When it comes to organizing content on your website—whether it’s product listing pages, product detail pages, blog posts, or images—there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. However, most content management systems (CMS) provide a solution: SEO category pages and tags.
SEO category pages and tags offer a way to establish an effective organizational system. You have broad category pages, such as “men’s shirts” and “women’s shoes,” as well as more specific tag pages like “white shirt” or “black jeans.” These pages contribute to a well-structured setup. Still, it’s important to note that an excessive number of category and tag pages can potentially lead to issues.
Specifically, they might hurt the performance of search engine optimization (SEO). In this article, we will highlight the potential problems associated with having unnecessary or overly abundant category and tag pages. We’ll also introduce a solution to address this concern—implementing a “no-index” approach.
If you’re curious about whether the “no-index” tag can be the solution to your SEO challenges, we invite you to continue reading.
How do Categories and Tags Differ? Categories serve as broad classifications for your posts, whereas tags are designed to highlight specific aspects within your posts.
Both tags and categories play distinct roles in aiding readers in discovering information. Categories resemble chapters in a book, offering a high-level view of your blog’s subject areas. On the other hand, tags function more akin to the index found at the back of a book, pinpointing specific details.
When considering the impact of category and tag style pages on SEO performance, most concerns can be grouped into two categories:
- Ranking Conflicts: Unnecessary category and tag pages might end up cannibalizing the visibility of pertinent content on your website. This implies that your internal pages start competing amongst themselves for the same incoming traffic.
- Crawl Depth/Index Bloat Issues: The second category involves crawl depth and index bloat problems. Excessive category and tag pages could lead to search engine crawlers getting tangled in a maze of pages, possibly resulting in suboptimal indexing and organization.
Now, turning our attention to the second category, which deals with crawl and index bloat issues, let’s begin by grasping the concept of a search engine crawl bot and how it operates.
A search engine crawl bot, also known as a crawler or web spider, represents a program designed to traverse the vast expanse of the World Wide Web, meticulously curating a roster of live URLs. After completing the crawl, these pages are subsequently indexed within search engines, making them potentially visible in search results.
Given the ever-shifting landscape of active web pages, a pertinent question arises: How do crawl bots determine which pages to explore?
Crawl bots accomplish this task by referring to a website’s robot.txt file, a repository housing a sitemap that outlines the collection of website URLs.
As it commences its crawling journey, the crawl bot also comes across additional URLs through internal links present on the already crawled pages. These newly discovered pages are subsequently subjected to crawling as well.
Nonetheless, it’s essential to acknowledge that crawl bots are not equipped to scour every individual page residing within a website’s domain. Instead, they prioritize crawling the pages that exhibit a higher degree of importance.
For websites burdened with numerous inconsequential pages, including category and tag pages, a predicament emerges—referred to as “crawl bloat.” This term signifies that the crawl bot ends up navigating through unnecessary pages. The consequence of this phenomenon is a negative impact on the website’s crawl budget. Ultimately, this budgetary limitation implies that genuinely relevant pages might inadvertently be overlooked.
Here’s what you should be doing with the Tag and Category pages:
- Develop a Clear Strategy: Devise a strategy for Categories and Tags by including terms aligned with your business goals and what searchers are seeking. Define the topics you plan to cover and adhere to this plan consistently.
- Choose Distinctive and Concise Terms: Opt for terms that are both distinctive and short. Avoid lengthy keywords with minor word variations (e.g., backlinking research, backlinking analysis, backlinking audit).
- Mind Tagging Balance: Be cautious of overusing or underutilizing tags in your articles. Avoid having Categories that encompass 80-100% of all your articles.
- Craft Unique Category and Tag Descriptions: For Category and Tag descriptions, create brief and one-of-a-kind content that captures the essence of each.
- Steer Clear of Duplicate Content: Be attentive to sidestepping duplicate content issues, particularly concerning titles and meta descriptions.
- Implement 301 Redirects for Removed Categories & Tags: When removing Categories or Tags, make sure to add 301 Redirects to maintain a smooth user experience.
A Category and tag strategy should be comprised of keywords you aspire to rank for in search engine results. These keywords must be crystal clear, concise, and meticulously chosen. If Categories and Tags are an afterthought and you indiscriminately tag numerous items, it might be wise to consider implementing a “no-index” approach for these pages.
When you use “Index, follow,” it signifies that pages are open for indexing, and search engines can trace all links present on that page.
On the other hand, when you opt for “Noindex, nofollow,” you are essentially instructing search engines to refrain from indexing the page and to abstain from following any links contained therein.
As mentioned earlier, the decision to no-index pages is very much a nuanced SEO strategy, contingent on the specific context.
So, how do you determine whether to index or no-index pages within your website?
Indexed pages should ideally deliver meaningful value to users. These are the pages you want search engines to showcase, enabling users to discover them with ease.
The primary justification for implementing a no-index directive on a webpage arises when there’s a potential risk of cannibalization. This scenario occurs when the content of a page—or its URL—is so closely aligned with a priority page on your site that it diverts traffic away from that crucial priority page.
Furthermore, opting for a no-index approach is appropriate for pages not intended for public promotion. Consider instances like a focused landing page that’s linked from an email newsletter or a login portal reserved for active account holders among your customers. It’s also prudent to apply a no-index tag to staging environments and pages that require password protection.
Let’s identify a few pages that you might prefer Google not to index:
Thank You Pages: These pages typically have limited content and numerous calls to action. It’s advisable to keep these pages hidden from indexing, as their inclusion could potentially skew your Google Analytics Goal data.
Admin and Login Pages: Unless your pages serve as parts of a community forum or client login area, it’s recommended to apply a no-index tag to them.
The decision of whether or not to no-index a page revolves around a fundamental question: Do you want these pages to appear in Google search results? In most instances, letting Google make this decision is ideal.
Archive Pages: If archive pages lack value for readers, consider applying a no-index directive to them.
Duplicate eCommerce Pages: An excessive number of product pages can perplex crawlers. It’s crucial to index the most essential pages and utilize proper canonical tags to manage the duplicates.
Low-Quality Content: Every page should serve a purpose, but not all pages need to be in Google’s index. For instance, internal pages for employees or pages with thin and unhelpful content should be set to no index.
Excess Pagination Pages: Pagination pages beyond a reasonable limit should also be marked as no-index. This concern becomes particularly significant when these pages are coded incorrectly or when they outnumber the actual articles.
And now, the exception:
We had been advocating the no-indexing of Author pages, especially for single-author websites. However, it has been observed that leaving them indexed can contribute positively to E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness). These pages are rarely seen in the Google index, so their indexing status doesn’t appear to have a significant impact either way.
In the realm of content organization for your website, categories and tags can become valuable allies. However, it’s crucial to exercise caution regarding an excessive number of indexed category and tag pages.
This is where the no-index tag steps in to make a difference. When you apply the no-index tag to surplus category and tag pages, you effectively eliminate the potential for content cannibalization and alleviate concerns of excessive crawling. This dual action leads to a positive outcome for your website’s overall performance. Moreover, it benefits site users who might otherwise encounter confusion due to redundant content.