Use Either Category- or Tag-Based Archives for Your WordPress Site – But Not Both

Some SEO stuff I love. The soft and fuzzy stuff. The “write really helpful and awesome stuff” stuff. The “don’t stuff the keywords” stuff. The “be relevant to your user’s needs” stuff. The “answer the damned question” stuff.

But some SEO stuff is … well, not so soft and fuzzy. It’s hard stuff. It’s the mounted deer head on your uncle’s living room wall as opposed to the cuddly teddy bear your ex-boyfriend made for you at Build-A-Bear that one time when you weren’t at each other’s throats for a change.

(Maybe that’s just me.)

This? Would be the mounted-deer-head stuff.

Site Archives, Duplicate Content and SEO

So, you know that each post you write on your WordPress site is actually its own little page, right?

And you also know that Google dings you for duplicate content, right?

If you didn’t know that: surprise! Yes, search engines don’t like it when site owners stuff their websites with the same crap over and over. They like to reward new, original content, right? So it makes sense.

So, obvs, you’re not going to go rip off somebody else’s article word for word and put it on your site ’cause (A) that’s just mean and wrong and violates copyright laws and such and (B) Google hates that shit.

BUT — here’s the kicker! — they’ll also ding you for having the same article posted twice on your OWN blog! Even if it’s 100% all yours!

Say whaaa–?

“Um, OK, genius, but who the hell would ever post the same thing twice on their own blog?!” you’re thinking right about now.

Guess what?


(Well, probably. Maybe. Unless you knew about this.)

That’s because of this simple fact: In addition to clicking through to your single post pages, users can also view your content by clicking on category links  and/or tag links.

Say you’ve got 100 posts on your blog, divided neatly up into ten categories. You also have 50 or so tags you use regularly for those posts, so each post usually has about two tags attached to it, in addition to one category.

Here’s the (very simplified) breakdown of the number of “times” your site is (possibly) publishing any particular individual post:

  • Each post is its own page – that’s “one”
  • Each category is its own page, and shows each post in the specified category – that’s “two”
  • Each tag is its own page — that’s “three” and “four” (remember: 2 tags for each post in our hypothetical)

And if you have a calendar based archive? That’s another page your site will display the same content.

So. Pick one. Just one.

Personally, I prefer category based. I have an example of that right here on this site with our SEO Saturday posts. Thesis allows me to create a really cool looking category-based page for all my SEO articles, which is linked to in the top nav menu up there. Plus it lets me write a short introductory text to the category as a whole, so it looks cohesive and more like a landing page, less like an automatically-created archive page.

Now that you’ve got the basic gist of it down, instead of going through the whole “here’s how you fix it” rigamarole, I want to direct you to two resources already written. One is for Thesis users, from the DIY Themes blog.  The other’s from Yoast for WordPress users generally.

BUT – before you go there, let’s chat about the whole date-based archives thing a bit longer…

Why Date-Based Archives Suck (Except When They Don’t)

For most service-based business websites, a date-based archive is just unnecessary. Why? Well, easy: it doesn’t matter to the user when a post was written.

Note: We’re talking about archiving by date. You ALWAYS want to include the date on each and every post you publish, because users will need to check the freshness of an article’s advice from time to time. I really loathe the current trend to omit date info in the byline data. Readers have to scroll down to the comments to find out when the piece was published. It sucks, and it violates the Prime Directive of online marketing: Make it EASIER on the reader.

But there’s one exception to the whole “dates are useless as archive criteria” rule, and that’s when the date is fundamental to your work. What do I mean “fundamental”? Well, a few examples:

  • Remember the whole “Julie/Julia” thing? One woman went through all of Julia Child’s recipes in a year. The chronology of the experience was fundamental to grokking her work as a whole.
  • Or for a visual artist who’s blogging about her progress on the installations for an upcoming show. A reader/viewer will want to be able to track the artist’s progress over time.
  • Or imagine a non-fiction writer who’s blogging about her research into a compelling story — imagine the whole The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks investigation Rebecca Skloot did, but laid out day by day (all ten years’ worth) on a website. Interested readers would have been intrigued to be able to look back and see the progress from day to day as the story unfolded.

So, basically, there are some times and some business purposes for which a date-based archive system might make sense. Especially in the more creative endeavors.

Just remember to keep the user in mind, always. And that’s true of SEO as a whole, ’cause the whole purpose — the whole raison d’etre of the search engines in the first place — is to give the SEARCHER what she’s looking for. Do that, and you will be rewarded by our beneficent Google OverLords.

Well, at least they won’t punish you.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

CAELAN HUNTRESS December 18, 2011 at 1:32 am

I have to object: I HATE including the date on posts that I write. 

Why? RECENCY BIAS.People look at blog posts as less relevant if they are less recent. Yes, some people may not care when a post was written (those of us with digital marketing savvy who know how the web works) but others see a piece from 2008 and think, this is ancient HISTORY.They surf on.

Recency bias is very real, and can only be checked by forced ignorance.

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