How to Optimize Your WordPress Archives for SEO

by Rae Hoffman-Dolan · 34 comments

WordPress SEO

One of the most common WordPress SEO mistakes people make is failing to optimize their WordPress archive pages.

(I’ve seen this time, and time again during SEO site clinics at conferences, and during custom SEO audits)

It’s not your fault, though…

When you use WordPress, there are several types of archive pages available to you: author archives, tag archives, date archives, and category archives.

By default, search engines can access each one of these pages, and that’s the big mistake. Making more than one of these archive pages available for search engines can hurt your rankings.

Why?

Duplicate Content Issues

First, by feeding the engines all of the available archives, you potentially increase the amount of duplicate content on your site.

With the recent Panda updates, Google has targeted sites that are full of low quality content (among other things), and sites with large amounts of duplicate content can be at risk.

Look:

Each archive is nothing but a list of snippets of your actual posts…

So, if you’re making all of your archives available to the engines, that same blurb appears on your /page/ navigation from your homepage, all four archive listing types, and on the actual single post page for that content.

And that’s happening for each and every post on your blog.

But duplicate content issues aside, there’s another reason you should be limiting the amount of archives you make available on your site – Internal linking power.

Page Power Distribution

Each webpage on the Internet has some amount of “power” and the “power” on the page is disbursed in part to the pages that it links to (both internally and externally). The more “power” a page has, the higher it should rank, all other things being equal.

power distribution

The more links you have on a page, the less “power” each link gets.

So if you have 40 links on a page, in theory, they will each get 1/40 of the “power” that page has to disburse. If you have 80 links on the page, each one will get 1/80 of the “power” available for disbursement.

(Please note that this is a very simplistic explanation of a very complicated process, but I’m keeping it simple so everyone can understand it.)

So by showing every archive type available in your sidebar, you’re giving each individual archive type less power than you would if you only listed one.

Meaningful Anchor Text

So now you know that you’re passing “power” to all the links that you link to on your blog and why it matters from a ranking perspective.

But, in addition to passing “power” you are also passing a “topic indicator” to the pages you link to…

For example, on my blog that focuses on all things BlackBerry, we have an entire category devoted to the BlackBerry application for Facebook.

We link to that category with the words BlackBerry and Facebook. So, we’re telling the search engines that we feel the page we’re linking to is about those terms.

So now we’re passing generic “power” as well as a “topic indicator,” and search engines know exactly what that page is all about.

The category page then gains link “power” and some credit for being about “BlackBerry and Facebook” (which will hopefully help that category page rank better for terms relating to those words).

The BlackBerry and Facebook category then has power and an indicated topic to pass on to the single posts listed within it (which will hopefully help those single post pages rank better for terms relating to those words).

topic distribution

Unfortunately, if you’re using date based archives, then you’re telling the search engines that the power going to that page is on the topic of “June 2011” and therefore, the “topic indicator” that category page then has to pass down to the single posts is also “June 2011.” Same goes for Author Archives.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather tell the engines to pass “power” and “topic indicators” for the actual words I want to rank for rather than dates. This is why I said above you should only be using Category Archives or Tag Archives from an SEO perspective.

Quick WordPress Archive Optimization Tips for SEO

  • Don’t link to date based archives at all. If you feel it’s vital to your users, then create an internal page that lists those archives and only link to that single page from the sidebar on each page (as opposed to linking to 63 monthly archive pages).
  • Whether you use Category Archives or Tag Archives as your primary way to navigate your blog is more of a personal preference. I prefer categories. But you should choose ONE type to make available to the search engines. If you don’t know how to do it via the robots.txt, Thesis has it built in (Thesis → Site Options → Robots Meta Tags → No Index)
  • Name your categories based on the words you’d ideally like them to rank for.
  • Condense your categories. Remember that the less links you have on a page, the more “power” each one gets. 99% of bloggers have no reason to have 300 categories. I tend to use the rule of thumb that if I don’t plan to write at least ten posts on a topic, then it doesn’t need its own category.
  • Create custom content for the top of all your category based archives. Luckily, Thesis has this built in too. This will allow you to add more unique content to help dilute the duplication your excerpts can cause.
  • When you mention the topics of your categories in your individual blog posts, link the first instance of it to your category page to help give even more “power” and “topic indicators” to Google about the category page and mix it up when possible.

How do you deal with archive pages? Leave a comment.

About the Author: Rae Hoffman-Dolan aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and an (extremely) occasional Houston SEO specializing in SEO Audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog and the SVP of Marketing for Speedy Incorporation Service. You can connect with Rae via Twitter.

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{ 34 comments }

arra

Hi, thanks for advice !

