Making Blog Categories More Useful

Blog Categories

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:

  1. Does this post fit within the scope of my blog?  (If no, consider scrapping it)
  2. 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.

Related Reads

7 Questions to Ask When Starting a Nonprofit Blog

Should Your Nonprofit Start a Blog? – Benefits and Drawbacks

Ask Supporters to Blog for Your Nonprofit

Figuring Out Who the Heck You’re Writing For

6 Nonprofit-Specific Web Content Tips

How and Why To Avoid The “Uncategorized” Blog Post

David Hartstein is one of the co-founders at Wired Impact and spends most of his time helping nonprofits tell their story in a way that'll inspire action. He used to teach elementary school and often walks around barefoot. You can catch up with David on Twitter at @davharts.

6 Comments on “Making Blog Categories More Useful

  1. 1 James July 9, 2013

    Thanks for the good post!

    Could you please elaborate on why there should be only one category per blog post? Are there any other reasons other than not annoying the user?

    1. 2 David Hartstein July 9, 2013

      Thanks for the comment James.

      The main reason I advocate for keeping posts to one category is for the user. If a user is relying on your categories to browse topics, having the same post show up in multiple categories makes it more difficult for them to find your other content. There very well may be overlap in your posts, but in my experience I can generally pick a best fit.

      Depending on your URL structure, it could also have an impact on SEO. While many don’t include categories in URLs, it’s something worth considering if you do.

      Hope that helps clear things up a bit.

  2. 3 Bernard December 30, 2014

    No offense intended, David, but pleeeease, learn one of the fundamental rules of typography : the single space after a period.
    http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2011/01/space_invaders.html
    It hurts the eyes…!
    🙂

    1. 4 David Hartstein January 2, 2015

      Thanks for the comment and helpful link Bernard. We actually started writing with single spaces after periods about four months ago. Unfortunately we have too much blog content to go back and change it all. You happened to catch one of our older posts.

      Despite the extra spaces, I hope you found the content of the post beneficial.

  3. 5 dhanur June 30, 2016

    can i use the above icon/image of categories ?

    1. 6 David Hartstein June 30, 2016

      Unfortunately the license isn’t ours to give. It’s a purchased stock photo so we can’t legally assign the license your way. Thanks for checking though instead of just grabbing it!

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