To index or noindex, that is the question to answer for your category pages

August 13, 2020

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Category pages are pages on your website that list multiple subpages, frequently with snippets of these subpages–think of lists of blog posts, events, or products. Category pages are commonly implemented on many platforms and can provide a great deal of value to users by allowing them to quickly browse a variety of related content (e.g. products in this category, blog posts related to this category, etc.).

While category pages can be great for users, category pages can present a challenge for promoting your website’s best content via search as your category pages might compete directly with your likely more targeted pages listed on the category pages. If you are experiencing this sort of self-competition, an option can be coding some or all of your category pages with the noindex value to instruct search engines to not index the page(s). It is important to note that a search engine may still crawl your noindexed pages.

So, how do you determine if you have a self-competition problem and, if so, if noindex can help? Dan Taylor offers several steps:

Determine if you have a problem

  • Review which URLs are being returned for specific search queries (using Google Search Console or other rank tracking tools).
  • If you see category pages being ranked better than your more targeted pages, this may indicate a problem.
  • Assess if your more targeted pages are providing content that is as valuable as the category page (if not, this is a place where you can improve).
  • Make sure there are no technical problems preventing your more targeted pages from indexing.

If you have a self-competition problem, what can you do about it?

You have several options:

  • Add noindex to a specific page.
  • Remove unique content from your category pages.
  • Reduce page snippet length on your category pages.
  • Block your category pages from being reviewed robots.txt.

Considerations on which implementation is best for you can include:

  • Google treats noindex pages as a soft 404, so these may be visible as issues in Google Search Console
  • You may experience some issues with indexing and/or crawl bloat, so this needs to be managed

While Dan Taylor recommends noindexing category pages, I think there is some nuance here as some category pages can demonstrate broad thought leadership. If you have a category page that is providing value to users, consider adding appropriate calls to action to those category pages and take advantage of their search performance rather than noindexing what is being successful.


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