🙂

Jesus Ramirez

Hi Rae,

I like the idea of creating custom content for the top of all your category based archives. I will do that to my site ASAP!

thanks!

pntszdinFluence

I’m super new to blogging but I’m almost certain this article is just what I needed. Thank you for sharing knowledge!

Roger Dooley

Great info, Rae. In some themes, date archive links are hidden so even when you don’t see the super-long list of months they are still there diluting each page’s link power.

Roger

JaxRolo

That a very good point Roger. This must be one of the most ovelooked items when it comes to SEO.

Video Ranker

Excellent SEO tip! Just goes to show you, if you pay attention to those who know you will learn something new everyday. I was not aware of this archive seo value and will immediately implement and test moving forward. strong work!

Whomever is monitoring this comment section, maybe you can comment on if and how this archive seo tactic would work with video content on a blog as well?

Chris Harris

Thank you for this timely post. I have already gone in and made some changes based on this information.

Bruce E. Simmons (BruSimm)

Thanks for the incredibly insightful article Rae. But I have a question: You note that it’s not good, well, not optimal to have dated permalinks. I have a few thousand pages now based off of the following structure:

http:///2011/09/08/post/

If I change my permalink structure to the following to eliminate the dating issue:

http:///post/

How would one not lose all the link love from Google search results… IE: Not get the 404 error about the page missing?

Is there a trick to having search results keep track of old links that use to be, and forward them to new links? (I use Thesis)

Thanks,
Bruce

Rae

Bruce,

I’m not so much suggesting you don’t use the dates in your URL structure as I am saying you shouldn’t list the links to the date archives in your sidebar. That said, I prefer to set up my url structure as /category/post/ but I wouldn’t recommend you switch the url structure on thousands of blog posts, especially if you have good search engine traffic. That said, if you ever did, WordPress has tons of redirection plugins available that will automatically 301 redirect the urls for you should you choose to change them. But again, that’s not what I’m suggesting above. Hope this helps!

Bruce E. Simmons (BruSimm)

Thanks Rae… but when you said it, some light went off in the back of my head, suggesting that I think it sounded like a good idea! Sigh. Thanks for the words and reply. Take care, -Bruce

Stijn

Hey Rae. Recently I’ve spent some time bundling and optimizing my archives. You mention that one needs to choose between either having your categories indexed or your tags. At the moment I haven’t made that choice yet, simply because my archive is large enough to accomodate both.

Personally I take my cue from media websites such as nytimes.com, if you compare their “categories” (http://www.nytimes.com/pages/world/europe/index.html) with their “tags” (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/belgium/index.html). Right now I just need to get my act together and start working on those custom taxonomies to group my tags.

Do you think this is a good tactic?

Chris

So based on your advice, would it be optimal to have a list of name-based categories on my sidebar, and have “noindex category pages” unchecked in my Thesis site options?

Rae

No, no! LOL… it would be optimal to have a list of name based categories in your sidebar and then check off noindex for all the archives EXCEPT for categories 🙂

Rob @ Atlanta Real Estate

Solidness. Well done Sugar.

Hal

I use Thesis for some of my sites but not my main company site. I have custom sidebars for my category pages and I’m using meta description to add custom content on the category page. How else can I add custom content at the top of those pages? Switching to Thesis is not an option.

Patrick

Hey Hal,

Thesis is pretty flexible. Have you explored Openhook fully?

I’m sure there are Thesis geeks here much more talented than myself, so I encourage you to explore with them.

-Patrick

Grant

I appreciate your comment; “I tend to use the rule of thumb that if I don’t plan to write at least ten posts on a topic, then it doesn’t need its own category.” As a newbie a simple little comment like this was worth reading your post. Too often “little bits” of information like this are assumed frustrating us new comers. Thanks!

Jef Menguin

This is very insightful. I think this can help me in my SEO. I revisit my categories and may tags.

Raj @ Web Hosting Tips

Thanks for ur advice.. digging in Thesis archives for making a better archive page for my blog.. can someone help me out with few resources..

Geoffrey Allan Plauché

Rae,

What’s your rule of thumb for tags?

I treat categories like the table of contents of a book and use them for structural organization and rss feeds. I have around 30 on one of my sites right now and try to keep the number down and the category names somewhat general, e.g., reviews, science fiction, interviews.

I treat tags like the index of a book or like search engine keywords. They can be much more specific than the categories and I don’t try to limit how many I have. I have around 1,000 right now on the same website.

Mr. G

Rae… I love you.

That’s it!

This post is pure gold. Thanks!

Shamim

I would like to thanks to one of my brother who once cleared me this whole Archive Pages SEO terms a few months ago……However, all other archived page’s SEO has been cleared to me now. Thanks Rae…….

David

I’ve been using Thesis for years on several sites, but I’m always learning to improve them. I use the /category/post/ structure too. Thanks for the tips.

