There is so much mystery and confusion when it comes to category pages. I get questions all the time about these pages so today I’m sharing some essential strategies to enhance the user experience on your category pages and website. Properly using categories can improve your blog’s performance and shape the experience reader’s have on your website.
One of the goals I often hear from our clients for their website redesign is that they want their readers to be able to get lost in their content. In order to give your readers that experience, your website needs to be organized.
Well thought out categories are one of the primary ways that food blogs can be organized. Category pages not only help in improving the user experience but also contribute significantly to SEO and site navigation.
The problem with categories is that they are often an after thought for food bloggers. Typically that after thought comes when you realize you’ve made a mistake or have either too few or too many categories.
Frequently asked questions about categories:
- How many categories should you have? It depends.
- Should you have sub categories? It depends.
- What should be on your category pages? Value and information!
- How many posts should there be per category page? 8-40.
Use unique keywords for your category pages – don’t overlap with round up topics or blog post topics. These should be broad topics where many of your blog posts fit into those categories. It’s very uncommon for MOST food blogs to rank for category pages, so don’t be too concerned about that. Be concerned about creating little hubs of information and value for your readers.
DO fill out the description (Don’t leave it blank!)
Think about it this way, when Google crawls a category page, it’s very thin content if there is no text on it. Your description adds text for Google to read explaining what the category is all about.
But it is also helpful for your readers. Include 1-3 sentences describing what the category is. This is a GREAT ChatGPT task to have it create these in bulk with a good prompt.
I love what Feast says about this:
Here’s rule #1 – if you can’t articulate why this category exists in 3-4 sentences for your readers, then don’t create the category. You need to explain to your reader why your curated list of recipes is better worth their time than just returning to Google’s search results.
Example from Feast + West:
Gin is the floral, herbal spirit on the bar cart. Most people either love it or hate it, but it’s always worth a second chance if you’re on the fence. Different brands have different flavor profiles, so it’s all about finding one you like. It will open a world of new cocktail recipes, like these:
Do: Add links to relevant content within the category.
After your description or as part of it, add links to relevant content within that category. This should be in sentence form, not just a list of the recipes.
Example from Joyfully Mad:
- Make your mornings hassle-free with these Make Ahead Breakfast Recipes.
- If you are always on the go and would like to have pastry in the morning, this Breakfast Puff Pastry can be made ahead of time for a full week of breakfast.
- Cheesy Breakfast Egg Muffins are the ultimate grab-and-go breakfast delight!
Do: Create subcategories when needed.
What I’m saying is controversial here and Feast has specifically said they do not like subcategories. However, they do recommend splitting categories when they get too large. The same concept applies here.
When you start to have more than 40 or 50 blog posts in a category, you might consider breaking those into sub-categories OR splitting the category into two. This works really well for categories like dinner, dessert, even appetizers or drinks.
It should only be done though when it makes sense for your content.
If you don’t have more than 40+ posts in a category, ONE main category is probably sufficient.
If you are working on filling out a category and know you’ll be publishing a lot of posts in those sub-categories over the next few months, then you can create it ahead of time. But generally, I don’t recommend creating these subcategories until you need them.
You might choose to rename your main category something like “all dinner recipes” to help the user know where they are browsing.
When you create subcategories, consider linking to them in the main category. This is doable with any theme – just add buttons or links to your description pointing out the subcategories. It can also be done in some themes automatically and with the Feast plugin as well.
Don’t: Create “empty” parent categories like course, cuisine, etc.
Out of the box, there isn’t a great way to optimize subcategory pages that are purely meant for organization. These categories like course, cuisine, protein, etc. create a good hierarchy for sub categories to keep things organized but they also create useless categories for the parent category. It doesn’t make sense for users to browse a “course” category, because it would essentially be all posts that would fit under any course like dinner, dessert, etc. This creates a poor user experience.
With the example above for desserts or dinner, these are still browse-able categories because they are already an organized view of a specific kind of recipe, whereas course, protein or cuisine is not.
Do: Use the built in category taxonomy “pages”
While the built in category taxonomy pages don’t leave a ton of room for customization out of the box, they are the best option rather than creating pages that display posts in a category. If you create pages then you’ll have a confusing situation where you likely have duplicate content.
Even though category pages are simple, it’s best practice to use. Fully fill out your category pages and let their structure make your job easier to display posts in a category.
Don’t use tags.
Just don’t. Tags and categories are basically the same thing but using both is confusing and creates the potential for a whole bunch of SEO issues.
Rely on just using categories, no index your tags and only use them internally if you want to use them for things like ingredients, sponsored, etc. But they shouldn’t display on your blog especially if you have told Google not to index them through your Yoast settings.
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