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If you've ever been confused about whether you're setting up your categories for the most benefit then you're not alone. Most people aren't aware of the various options and when to use which.
In this article you'll learn about the three category page archetypes, and when to use them.
When it comes to information sites, categories are extremely important...
Information architecture simply doesn’t work well without categorization…
Information architecture being a human construct, we don’t either. And nor for that matter do Search Engines.
So good categorization = win win.
Category pages are some of the most important pages on your site. So getting them wrong is costing brands big time.
We operate at a time where search engines don’t want to be carrying any dead weight after all.
Setting up category pages appropriately requires two things.
- Understanding of the above
- Understanding what works today
The Three Archetypes
Archetype Definition: /ˈɑːkɪtʌɪp/ noun - a very typical example of a certain person or thing.
There are just three main archetypes out there when it comes to categories. Ultimately, it’s important to note that any category page is just a Hallway Page or a “pretty sitemap”.
- Feed Archetype
- Custom Archetype
- Hybrid Archetype
Note: The hybrid is a mixture of the above two archetypes.
Used by both blogs and ecommerce sites to list blog posts and products respectively.
Often known as a blogroll, the feed archetype is the most common on the web today.
This works by pulling a list of content from the database of your site, listed based on at least one category template. Usually paginated at the bottom of the page.
This makes every category page identical, and usually, every article listed in the category is listed identically to how it is listed elsewhere.
Each article invariably contains an image, the headline, an excerpt and potentially a “read more” style link.
These work well… In certain situations.
The custom does away with templates. Instead, you create the category from scratch. Usually starting off with a blank page.
This gives you more control, and more able to rank the categories. However, the time and effort required for creation and maintenance can be a pain.
A custom category in a CMS’ such as WordPress is usually created as a page, then with various plugins and ‘tricks’ is then turned into a category page.
The main differences here are that custom categories usually put a focus on adding more unique content, and features less of the features of blogroll categories.
Hybrid categories are usually a mixture of the two above types.
While I have personally and have seen others use a custom category as a “base”.
Most people creating hybrid categories will create them by starting off with a blogroll and adding unique features into a more limited area.
There are some features pulled in automatically here, or at least in some templated way… However, some part of the page has been created manually.
Scenarios: Which To Use
The easiest way to answer this is to set up some scenarios and talk about the best practices, pros, and cons.
When you have a blogroll homepage, you ideally want to use a Hybrid or Custom Archetype.
A blogroll homepage is just fine, except the same exact articles will start to fill up the categories on your site. This builds up internal duplicate content, which will harm your rankings if severe enough.
Not only this, but these kinds of pages are considered to be thin content and add little value to the index…
Because of this, you’ve got two problems:
- The blogroll category pages display a % of the same posts as your blogroll homepage.
- Blogroll category pages are considered thin content at the best of times, let alone when it mirrors the homepage.
Add pagination into the mix, and now you’re creating sub-folders of each low-quality category page… It’s a real problem.
This has hauled back rankings on sites over and over again.
Luckily the solution is simple… You can use the custom archetype or the hybrid archetype.
You can NoIndex the category pages and their pagination pages. (..Please never make the mistake of doing this with the robots.txt file).
Multiple Categories Per Post
If you are using more than one category for each post, for whatever reason you’ll be in the same situation as with the blogroll homepage…
If your homepage is a blogroll, you’ve now got a homepage match with a category AND another category…
If your homepage isn’t a blogroll, you still have a problem here.
When you are using multiple categories per post — always NoIndex those pages & paginated pages.
If you’re using multiple categories per post, odds are you don’t want to be using the Custom Archetype. However, definitely consider the Hybrid Archetype as they are almost always superior to the Blogroll Archetype (in my opinion).
A static homepage is your typical, never changing page. Maybe it’ll recycle over the ‘most recent’ 2 or 3 articles from time to time. But generally, this page is staying as is.
For sites like this, you often see the Blogroll Archetype being used for categories, at least more successfully.
You can also use the Hybrid Archetype if you want to try and index these pages and rank for a few keywords as well.
News Style Sites
Not the best example of a news site, but this opinion dividing site still uses an old fashioned blogroll for their homepage.
You will notice that large news sites, such as the image featured earlier in this post of HuffingtonPost.co.uk are often using the Blogroll Archetype.
What most people haven’t realized is that the teams of these sites have encountered many of the same problems we have talked about in this article…
This is because their homepages are most often very complex blogrolls themselves.
But a Custom Archetype doesn’t make sense for them. While the Hybrid approach is still maybe a little overkill.
So the best option for big publishers is to remain with the Blogroll Archetype.
While eliminating the main issues of course!
This being the excerpt, as that’s where the majority of the duplicate content comes from.
Especially important since HuffingtonPost decide to index their category pages.
One thing you can always do is create custom excerpts for your content, rather than removing them entirely.
HerePup is an example of a site that could benefit from making this very change.
Niche sites are almost unique in the sense that they are one of the few types of site that can really get away with creating custom category pages that rock.
Authority sites are usually fairly broad, and they require dealing with a growing number of categories. They also quite often use a “hybrid homepage”. So using blogroll style categories isn’t as much of an issue… But with niche sites, there are usually a finite number of topics.
And in some cases, there can be a crossover too which is why I included the HerePup example.
Niche sites being more finite in the number of topics means that readers are often enthusiasts and hobbyists, so they like the blogroll homepage to quickly see what is new. This also means that you’re able to spend more time on the category pages…
Making them unique, more useful and valuable.
This both avoids the common pitfalls we see with blogroll style homepages, but it also means you have a unique opportunity to attempt to rank your category pages for a wider range of keywords.
Niche sites are not the only sites out there that can benefit from using the Custom Archetype for their Categories. But in my opinion, they make the best candidate out of the box.
Ecommerce sites will almost always be either a blogroll of "feed" style category archetype that simply lists products.
There are also a lot of sites out there that rightly add some useful content to their categories and sub-categories, making those pages hybrid category archetypes.
I can't think of many scenarios where an ecommerce site would want completely custom style ones as are common on sites which don't change as often, however it's possible.
Picking the right archetype for your site, that will benefit both your search engine rankings, fit the need for proper information architecture and user-experience is one of the most important things you will ever do when building a site.
Using some of the scenarios, and listening to some of the common pitfalls I’ve encountered will help you make the right decision.
And hell, if you’re thinking who the heck is this guy anyway, you can also feel rest assured that my own findings are also mirrored in the majority of the biggest sites in the world… The archetypes don’t change, only the scenario does.