Guide to CMS Categories, Structure & Hierarchy

Posted / 16 February, 2017

Author / Enginess

When it comes to CMS categories and hierarchy, you may wonder what goes where and why. Don’t miss this content management overview that includes content strategy tips, tricks, best practices.

This post is a part of a series on tips, tricks, and tools to help companies better manage their content online. Miss a post? Catch up on all our CMS tips.


  In this article, we’re looking at CMS categories and hierarchy – what goes where and why, as well as common gothchas and structural best practices for your content.  

What are categories?

categories on chalkboard Categories are the big buckets that your content will go into. Just like chapters in a book, they’re there so that it’s easy for people to browse a general area of your site. For example, let’s say you manage a website about home improvement, with content about DIY and renovations and buying and selling homes. One of your categories might be ‘How-To-Guides’ full of all your various how-to guides. Then, you could use sub-categories to divide by room – kitchen, bathroom, etc. This structure makes it easy for a reader to find information on, say, how to retile a bathroom, or how to install a kitchen sink. The categorization would look something like this:
  • How-To Guides
    • Bathroom
      • Retile a Bathroom
      • Install a Showerhead
      • etc.
    • Kitchen
      • Install a Kitchen Sink
      • Replace a Range Hood
      • etc.
    • etc.
And readers will know exactly where to look. It also makes it clear and easy for Google to pull that information and serve it to people via search engine results pages (SERPs), which are an important element of categories. Finally, depending on your CMS, selecting a category for your content may be mandatory – in WordPress, for instance, every post must belong to at least one category. Anything you don’t assign will be put into ‘uncategorized’ – which in itself is actually a category (albeit a useless one).  

How categories impact SEO

So far, we’ve talked only about using categories from the perspective of the user. Now, we’re going to look at the impact on your site’s overall SEO. Categories can have a big impact on your SEO – if you use them correctly.  

Categories prevent self-competition

First off, categories prevent many similar pages from competing with themselves to be found in Google search. For example, if you Google ‘1 bedroom property Toronto’ you’ll probably get a Kijiji page as a result. But it won’t be a specific one bedroom property in Toronto. It will be to the category ‘one bedroom properties in Toronto’ within the Kijiji site. [caption id="attachment_6573" align="aligncenter" width="840"]kijiji one bedroom apartment search results Kijiji search results prioritise categories over individual pages[/caption] That’s because they’ve worked hard to optimise that single category page for those key terms rather than optimising every single ad that has ‘1 bedroom’ in the title. And this works for everyone. For Kijiji, it gets people onto their site and browsing their goods, while avoiding prioritising individual content pages that have a short shelf life. And for the user, it’s much more useful to see all the one bedroom properties Kijiji currently lists, rather than just whatever one happened to be optimised the best. By using category pages, you can focus your SEO energy to drive traffic exactly where you want it to go.  

Breadcrumbs and sitemap structure

Another major SEO benefit you can derive from categories is building a clear breadcrumb structure. Breadcrumbs are a navigational path that shows your website visitors where they are and how they got there. E-commerce sites are full of examples of this. If you click through to nearly any item on Amazon, you’ll see the full string of how you got there. For example, if you click on a blender, you see: Home & Kitchen > Kitchen & Dining > Small Appliances > Blenders amazon blenders That’s the breadcrumb trail. From the user’s perspective, it tells them where they are and how to get back. It also helps your SEO. First, Google integrates breadcrumbs into SERPs, so everyone can quickly see where they’re going. And second, Google actually uses the breadcrumbs to crawl your site. And the easier it is for Google to crawl your site, the better off your site will be.  

Categories can help with keyword identification

Finally, because your categories help Google crawl your site and are often recognised quickly if you can naturally work your keywords to your category page titles and descriptions, it will help you rank for those terms.  

How to do categories right

We know that categories are good for users to navigate around our websites. And we know that they help Google crawl our websites and content. And we know they contribute to a powerful compelling entry into the SERPs. So how do you do them right?  

Keep your categories evergreen

It’s easy when you’re coming up with categories to come up with ones that are perfect right now but might date. For example, imagine if you ran a cooking website and came up with a category ‘Gas Stove Cooking’ But what if you move and your next place has an electric stove? A better category name would be ‘scorched food’ – after all, you can scorch food on any heat source.  

Think long and hard about your categories

While tags present a little more flexibility (since they’re inherently more dynamic), your categories are inconvenient to change later on. You run the risk of misdirected URLs, 404 errors, and losing backlinks. So when you’re starting your site, or if you’re refreshing your website and are redirecting all your URLs anyways, think long and hard about what you want your categories to do, and the top-level buckets you expect to organise your content into.  

Use your categories to create a clear and simple sitemap

You should actually have two sitemaps – one in an XML format that goes to Google so they can crawl your site, and another that is human-readable, for people who visit your site. If you have a big site or blog with hundreds of pages, organising this can be difficult. Categories (and subcategories, if you’ve gone that route) make this much easier.  

Aim for 7 major categories

Finally, you should be looking at using about seven categories at the highest level. More than that and you end up creating a structure that is more confusing than helpful. If you feel you need more (although we doubt you will), consider dividing them into sub-categories and tags.  

Wrap up

CMS categories can be one of the most powerful tools to use when making your site easy for users and search engines to understand. And, as is increasingly the case with Google’s algorithm, the easier something is for your users, the better off it will perform in search. Just make sure you remember to keep your categories evergreen, deploy them carefully, and stick to seven or fewer, and you can’t go wrong. Happy writing! Have you got a categories problem and you’re not sure where to turn? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll see if we can help!

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