This post brought to you by: our nifty rented apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina!
I decided to write an advice column today after seeing some articles pop up recently on She Writes about organizing and indexing a very large blog. Whether you’ve only been blogging a few months (like me), or you’ve been blogging since the internet was born from Al Gore’s strangely charming uterus, these tips will help readers find exactly what they’re looking for in your mass of content, as well as show them new things they didn’t know they wanted to read.
Now, since I’m only a WordPress user and there are dozens of other blogging services out there, I want to clarify to you that “how to categorize and index your blog” bit is specifically regarding the use of WordPress. I could write ten whole blog posts about getting started using WordPress, which option is right for you (WordPress.com or WordPress.org), how to set up your blog, how to find and install widgets, but I won’t go into all that here. Instead, I’m going to focus on making your past and future content discoverable and easy to navigate.
1. What exactly is a “category”?
Categories in WordPress denote certain information about a blog post, and generally provide a way to break up your content into meaningful groups that can be perused by a visitor. Now, a lot of categorization depends on the type of blog you run. If you have a very narrow scope (e.g. maybe you only write book reviews), your categories might be the types of books you review. Think of what readers might be looking for: on a book review blog, your reader probably found you using the title of a book he was interested in purchasing. He came to your blog to find out what you thought of it, first, before dropping the dough. What other posts on your site might your reader be interested in? Perhaps your categories are: Children’s Books, Young Adult Books, Romance Books, and Mystery/Thrillers. Someone who came to your site looking for a children’s book review, and likes your style, is more likely than not willing to read your reviews of other, similar books.
2. Categories vs. Tags
I was working with my mom recently on her new blog (hosted by WordPress.com) about photography (the site is Maureen Burkhart Photography, if you’re interested in seeing some of her totally amazing work–and where that creative instinct of mine came from). We were discussing the difference between categories and tags, and she was understandably confused by the distinction.
Since my mother’s work mainly focuses on nature photography, I asked her to think big picture about nature photography as a whole and how she approaches the subject. When she is writing a journal entry about one of her early-morning photo shoots, does she find common themes in her work?
The answer is definitely “Yes.” It’s a hard task to accomplish at first–looking at your work through this objective lens–but it can be done. She knew right away that “Man vs. Nature” was one of her categories, because it is a recurring theme in a lot of her art. She often considers these themes before she takes the first photograph. Once she got rolling, she noticed sometimes she just observes interesting phenomena in nature. She created another category: “Notes on Nature.”
Tags, on the other hand, are not big-picture ideas. Tags are simply keywords you apply to your posts to add meta data. (Meta data: Information search engines use to catalog you for relevant searches. E.g., if “wolf” is a tag on your post, it alerts the search engine that even if your post does not contain the word “wolf,” it is about wolves.)
Tags also provide interesting ways to guide readers around your blog. Maybe you have wolves appear frequently in your posts, even if those posts are all in different categories, or about totally different things.
Last but not least, posts can have as many tags as you want. Technically, categories are the same way; but I advise against using more than two categories for a single post. Your categories should not overlap too much, to make searches and browsing more relevant to the visitor.
3. How do I create categories?
It’s helpful to create some categories from the get-go, but try not to get ahead of yourself. Especially if you’re feeling lost about how to categorize your blog, let your work define its own categories.
I learned pretty quickly in the blogging process that I loved writing how-tos. I didn’t realize they were how-tos for a long time; I called a lot of my posts the nebulous term “commentary,” even though that really makes no sense. What I had done by accident was grouped my miscellaneous writing, my reviews, and my how-tos into a single entity that basically became meaningless.
Eventually I realized my “Commentary” was more centered around opinions, so I created some child categories underneath it for Book Reviews and Software Reviews, thinking: “If someone came to my website to read a review about StoryMill (novel software), they’d probably be comparing and want to also see reviews of other kinds of novel software.”
4. Show Off Your Categories
Now that you’ve created categories and started assigning your blog posts to them, you want readers to easily access posts in each category. There are a few ways to do this.
-Make sure your “Category” links at the bottom of each post are in large print, so people can see them and click on them. Many many many WordPress themes screw this up. If you are dead set on your theme but the text is too small, host it on your own server and tweak the CSS. (If you don’t know what that means, hire someone. Like me.)
-Add links to your menu for your categories. If you have too many categories to display this way, either A) You’ve made a mistake, or B) Create an index page. Even better, after you add links to your categories on your menu, add them to your sidebar. And the footer. And anywhere else it might work. For example:
This looks so totally awesome when you’ve added a few dozen blog posts to a single category. Try it!