Archive SEO: archive by topic, not by date

Archive SEOIt seems I run into a (WordPress) blog every day that has a full date archive. You’ll know what I mean, a list of links, with one link for every month in the last 3, 4, X years that they published a post in. My buddy Avinash has one (sorry Avinash for using you as an example) and it’s about a mile long. Archives like this are, in my humble opinion, stupid and bad for your SEO. Let me explain why you should base your archives on topics and not on dates.

Archives by date

Did you ever wake up in the morning and think “hey, I’m gonna go to site X and read what they wrote this time 4 years ago”? If you’re searching for a post on a specific topic on a site, would you go to the monthly archives? Or would you start browsing by tag or category? The latter makes far more sense right? Real people hardly ever use date archives. They might sometimes (and of course you can now come up with 20 use cases for them), but in the majority of cases, archives by date are not the most useful archives on a blog. They do however live in a very large percentage of site wide sidebars. This means that on every page on such a site, there are a lot of links that point nowhere.

From an archive SEO perspective, the issue with archives by date is that they are only related because of just that: the date of publication.

Archives by taxonomy

Whether you use categories, tags or custom taxonomies, they all have one thing in common: you won’t apply any of them to a post when it’s not related to it. For instance, I’ll tag this post “WordPress SEO”, as it’s related to that. All other posts with that tag are related to that topic too. Any search engine would like that and, surprise surprise, so do your users. Recently, in some testing here, I broke my tag archives. I got about 25 emails within 2 days about my tag archives being broken. Apparently, a lot of people actually use those!

So, if you have a date archive on your blog, do yourself a favor and improve the SEO of your site by removing them from your sidebar.

WordPress Archive SEO settings

My WordPress SEO plugins has several settings related to date archives:

Archive SEO settings

The plugin either allows you to noindex, follow the archives, which means that they won’t be shown in search result pages but search engines will follow the links on them, or to disable them entirely. As you can see, here on Yoast I’ve opted for the last. This means that if you try and access a date archive here on my blog you get redirected to the homepage.

Whether you decide to just noindex, follow them or disable them is up to you, but I urge you to really think hard about what the benefits are of having that date based archive in your sidebar. I personally think it should go. Would love to hear all your thoughts in the comments though!

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43 Responses

  1. IliaBy Ilia on 10 June, 2011

    Couldn’t agree more. I never understood the date archives myself, just doesn’t make much sense (I certainly never found myself wanting or needing to use them).

    What I would like to see is WordPress not make it a default widget in their initial setup. My guess is a lot of folks are kinda looking at it and saying, well if WP included it by default in a theme, there’s probably a good reason for it, so I should use it too.

    • Zach CrawleyBy Zach Crawley on 10 June, 2011

      I used it just because I didn’t know any other way to use it .. but true, most people probably just keep it because it’s on default.

  2. simonBy simon on 10 June, 2011

    Hi Joost. You’re a legend. What’s the performance plugin you’ve got installed there in the screen shot above your SEO plugin? I love your SEO plugin btw. I can’t imagine not using it now.. (shudders)

    • curtismchaleBy curtismchale on 10 June, 2011

      That’s W3 Total Cache as the performance plugin.

      • simonBy simon on 11 June, 2011

        thank you curtis mchale, I take it if Joost use it then its the best.

  3. Brian KrogsgardBy Brian Krogsgard on 10 June, 2011

    I (almost) totally agree. I think a topic based archive is great. I guess there is a rare occasion where someone is looking for certain old posts, so think there may be minimal value to date based archives in addition to topic based.

    One of my favorite archive pages is that of http://www.rarst.net/archives/. It’s really well put together, even adding a section for “most commented” posts, effectively creating a “most interesting” section of your archives.

    • Rev. VoodooBy Rev. Voodoo on 10 June, 2011

      Wow… thanks for pointing that link out. I effectively have the same info on my personal site here: http://www.rvoodoo.com/explore/ Which is my archive page. However, my page is not nearly as engaging. I’ve got some work to do!

      Back OT @Joost, thanks for an informative reminder. I had forgot about half the date stuff in your plugin and my site. I had your plugin set to block my date archive from indexing, but I’d left the widget in my sidebar, and left te archives going, which was pissing off google analytics. Got everything squared up thanks to your article.

