My Take on Tags, Categories and Meta Keywords

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It seems that every day I’m helping some blogger friends with questions related to blogging, SEO, marketing, monetization, etc. As much as I like to help people, I only have so much time. So a lot of times I’ll base my weekly blogging tips post on a specific question that someone asks me about via e-mail.

This week’s question was from a blogger friend of mine who runs The Passive Income Earner. He was curious as to my opinion of how to properly use tags, categories and meta keywords. While I already answered his question via e-mail, I figure I should share my opinion with all of you in case you weren’t sure about this either.

If you’re new to this series, check out some of the previous blogging tips posts:

Now before I get started talking about this topic, you should know that I have only been seriously blogging for about 15 months now. So a more seasonable blogger may have differing opinions, but I think I have a pretty good idea of how search engines would view such elements.

What’s the Deal on Tags, Categories and Meta Keywords?

Ok actually I have one more warning first. While I have feelings about a good approach with these elements, I haven’t been using these as well as I could be. So until I get a chance to go back and optimize everything, do as I say, not as I do 🙂

Categories

I admit this is an area that I have personally done a lousy job on my blog to this point. My posts could definitely be better grouped into more relevant categories. I smell a future project for my assistant.

Depending on your blog’s navigation setup, your category setup may be the most important type of post classification. Many blogs have links to each of their categories in their sidebar or have a drop down menu to jump to specific categories. So if you want to help your readers find content that interests them, you really should have a well thought out category organization.

If your category list is linked in your sidebar, I would advise against getting carried away with too many categories. Giving too many options just creates an overwhelming list that is tough to go through. Not only is that not user friendly, but it also might not be SEO friendly. If you have too many links on each of your pages, search engines might not follow all of those links creating internal PR distribution issues. It’s a good idea to keep each page to under 50 links total. Some people recommend under 100 but I feel that is spreading yourself too thin and would likely be cluttered.

So how you approach categories really depends on how your blog’s navigation is setup. If you use a drop down menu for category navigation, you can probably get away with using more categories. Also consider how many posts would fit into each category to determine if some categories may not be necessary. This does create challenges when setting up categories while your blog is relatively new. That’s my excuse anyway.

Post Tags

This is probably the classification element that a lot of bloggers aren’t quite sure how to use effectively. Essentially they are more specific categories, but you can get away with using a ton of different tags. They are also useful for blog navigation as a reader might be interested in more posts related to that specific topic. Because of this, you should be careful about creating too many tags that only apply to a single post. That would create less than ideal navigation.

The big benefit of both categories and tags is the potential to create internal links from very relevant pages. Search engines give more weight to links when the pages have your keywords in places such as the url, title and headings. Since they also give more weight to links from pages that have more links pointing to them, you should again try to avoid tags that won’t be used again.

You should be careful with tags since they have the potential to get rather spammy. Think of how it would look if you entered a large number of tags that are fairly similar. Search engines are going to see a lot of tag pages that have nearly identical content other than the keyword it is optimized for. This used to be a fairly popular black hat SEO strategy, but search engines have since developed ways to combat it. Top search engines can even detect synonyms to get a better idea of when this tactic is used.

Some bloggers choose to block search engines from indexing tag pages and/or categories, which might be a good idea if you are unsure of how to use them safely. Personally I let them index all those pages with the assumption that it is not in their best interests to penalize all blogs that make use of those features. I don’t want to lose the benefits out of paranoia.

The other thing to keep in mind is that you should avoid using your category names as tags. This would create pages that are extremely similar, much more so than using many synonyms within tags. For my blog I will need to deal with this when I setup a better category system.

Meta Keywords

These days I’m not too concerned about this html element. In the early days of SEO it was extremely important as search engines were a little too trusting in letting website owners tell them what page should be relevant for. After years of spam, meta keywords became almost obsolete. Some lower end search engines may still use them as a minor factor for rankings though. So if you really want to cover all your bases, you might as well use this html tag.

Since the meta keywords are not visible on your page, this is where you can use synonyms and phrase variations. Beware that using any words excessively might still hurt you SEO-wise. If you do use this tag, I suggest you stick with your most important keywords only, particularly ones that you want to rank well for. Anything too broad might be better as a tag instead.

For my own blog I have it setup to default to using the tags as my post meta keywords. If it is a particular important page I do put a bit more effort there. I wouldn’t waste time worry about it though. Just set and forget.

Summary

Really these ways of classifying your posts isn’t anything complicated, but there are some things to be careful with. Remember that if you aren’t satisfied with your current setup, you can always go back through old posts and refine classifications to keep search engines and readers happy. With that approach the only thing to worry about is emptying out existing tags or categories since that results in some page-not-found errors. Search engines don’t like that kind of sloppiness. So look into setting up page redirects if that situation arises. Maybe that’s better to cover in another post.

Does anyone have any questions about these elements? Was anything I mentioned in this post new to you?

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