Today’s article is another blogging/SEO/web-related post, so if you’re here today looking for art tips and tutorials, feel free to skip it. On the other hand, if you have your own art blog through Blogger, Google’s free blogging service (or through any other blogging program) you’ll probably find the following information helpful.
Specifically, I’ll be explaining why the date-based archive system that you find on most blogs will hurt your chances of ranking higher in the search engines. . . at least compared to blogs that use a category-based archive system to organize older posts.
First, a quick overview of how blog archives work
Most blogging services (such as Google Blogger) have an archive system that groups older posts by the month and year they were published in. This system came about because people originally used blogs as an online journal or narrative over time.
Bloggers today no longer uses their blogs like a journal—well, most of us. Instead, we use blogs as a means of writing individual posts that have no time-based connection.
For example, on EmptyEasel, I might write an article about art marketing on Monday and then on Tuesday publish a painting tutorial. The fact that those are “side-by-side” in time really doesn’t affect how people read them.
If you’re using a blog as one method of marketing your art, you probably don’t care if the first thing someone sees on your blog is a painting you posted last year. They don’t need to go back to the beginning or keep reading ahead in chronological order to understand that you’re an artist.
Other blogging programs (such as WordPress, which I use) offer a second way to archive posts by creating categories of various subjects. In doing so, WordPress has created a much more “search engine optimized” archive structure than Blogger.
In fact, Blogger’s date-based archives may actually be hurting you in the long run by keeping visitors from finding your posts. It’s not intentional, of course. . . but it will still affect your rankings.
Why monthly and date-based archives are bad
If you’ve read my article on smart linking techniques for art bloggers, then you already know that the words used IN a link make a big difference in how the search engines perceive the page that is being linked to.
In other words, if I link to a page on EmptyEasel with the words “Art Marketing Techniques,” search engines like Google and Yahoo will understand that this current page believes that the page it’s linking to contains techniques for marketing art.
All of the search engines then file away that bit of information, and when someone searches for “Art Marketing Techniques” on Google or Yahoo, my page is much more likely to show up in the top ten search results than an identical page that doesn’t have that descriptive link pointing at it.
So how does this relate to date-based archives? Well, date-based archives are basically lists of links to all the pages on your site. But instead of using good keywords, these date-based links are using words like “January” “February” “March” etc. How much keyword benefit do you think that gives those pages?
Nothing. Zip. Nada. At least not through the link itself.
Sure, search engines will still go to those pages and index them (after all, the links do exist) but at the same time there’s that extra bit of information that COULD have been catalogued that will always be missing from Google’s equation.
The SEO solution to date-based archive links
Something I found out quite by accident is that my category pages on EmptyEasel get quite a bit of traffic all by themselves from the search engines. If you think about WHY that is, it’s really quite amazing that people still use date-based archives at all.
Just by setting up a category page (WordPress lets you do this very easily) you immediately let the search engines know that EVERY POST organized under that category page relates to a specific topic.
Not only that, but if every single page on your blog links back to that category page with the same keywords—well, let’s just say that your category page could become just as important to Google as your home page, albeit with a slightly different topic.
How to change Blogger’s date-based archives
I’m not an expert on Blogger because I’ve barely ever used it, so I hesitate to give much advice in this regard. I know even less about other types of blogging programs which use date-based archives, so won’t mention them at all.
However, I know that Katherine Tyrrell of Making A Mark uses Blogger extensively and has written a short article that describes almost perfectly what you need to do.
The gist of it is that in Blogger there’s a function called “Labels” which is the equivalent of categories or tags in other blogging programs. Start using labels and you can overcome some of Blogger’s date-based archive limitations.
Here’s the full post on how to use Blogger labels. Katherine also gives a few tips, including this one which I thoroughly endorse:
“Before you start. . . make a list of the sorts of categories which are the main ones you want to use—that stops your list of labels [from] becoming irritatingly long”
Do check out that post if you use Blogger. For everyone else, look for a similar option in your own blogging program. (Tags and categories are much more common than labels, by the way.)
3 more tips for optimizing your blog archive links
Tip #1. Limit the links on your page.
In the past, Google has recommended having no more than 100 or so links on any given page. If you’re a well-respected website you can probably get away with more, but the basic idea behind this rule still applies to everyone.
You see, a few years back Google realized that websites which simply had thousands of links on them didn’t REALLY think those links were important. They were just linking out to game the system. Google put a stop to that when it started limiting the effectiveness of each link by the total number of links on a page.
In other words, the more links you have on a page, the less valuable those links are. (And this is still true.)
All archives, both date-based and category, tend to add links automatically so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on how many there are and whether you really need them.
Tip #2. Put your best links farthest up on the page.
Google tends to value links that come BEFORE the main content of a page as the most important. It does this because most websites have their main navigational links at the top of the page, and—logically—the main navigation leads to the most important pages of a site.
Also, objects on the LEFT side of the page tend to be considered more important than those on the right (since we read left to right).
Because of these two facts, consider putting your category archives list on the upper left of your blog, or at the very least, on the upper right. Putting them down on the lower right or in the footer is like saying “these links mean the least to me.”
Sometimes the design of a site makes it unavoidable, but those links lead to your own pages. . . so you SHOULD value them, right?
Tip #3. Only link once from one page to another.
If you link twice from one page to another page on your website, it doesn’t really help you. Well, to clarify—the SECOND link doesn’t really help you.
You could create 100 links all going to a single page from the same page and it wouldn’t matter. The first link is the most important one, and that’s the link that Google will look at when determining which keywords describe that page.
This means that if you don’t want to ditch your date-based archives just yet but you want to get a little more value by creating a category-based archive, all you have to do is put your new category archives above or to the left of your monthly archives.
This will tell Google that your category archives (with their valuable keywords in them) are more important than all those links on your sidebar that just have the names of months in them.
And now for a quick word of caution
If you’re running a more traditional “blog” (ie, one that relies on people following along by date and time) then by all means, don’t go changing your site around just because you read this article.
The only reason to optimize your blog’s archives for the search engines is if your blog isn’t really a WEB LOG. For most of us, it’s not. But one size doesn’t always fit all.
One more thing—if you do plan on changing your website around, you should definitely install Google Analytics first and wait a month to see what kind of traffic you’re getting with your current setup.
After that, make your changes and compare that first month against the next two months. That way you’ll know whether you’ve actually gained more visitors to your site because of what you’ve done. Good luck!