Categories, tags, and how-to avoid duplicate content on WordPress

Smart content creators realize they publish for two audiences; search engines and web users.

Organizing your WordPress site in the right way will help you to avoid duplicate content penalties in the search engines, plus keep your readers interested and keep coming back for more.

Keep reading to find out how-to avoid a duplicate content disaster on your WordPress site…

avoid duplicatee content on WordPress
Avoid duplicate content penalties on your WordPress site by properly organizing blog content, categories, tags and links.

The default installation of WordPress offers 3 basic taxonomies for organizing your site’s posts: categories, tags and links. Unfortunately this setup may leave an unsuspecting blogger or novice webmaster into dangerous territory if not managed properly.


Categories allow you to group posts together by sorting information into relative subject matter.

For illustration, let’s say your WordPress site topic is “Colors of the Rainbow.” (I know, bear with me.)

There are 7 basic colors in a rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Since your site’s content is going to be just about rainbows, and with only 7 colors in a rainbow, ideally you would need just one category for each color.

Site category example:

  • Colors of the Rainbow (site topic)
    • Red (category)
    • Orange
    • etc…


Tags are similar to categories, but more free-form and less general in nature.

For example if you place 3 posts under the category of “red” on your rainbow website, you could use a tag of “light, dark, or medium” to further describe the precise color you are referring to in that particular post.

Tags should only be used to filter your site’s content into more narrow sub-topics. If you find yourself wanting to tag a post with the same heading as your category, think again.

Proper tag example:

  • Colors of the Rainbow (site topic)
    • Red (category)
      • light (tag)
      • medium
      • dark


Links tend to be useful for sharing similar content on a site, and are usually not exposed on a default WordPress installation. Links are mostly used as a collection of entry points that direct readers and search engines to groups of similar relevant information.

You might notice links being most often displayed in sidebars. (Think blogroll.)

Too many links and your site can appear malicious to search engines. Not enough internal linking and you may leave your readers without a way to find your best content.

An effective link example includes using words or phrases that a potential web searcher would type into a search engine to find your site topic in search results.

Categories, tags, links and duplicate content

Check out what  Google says about understanding your content management system.

By default, WordPress creates a page for each category and tag, then organizes all post and content associated with them. This means that if your categories and tags are improperly organized then you might be found guilty of displaying the same information several times throughout your site on multiple pages.

That is the text book definition of duplicate content.

Below is a recent video from Matt Cutts, with the best way to avoid duplicate content via links on your site:

Good search engines aim to give web searchers the best possible experience by displaying the most relevant information, the goal of any decent webmaster should be to do the same.

To learn more about optimizing your WordPress blog or website, you may also be interested in reading: How-to SEO your WordPress website.

If you’ve got the basics down, and are ready to for a more advanced all-in-one SEO solution that will help you to rank higher in the search engines check out the ultimate WordPress SEO plugin.


Comments (13)

  1. Interesting Lance. This site doesn’t agree with your use of tags and neither do I. This post is tagged “custom post types, taxonomies, and wordpress” which aren’t just subsets of the category “How to SEO”. Each tag lists posts from multiple categories on the site.

    However I do have a question. On our site, we’ve never been precise about categories or tags. Having been unable to come up with a group of mutually exclusing categories because our site is about leadership development, would it make sense to avoid indexing both categories and tags? We currently only index categories and authors since we’re a multi-author blog. Do we get anything by indexing archives at all since the posts are indexed?

    • Hi Mike, thank you for the comment and for contributing to the conversation.

      In my opinion, using “noindex” will communicate to the search engine bots that you prefer one particular collection of information over another. This technique does not infer that the search engine will not collect the data, it merely eludes to the webmaster’s intent.

      Re: your question…
      Which is the right taxonomy to tell Google to index within your site? That really depends on the highest goals you have for your awesome site.
      Is it to promote the authors? Contributions? The subject of leadership?

      The collection of content (lining up with site purpose) that you deem most important is the collection of posts to promote. Noindex all the rest.
      Display laser focus in the categorization of site content, and your readers and the search engine will reward you for it.


  2. Nice Article Lance.

    A few questions:
    1) When do find the need /or/ best practice to use Custom Taxonomies?

    2) Do you always find it advantageous to use tags? If not, when would you use them and when would you not use them?

    3) Do Custom Menus influence your use of taxonomies, categories, tags?

    4) When would you use page architecture as opposed to taxonomy/categories architecture?

    5) I’m not sure what you are saying about using links. Are you indicating that someone should use a widget just for outbound links?



  3. @Hunter nice name!
    Your questions are fairly advanced, here is some insight to help you along.

    1. Custom taxonomies are great for tight focus or niche sites, as you can eliminate the extra words “category” and “tags” and substitute a more topic specific keyword in the url.

    2. Example usage: If you had a location based site, “categories” would be like states and tags are like “cities”

    3. Custom menus are great to direct site readers attention to specific collections of content.

    4. User friendly page architecture a must and just as important as taxonomy when it comes to user-friendliness.

    5. On the contrary, I re-posted with video from Matt Cutts @ Google regarding links within a site.

    Hope it helps.

    • Thanks Lance for the general comments about site architecture. I’m always wondering how to get these things right.

      If I read you right, then a developer would:

      1) Use custom taxonomies if the term “category” is too vague and you want a different upper level architectural word to appear where “category” was standard usage.

      2) Use tags as subcategories; And with the previous taxonomy question, you could replace “category” as the taxonomy with “Locations” or “Destinations”. Where the categories would be “States” or “countries”, tags “cities”;

      3)Use custom menus for a separate way of accessing specific content that is not easily identified using either the standard taxonomy or category/post structure…

      4) I think know what a “user friendly page architecture” looks like. Permalinks and page titles would be keyword rich; breadcrumbs would lead through the page hierarchy. I’m not exactly sure how to emulate an html site architecture display url with wordpress;

      5)Excerpts are fine for internal linking to avoid duplicate content issues.

  4. Hi Lance
    Liked the article and appreciate why you are not keen on tags.

    I would be interested in your approach to categories/tags when blogging on reality tv shows. In the UK we have shows like Dancing On Ice, The Apprentice, Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor. There are often 10-15 contestants on these shows so I look to tag each name so that it is easier for fans of an individual contestant to follow. Some of these contestants only last for one show! I generally use the show name as the category.

    When we publish a reality blog like this then potentially we get a lot of duplicate content as each post is tagged with 15 contestant names. As the show goes on it becomes less of an issue but is still a problem.

    I have considered writing a unique profile piece initially for each contestant but this can be quite time consuming. Not sure if you have an alternative solution to this or is this as good as it gets?

    Best Regards

    Jon Davies

    • Jon, looks like you are using the Genesis framework. One way to avoid duplicate content with that theme is to depreciate all but the category or tag index/archives under SEO settings.

      Also, if you are running the most current version, you should be able to edit (including adding unique text) at the top of each category or tag page. This should help to differentiate each contestant from the tv show.

      Hope it helps, best.

  5. Lance

    Thanks for the speedy feedback. You have helped me make my mind up that I should bite the bullet and go for an exclusive page for each contestant at the start of a tv series, combined with the unique meta text for each tag. Will let you know how I get on!