      • BobBy Bob on 16 June, 2011

        Voodoo, sorry! Too boring compared to rarst.net

        You need icons. It looks like you are trying to stuff too much into your space, which is due to lack of icons. Everyone loves graphics cues.

  4. Avinash KaushikBy Avinash Kaushik on 10 June, 2011

    Great advise Joost, and now you can help me fix it!!

    Thanks as always.

    Avinash.

  5. DustinBy Dustin on 11 June, 2011

    Great advice. From a usability standpoint, archiving by date has little value, as you point out, and no value from a technical SEO standpoint either. So the fact that it’s so prevalent is a little strange, but I think a lot of bloggers will start to see the uselessness of it. I myself have to change this on my own blog!

  6. Lutvi AvandiBy Lutvi Avandi on 11 June, 2011

    Thanks Joost, I already apply it log time before you write this article. I have the same argument like yours. This article can be my other argument that I have already in the right way.

  7. Travis FreelandBy Travis Freeland on 11 June, 2011

    Joost > Thanks for the explanation of why using dates is unnecessary.
    I can’t help but ask, are the settings shown above the exact indexation settings that you use on your site?

    If so, please explain ‘Tag Archives’ and ‘Category Archives’ and why you have both unchecked. I always assumed that you would check one or the other depending on your site structure. Obviously I could be completely wrong….

  8. QOTBy QOT on 11 June, 2011

    Thanks for reminding all of us that Date archives dont work. Many of us make that mistake often. The disable dates is a powerful plugin option.

  9. ZohirBy Zohir on 11 June, 2011

    Thank you WordPress Man :)

  10. Haroun KolaBy Haroun Kola on 11 June, 2011

    Thanks Joost. Your plugin makes it very easy to no-index these archives. Great stuff

  11. Matt FraserBy Matt Fraser on 12 June, 2011

    Joost,

    Great post, I always find your posts to be very informative and helpful.

    I just have a question, instead of using a sidebar for archives, what about using an archives page to display posts by date and an html sitemap page to display posts by Category topic giving users both choices?

  12. EdBy Ed on 12 June, 2011

    Thanks for update, I must remember to use the above advice in my wordpress blog regarding achiving indexing meant. Glad im in the hands of a true expert in his field of SEO and wordpress. Looking forward to more good content and tips.

    Libertyed :)

  13. MattBy Matt on 13 June, 2011

    I agree that archive by date is of limited value. It’d be great to have a plugin dedicated to this versus having it incorporated into a larger, more comprehensive plugin.

  14. BrijBy Brij on 13 June, 2011

    Hi,
    Thanks again for one more fruitful blog. Your knowledge is helping large number of people including us. Thanks again and keep sharing you knowledge.
    Regards

  15. KaiBy Kai on 14 June, 2011

    I having a problem with the Post Tag indexation. My tag archives are indexed even I ticked the Tag archives checkbox.Any solution for this?

  16. ScottBy Scott on 15 June, 2011

    What baffles me is that there is never any option to simply see a list of all the recent posts. You must either browse from a home page of full length articles, or use the date function to see only 5 posts at a time per month.

    Why not a simple page that lists 30 or so article titles, maybe with a single line description/intro?

  17. Will BishopBy Will Bishop on 15 June, 2011

    I read your stuff all the time – very helpful

    i agree with the above question and wonder if you might have an answer… I would like an option for someone to see literally every single title that I have ever wrote – no description – just a list of my 100+ post titles – how do you do this? on my page http://www.thoughtsfromatherapist.com I have the random post widget which offers a small sample of what I am asking for – so to clarify how can I get a page to list every title without doing so manually (I want the list to update each time I post)… this would be unbelievably helpful – thank you – Will

  18. TimBy Tim on 16 June, 2011

    I completely agree! if only the core would move past date archives, and there was better support for custom post types, clients would stop dismissing wordpress as a ‘blog’(thinking that that means writing about your cat) and start respecting it as a CMS!

  19. Edward CaissieBy Edward Caissie on 16 June, 2011

    A very interesting topic and one I will be looking to implement in my themes as defaults. I have never really been a fan of the ever-extending date archive, as I agree it is relatively useless. Now, given the SEO impact, I have even more reason to re-visit my themes and take a more end-user and SEO friendly approach to the archives. Thanks!

  20. mccormickyBy mccormicky on 16 June, 2011

    I really like the look of that SEO plugin!

