Should You Hide Blog Categories with Noindex Tags?

Should You Hide Blog Categories with Noindex Tags?

Recently, we had a few clients ask whether they should be putting a “noindex” or “nofollow” tag on their blog category, author, and tag pages. WordPress creates these pages to provide another avenue for site organization; they’re potentially useful to your users, and if you’re creating content on an ongoing basis, it’s usually a good idea to leave them in place.

But should those pages be crawlable? Won’t search engines see them as duplicate content, since they contain some of the same language as your blogs?

Plugins like Yoast give you an easy way to noindex these pages. In Yoast, the setting in question looks something like the image below.

Yoast noindex categories

Yoast giveth, and Yoast taketh away.

Simply click those “noindex” buttons, and you’ll, uh, noindex the pages. It’s not rocket science.

Of course, before you take that step, you’ll have to determine whether or not you actually want those pages to be noindexed. You certainly don’t want to nofollow them, since there’s no real benefit to doing that (and the nofollow tag shouldn’t be commonly used, anyway; that’s a subject for another blog).

Here are the questions you should ask before using the noindex tag anywhere.

Is this page useful to readers in a unique way, and does it have enough content? If so, Google will probably want the option to show it in search.

“But wait,” you say, “these pages aren’t useful, and I’m worried that they’re preventing me from achieving my keyword ranking goals.”

First of all, stop talking out loud at your computer. I’m not the NSA, and I can’t hear you through the monitor (usually). Second, you’re probably not cannibalizing your own search ranking, because that’s really hard to do.

Here’s why: If you’ve got two pages that are great responses for a given query, search engines will simply show both. They’re generally not going to interpret your tag or category page as duplicate content, since hundreds of thousands of WordPress websites use those page types for organization; Google absolutely understands why they’re there and what they do. Google is smart. Google is wise. All praise Google.

Search for FiveThirtyEight’s reportage on Jon Ossoff, for instance, and the tag page comes up first, followed by FiveThirtyEight’s articles on the Congressional challenger. Google interpreted the tag page just fine, and determined that it was the best response to my query.

And you know what? Google got it right. That page provided a better resource than any of the individual blogs.

I should note that my approach here is atypical; many SEOs insist on noindexing tag pages by default. In fairness, there are some instances in which you’d want a blog tag, category, or author page to stop showing up in search.

  • If your site is new or extremely small, the blog tag pages will likely be very low quality. They may list a single blog, and if that’s the case, the blog would surely be a better query response.
  • You also might not use blog tags. In this case, I’d disable the tags entirely, but noindexing the pages is still an option, I guess, if you’re lazy. Are you lazy? Don’t be lazy.
  •  You might have a single author, in which case the “author” pages are redundant. In that case, again, I’d just remove the actual author pages—why trust a noindex tag when you can scrub your site of redundancy?

I would noindex these types of pages in one situation: If I had a small site that was adding content slowly, and I believed that the tag/category/author pages would be useful at a later date. That situation is extremely common; if you’re just now starting a blog, for instance, this is the approach to take. In fact, we noindex our tag/category/author pages for this very reason.

Also, I don’t post as often as I should, since I’m usually busy writing stuff for clients, and our category pages are pretty bad as a result. The shoemaker’s children have no shoes.   

But what about the dreaded duplicate content penalty?

Well, these organizational pages aren’t really duplicate content—they serve a unique purpose. And the whole “duplicate content penalty” might be scary, but it’s usually not a major concern if you’re not plagiarizing.

In most cases, if Google sees similar content on two pages, it’ll simply choose one of the pages to rank—it won’t ban your domain or anything like that. You’re not getting a manual penalty unless you’ve been doing some shady stuff.   

The bottom line is that tag/category/author pages are absolutely fine on larger sites. On growing sites, the noindex tag is fine, but realize that it’s just a suggestion (and Google frequently ignores that suggestion if it thinks you’re mistaken). And before using any SEO directive, make sure that you’re not missing a cleaner solution.

Oh, and if you vehemently disagree with this post, we’d love to hear why. Post a comment below and I’ll respond (and call you names behind your back).

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