and WordPress allow you to integrate labels and categories into your blog layout in various ways.
Adding your Categories or Labels in your single posts is a great way to encourage readers to stick around by exploring other posts related to the one they’ve just read.
For example, a reader found your recipe for Green Chile Tamales (and also your blog) via Google search. You’ve categorized your recipe under Mexican recipes. Your new reader loves your Green Chile Tamale recipe and wants more so they click on the Mexican Recipes category link displayed in the post header.
Blogger and WordPress also have widgets/gadgets that help display your Labels or Categories in your sidebar so that your readers can easily navigate your site. Or category links can be used as menu links.
Using your Categories and Labels links throughout your blog can help increase page views and also create loyal readers.
A Common Misconception
Now that we’ve established what Categories and Labels are, I want to clear up one really common misconception about them:
Adding tons of Categories and Labels to your posts improves SEO.
No. Let me repeat that. No, no, no.
Using a few carefully chosen Categories or Labels to organize your posts can help (a little) with SEO as it provides “context” for search bots.
However, adding too many Labels or Categories to each post is like “keyword stuffing” which is a Black Hat SEO tactic that can actually harm your SEO reating.
Categories and Labels are NOT huge SEO elements.
Important SEO elements
So, if Categories and Labels don’t really help your SEO, what does?
Not getting into to much depth about SEO, the major contributors to your blog SEO are:
- Your meta description for your post
- Your post titles
- The main subtitles and headlines on your blog
- Your image alt tags
- Your actual post content
So why use Categories and Labels?
The main purpose of using Categories and Labels to organize your blog is for your readers. They’re the reason you’re there right? You want them to be able to navigate your blog easily, to find more interesting posts to read so they stick around a while.
Like the popular Related Posts section below each post on many themes and templates, Categories and Labels are a great tool to help your readers find what they’re looking for. And they do not want to scroll through a list of 595 Labels to find what they’re looking for. Or even a list of 20 on a single post, wondering which Category will lead them to what they’re looking for.
Your readers are why it’s so important to use your Categories and Labels properly.
Best Practice for Organizing your Blog Labels and Categories
Before I wrote this post, I did A LOT of research concerning best practice for organizing your blog’s Labels and Categories. And all the articles I read had the exact same recommendations.
Here are the top recommendations from blog experts for your Categories:
- No more than 20 TOTAL Categories or Labels per blog (this includes subcategories!)
- No more than 3 Categories or Labels per post
- Do no use more than three words per Category or Label
- Never have a Category or Label with no posts related to it
OK, take a minute to absorb those rules and then we’ll discuss.
Right now, I know a few of you are probably in shock.
The idea of going back and weeding through all the Labels or Categories you’ve added through the years and narrowing them down and re-categorizing each of your post is daunting. You may even consider the idea of getting rid of Categories or Labels since they don’t help SEO.
DON’T. They are a great tool to help your readers explore your content. So, hang in there with me.
Now, let’s discuss the rules above so we can see why they make so much sense.
20 Categories or Labels total
Again, this is total for your entire blog… That’s it.
This includes all parent and sub-categories total.
This means your Categories or Labels may need to be pretty broad. This really depends on your blog topic. But again, how many readers are going to wade through a list of 595 Categories or Labels trying to find the topic they want? They’re going to get frustrated and move on to a blog that’s better organized.
If your Categories and Labels have become an unruly mass of gargantuan proportions, it might be easier to start fresh. Start with your blog topic. Make a list of the main sub-topics you tackle in your posts.
If you’re a Lifestyle blogger that covers a lot of topics, your Categories or Labels my indeed be pretty broad, like: Recipes, Meal Planning, Beauty Tips, Hair Care, Motherhood, Career, etc. If you’re a food blogger, your Categories or Labels may be more narrow.
If you find Categories or Labels in your list that are closely related, definitely consider consolidating them into a single Category.
No more than 3 Categories or Labels per post
I get a lot of requests for help with hiding the Categories and Labels in our themes and templates because the blogger has attached so many to each post that the display is unsightly. This is not the best approach to fix the situation.
Having Categories or Labels on each post is so helpful to your readers. Only attach at most 3 to each post. Your readers won’t be left wondering which Category or Labels they should be checking out for related stories. They’ll be more likely to click one of those 3 Category links and read more posts.
Short and sweet
Since you’re limiting the number of overall Categories and Labels on your blog and keeping them more general, shorter will suit this purpose better.
Rather than a Label for your recent works called “Art I Made Last Week”, “Recent Artwork” is a much better option.
You don’t want your readers clicking on a link to take them to an empty page. That just looks sloppy.
The Next Step
There you have it, actionable tips to help you tame your blog Categories, Tags and Labels. And we’re taking it a step further. Sign up for our newsletter below and download our Category Taming Worksheet!