  21. KenBy Ken on 16 June, 2011

    The only reason I have the date archives on my side bar is for posterity’s sake; to show that I have been maintaining my blog for a number of years and it is still going strong. But … I have since moved the six years worth of posts to an archives site to start anew … and will implement your suggestions because it just makes sense. Thank you!

  22. TheoBy Theo on 16 June, 2011

    There is no better seo solution for wordpress as your WP SEO plugin.I am working on two corporate sites right now and use your plugin… i am still amazed by the possibilities you offer within, simply great!

  23. Malcolm colesBy Malcolm coles on 16 June, 2011

    A long list of months can be good for establishing credibility – ie that you’ve been blogging on the subject for a long time.

  24. Chris CreeBy Chris Cree on 16 June, 2011

    The date based WordPress archive simply comes from the blogging roots of the platform. Even though most of us use WP for so much more, there are still a huge number of people who simply blog on their sites.

    I agree with Tim above and am looking forward to better custom post type and taxonomy support. Complex custom taxonomy queries still need to be refined some more to make them easier to use.

  25. Tony CecalaBy Tony Cecala on 16 June, 2011

    I would like an option for someone to see literally every single title that I have ever wrote

    Will, the “azindex” plugin it works perfectly for that. Search the WordPress repo for it.

  26. Kyle AlmBy Kyle Alm on 16 June, 2011

    The only date archive that I use is for my soccer blog because so many people look for season specific information. I don’t use it on anything else.

  27. TonyBy Tony on 17 June, 2011

    I would like the ability to look over all of your posts and see what catches my eye. Perhaps a topic that I would not be searching for or even thinking of searching for. How do I browse through your posts and spend a couple hours reading some interesting topics. Like a table of contents. If there is no archive, then I guess I wont get to do this. If I had a way to do this, I might even buy something based on a article I find. Seems like a bad idea to leave out a date archive or a list of all posts. Or even a link to previous post.

  28. Chris ApreaBy Chris Aprea on 17 June, 2011

    Hi Yoost,

    According to the wordpress codex:

    Starting Permalinks with %category% or %postname% is strongly not recommended for performance reasons.

    Link: http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks

    Thoughts?

  29. Kim FBy Kim F on 19 June, 2011

    I don’t get it..

    I absolutely agree that the date archieve should be kept out from SEO, and that it’s not necessary to have it in the sidebar.

    But to completely remove it seems to be an overreaction to me – I don’t see the need not to have it as a separate page. I often arrive at a blog I haven’t visited before, and wish to read the bloggers’ first couple of posts. Sometimes I even decide to read aboslutely everything on the blog, and it’s a lot easier in chronological order.

    Both of the above situations seems to be very difficult if you leave out the date archieve.

  30. McKinneyBy McKinney on 20 June, 2011

    Thanks for the post. Very helpful. Love the SEO plugin too!

  31. HarshitBy Harshit on 20 June, 2011

    Hey joost,
    I am in the process of setting up my site and I really love your wordpress seo plugin.

    But I have a certain problem probably it may relate to the topic of this post.

    You have an option in the plugin to remove the category base from the category archive and I see that it works really well.

    But it does not work well for custom post types. What I mean to say is when I publish a post using a custom post type my permalinks looks like domain.com/newspost/{title}.

    I hope you get my point. Is there any way I can remove the category base from the custom post type aswell.

    I would highly appreciate your help.

  32. Jack KimBy Jack Kim on 26 June, 2011

    Great article, just removed the archive widget and going with topic based as you suggested. Thanks for the tip.

  33. DuranBy Duran on 26 June, 2011

    Thanks a lot, you have no idea how much trouble we had with the date based archives.

    it’s funny i didn’t get that until your clear post.

  34. RodBy Rod on 27 June, 2011

    What is always amazing to me is how difficult it is to convince clients of this. When we build new WordPress sites/blogs, we don’t even mention it and it’s never an issue. The problem is when we’re asked to improve the on-site SEO of an existing site and we have to convince them to let the by-date archive goe.

  35. Steve HigginsBy Steve Higgins on 4 July, 2011

    Txs so much for a quick tip that makes a huge difference. I’ve used Ultimate SEO and other tools but yours is truly the BEST. I’m still trying to figure out how to add tags to my posts, but I’m sure you have that info here somewhere!