In this post we’re going to be looking at blog categories, why they matter, and how to use them most effectively as publisher.To be honest, I get asked about date, category, and tag archives fairly regularly. It creates a lot of potential for duplicate content, which is why so many people have things set up incorrectly and do more damage than good.
In my opinion as a publisher the most important pages on your website are the single page or single post. Any of the archive pages are secondary in value. Your most effective strategy is to conserve your link equity and have your category pages act as a pass through using the noindex, follow meta tags. That said, if you do have a significant amount of link equity, trust, and site authority, you can get your category pages to rank, as long as you are mindful of how you do it.
The number one mistake people make is putting full posts on the archive pages. This exposes search engines to the entire content on the single post page and category page. Google has to make a choice about which is the ordinal page. Now if you haven’t used the noindex, follow meta tag, you will have set your self up for a failure here. Because the category pages will have more internal links (ie link equity), search engines will often give them credit as the ordinal point. Your single post page will get a secondary indented listing or have no listing at all. If you’ve ever landed on an archive page with lots of full posts and been unable to find what you are looking for, you’ve seen this in action. Now this can still happen if you use snippets, but the words/phrases will have to be in the title or first few sentences. IMHO it’s such a small condition, the fix does more damage than the problem, and it’s not worth worrying about. Here’s a screen shot of it in action if you are curious [snergilitude]
What if you’ve got an old blog with several hundred posts? Do you have to go back and put in the “more” tag on all of those posts? You could–but there are better ways. If you use thesis (see thesis theme review), you can use a built in feature called teasers to make the magic happen for you. Not a thesis user? Shame on you. But there is a solution: go grab the teaser plugin. It will make all of your posts display snippet style.
The next issue is a WordPress issue. WordPress forces the word category into the URL string for category pages, so you have something like this:
Sine you only have a few words to work with, why give up one, especially the first and most important one. So use the category no base plugin to remove it and end up with:
A word of warning: depending on your permalink structure, it’s possible to end up with a post and category page trying to use the same URL, so be careful. As a side benefit, this plugin can make it a lot less apparent you are using WordPress, making it much more like a cms.
Last comes a bit of usability. When someone lands on your category page, you have the ability to show them some special content. If you are using Thesis, it gives you the ability to have a custom title, meta description, headline, and body copy for each category. In fact, here’s my blogs category page. There are ways to accomplish this with other theme’s, though with less elegance. I may have used an editorial shot but you could just as easily use a banner ad or an affiliate banner.
The last point I want to address is whether category posts can rank for terms people use. While category posts may not rank for ultra-competitive terms, they can rank for lots of mid level and long tail terms. While I’m not big on pointing out commercial site’s ranking, I think this example is fairly safe. I recently switched to Mac and was looking for some tips, so tried [Mac 101] and got the category page from Tuaw.com
So what are the takeaways from this post:
- If you are on a new blog or a blog with low trust, authority, and link equity, make the category pages crawling points, and block them with noindex, follow meta tags
- Control duplicate content by using only snippets on your archive pages (both category and tag archive pages)
- Remove superfluous keywords from your category pages URLs if possible
- Use your category pages as a selling spot with customized content, introduction, banners, or affiliate offers.