Ed

Thank you for this informative article. My blog is so new that I have nothing archived – yet. I’m must saving this article for furture reference.

Usman

I’m using categories as well as tags for my site. I have very few top level categories and then sub-categorize the content into tags. So I have left both categories and tags open for search engines. Is it OK in terms of SEO?
Secondly, I have only shown titles of the articles instead of excerpts on the archive pages. Will this still count as duplicate content?
Another thing I want to ask is that I haven’t nofollowed anything on my site. Only using noindex for date based archives. Is it OK in terms of SEO?

Katie

Yikes. I do not use WP now but am in the process of choosing a WP theme. I have a statewide blog with regional categories and other topic categories. Because I am about the only poster statewide, I need to fill the region categories with things in case an office or a web page wanted to display only a region’s posts via RSS feed. As a result, some posts go into numerous categories. For example, today I wrote a post about Milwaukee WI. (in draft mode right now). It will go in the Southeast Wi Metro Milwaukee category. It also offered some Relocation advice so I will put it in the Relo category as well. Other times, I have general articles that I put in all the regional categories so those have something in them. Sounds like I am doing a major-bad.

In addition, I show my categories and an archive by date which I understand your article is mainly about and it is also not the way to go, but it got me thinking about my bigger problem of multiple categories selected for a post.

Can you offer some insight there? Considering Thesis and solostream for themes.
Thank you for the eye-opening post! I am glad I read it before I converted my blog to WordPress.

Soraya

You are great Rae..allow me to call U “the SEO lady”…
I am learning so much with you..I started a restructure process on my site that I built it when a had almost zero knowledge on SEO, and I am considering lot of advises on how to work site architecture. Thanks a lot

Kevin

That was a great tutorial Rae. I will start implementing this strategies on my own blogs. Cheers!

ranna azam

great SEO tips. it will be great help to people who are beginners in blogging stuff and the idea of creating custom content for the top of all your category based archives is awesome.

RLRowe

Finally some good info here, Thanks:)
But this is a very confusing issue. If I check all three (noindex for Categories,Archives,and Tag Archives) as advised elsewhere to avoid duplicate content issues, my page is nowhere to be found in Google using my keyword phrase.
Leaving Categories unchecked my page is the first result, seems like a no brainer but what about the duplicate content issue? Would leaving Tag Archives unchecked instead net the same result?

faisal

So basically link to category and let everything else be taken from there? Top down link approach?

Wayne Skews

Thanks for that – I was using tags, archives and throwing everything in thinking it was helping my rankings – crazy now that I read your post. Surely if your pages are listed and your latest posts are listed then you would toss out categories as well? Also can you tell me that if I am trying to rank for a particular symbol and I link to a site that has good information – will this also hurt my ranking – or should I be linking to others a little as possibel?
And lastly – I see you have a doofollow on all these posts – does google really ignore them? Thanks.

Taut Web

Thanks a lot for the great insight on wordpress SEO. I was a bit confused about the use of WordPress tags. Now I am convinced that It is better to use categories instead.

Alan C

Some good information here, but there is some that is inaccurate and needs to be corrected.

tldr; “Power” is PageRank. Some techniques described in this article bleed PageRank and constitute PageRank sculpting which can cause a site to be punished by Google.

Let’s start by talking semantics. Everyone needs to be aware that the author uses “power” to discuss internal distribution of PageRank. Just a nit, but some people may not make that important connection.

On the topic of no-index links… Consider an extreme situation. You could no-index 99/100 links on a page. The remaining 1 link still would basically only get 1% of the “power” or PageRank, not 100%. The other 99% is lost. This method is one type of PageRank sculpting and one that can get you penalized by Google. So take care how extensively you use it. Matt Cutts of Google has spoken to this very subject.

On duplicate content… Tag archives and category archives only truly create duplicate content when your site has very little content or has excessive organization for its size. If you have 100 posts in 10 categories with 5-10 tags, the content duplication issue is non-existent. If you have 10 posts in 10 categories with 10 tags, you have a content duplication issue. But make no mistake, the real reason you’ll get punished by Google in the later case is because of a lack of content. Again, Google has spoken to this very subject.

On anchor text… Google has explicitly stated that they expect to see natural anchor text profiles on both internal links and backlinks. If you only use keywords as your anchor texts, then you are creating an artificial anchor text profile. In other words, over-optimization of “topic indicators” can get you penalized.

The real takeaway point hiding in this article is one that Matt Cutts has talked recently about: do not put excessive internal links on every page, whether in a sidebar archives/categories/tags list or in the footer.

Of course all of this represents a small fraction of what matters to onsite SEO. Proper site architecture with a sensible amount of natural content siloing will take care of all of the potential issues discussed in this article and in my reply – without having to resort to PageRank sculpting or no-index silos.