I’m going to start this post with a confession. Until a few months ago we had some questionable categories on our blog. We had a category called “File Sharing” that I think had three posts. We had “Internet Browsing” which I can’t really define or justify. We had the inexplicable “Online Music” category that I remember creating. Our categories were numerous and not very useful.
But we decided it was time to clean up our act over here. We wanted our blog categories to actually serve their purpose:
to provide visitors with a way of easily navigating our content to find posts to match their interests.
Below are some tips to keep in mind as you develop (or revisit) your blog categories.
Balancing Categories and Tags
Categories and tags work together to form the organizational structure for your blog. Categories are broader and often used by people looking for content you’ve written on a general topic. Tags are more specific and often used by visitors seeking information on a more particular topic.
A metaphor I like (adopted from Lorelle VanFossen) is that categories are like a book’s Table of Contents for your blog. It tells your visitors the overarching structure for the topics that are covered. By contrast, tags are more like a book’s Index for your blog, pointing out where specific pieces of information are addressed throughout your blog posts. Just like in a book, a specific piece of information (tag) can be found in multiple chapters (categories).
For instance, if I was writing a post on privacy settings on Twitter, I’d put the post in the “Social Media” category, but label it with “Twitter” and “privacy” tags.
Make Blog Categories Descriptive
A visitor should have a good idea of what each category means without an explanation. Remember, the primary point of blog categories is to help your users find information that interests them. Categories that are confusing aren’t all that helpful when it comes to navigating your content.
Limit the Number of Blog Categories
I could make up a target number of categories, but the truth is there’s no golden number when it comes to what’s right for your blog. Just remember your categories will be more useful to your visitors if you have fewer categories with less overlap.
Planning your categories in advance can help you avoid that inevitable moment of weakness where creating a new category to fit your current post seems like a great idea. Before creating a new category, ask yourself two questions:
- Does this post fit within the scope of my blog? (If no, consider scrapping it)
- Will I be posting about this topic regularly? (If no, fit it into another category)
If you must, go ahead and create that new category. But try to populate it relatively quickly. It makes your site seem a lot sparser when you have categories containing a lone post.
One Category Per Blog Post
When categorizing your blog posts, try to ensure you only use one category for each post. This helps to avoid a user coming across the same content in multiple locations on your site (which can get pretty annoying quite quickly).
The key when categorizing a blog post that straddles two categories is to think as a user of your website. What would they expect?
For example, I recently put up a post titled Writing Copy for Humans and Robots. When posting, I was torn between categorizing it under “Search Engine Optimization” and “Web Content.” After a bit of discussion, we decided on the “Search Engine Optimization” category with a “copywriting” tag. It seemed a user interested in SEO would find the post more helpful than someone looking for tips on how to write their web copy.
Do you use categories to navigate the blogs you visit? Have you ever struggled with categorizing blog posts yourself? We’d love to hear from you.