Climbing Out of Category Hell
One of my first and longstanding complaints of WordPress is that it does not understand the fundamental difference between tagging and categorizing. Categorizing is like taking all of your socks and putting them into drawers based on colours. Tagging is like sewing a little label on your socks that says when you bought them, how to wash them, and “if lost please return to the dude with the fat cat.” Categories add organization and tags add semantic information. A category can be a tag, but if you use your tags as categories you’ll eventually have a right old mess.
(photo by striatic)
WordPress doesn’t (yet) let you easily differentiate between tags and categories without using extra plugins, which means those of us who are cohabiting in a WordPress Multi-user ghetto like WordPress.com are stuck with the plain vanilla categories and the ugly mess that most tag clouds turn into. I have more categories than posts on my blog because I use “WordPress categories” for both tagging and categories. And I’ve finally realized that makes it near to impossible for me to properly organize my posts and for other people to read my site and find things of interest.
I’ve spent several days designing a blog that looks nice; it’s time for me follow through with the rest and climb out of the technical debt I’ve been incurring from my horrible overuse of categories and tags.
Lorelle on Tags
Lorelle is the number one source of all things WordPress. She has written a *lot* about categories verses tags, and even went into detail about her experience in recategorizing everything. I find it absolutely amazing that she managed to re-categorize her WordPress.com blog in only a couple of hours.
“Tags, however, are more like your blog’s index words. They are micro-categories. Do you use them when you visit a blog? I’m not and I’m wondering why.” — Lorelle
“I think of the two a little differently, which is why I offer both categories and tags on my main site: How can I best help a visitor navigate around my site.” — Lorelle
“categories equal tags, used by Technorati and other tagging directories as keywords to categorize your posts in their directories. If you want your posts to be found, this has to be considered.” — Lorelle
“With so much importance put on categories by WordPress, choosing your categories becomes a major decision. You can either use categories as tags and add a new category for every tag you need, creating a long list in your sidebar or elsewhere, or keep your category list short and add tags with another method.” — Lorelle
Categories in Action — How Do The Pros Do It?
When in doubt find an expert and copy them mercilessly. Here’s the categories for some of the top blogs about blogging and my thoughts on them.
ProBlogger: 31 Days to Building a Better Blog, Adsense, Advertising, Affiliate Programs, Blog Design, Blog Networks, Blog News, Blog Promotion, Blogging for Dollars, Blogging Tools and Services, Business Blogging, Case Studies, Chitika eMiniMalls, General, Miscellaneous Blog Tips, Other Income Streams, Podcasting, Pro Blogging News, ProBlogger Site News, Professional Blogger Interviews, Random Blog Tips, Reader Questions, Reader Tips, RSS, Search Engine Optimization, Writing Content, Yahoo Publishing Network
My thoughts: Could be improved with hierarchy and grouping similar categories together. Blogging for Dollars, Adsense, Affiliate Programs, Chitika, Other Income Streams, Yahoo Publishing Network should all be under the same umbrella.
CopyBlogger: Administrivia, AdWords, Affiliate Marketing, Blog Psychology, Blogging, Copywriting, Grammar, Headlines, Internet Marketing, Landing Pages, Link Building, Links, List Building, Metrics, Personal Branding, Persuasion, Podcasts, Popular, Promotion, RSS Marketing, Selling, SEO Copywriting, Social Media Marketing, Traffic, Tutorials, Video, What’s Your Story?, White Papers
My thoughts: I’d reduce a quarter of them from the list. Adding the “popular” category to track what people like is genius.
John Chow: AGLOCO, Cars, Fine Dining, Investing, Make Money Online, Ramblings, Review My Blog, ReviewMe Reviews, Technology, The Net, Videos, WordPress
My thoughts: There isn’t a lot of incentive to click on any of those titles.
Lorelle on WordPress: Blog Babble, Blog Challenge, Blogging Tips, Web Design, Web Wise, Weekly Digest, WordPress News, WordPress Plugins, WordPress Themes, WordPress Tips, WordPressdotcom, Writing
My thoughts: Only uses the letters B and W. :) Well thought out and descriptive.
DailyBlogTips: Blog Design, Blog Projects, Bloggers Face-Off, Blogging Basics, Blogosphere, Blogroll, Domain Names, Firefox, General, Monetize, Promotion, Reader Tips, SEO, Software, Strategy, Web Tools, WordPress, Writing Content
My thoughts: Firefox could be a subcategory of software. Not sure what Blogosphere, Blogroll or Strategy is about. Other than that it’s well done.
Successful Blogger: Analysis, Audience, B.A.D. Blogger, Basics, Blog Review, Bloggy Questions, Branding, Business Book, Business Life, Checklists, Comments, Community, Connecting Dots, Content, Customer Think, Design, Great Finds, Guest Writer, Idea Bank, Inside-Out Thinking, Interviews, Links, Liz Also Writes, Marketing, Motivation , One Way to CC It, Outside the Box, Perfect Virtual Manager, Productivity, SEO, SOB Business, Songs of Life, Strategy, Successful Blog, Survival Kit, Tech/Stats, Technorati, The Big Idea, Tips, Tools, Trends, Writing, ZZZ-FUN
My thoughts: Too many categories, maybe trim out some of the ones with less than double digits? She has a really impressive number of blog posts.
DoshDosh: Adsense Tips and Hacks, Advertising Networks, Affiliate Marketing Tips, Affiliate Programs, Blog & Website Promotion, Blogging Tips, Doshy Link Attack!, Get-Paid-To Websites, Internet Marketing, Link building and SEO, Make Money Blogging, Make Money with Social Media, Monetization Strategies, Money Making Tips, Niche Blogging Tutorials, Online Entrepreneurship, Popular Articles on Dosh Dosh, Revenue Sharing Websites, Useful Web Tools, Web Traffic Building Tips, WordPress Themes & Plugins’
My thoughts: Good use of long category names. I’m not sure how some of the categories are different.
What Do The Pros Recommend?
Daily Blogging Tips gives this advice on categories: be descriptive, limit the number to one screenful, try to put posts in only one category, and display the number of posts in categories.
One of the best things I’ve seen about categories is the recommendation to go through your search terms and base your categories off of how people are looking for things on your blog. Identifying the blog posts with the most comments helps as well. Lorelle also includes the helpful advice to turn trackbacks off before you start reorganizing your categories or you’re going to spam the crap out of yourself as you resave all of your posts (whoops, forgot about that).
What Do I Recommend?
I’m a strong believer that the best way to learn something is to do it wrong. Repeatedly. My categories/tags are a mess, and this is what I’ve learned from it:
Content before categories: You can’t know how what your categories are until you know what you’re writing about. If you have a new blog don’t worry about them until later.
Categories are specific: Categories should tie together related content around a specific subject. The first time I reorganized my categories I tried to break everything down to “articles, opinions, blogging, links” but that doesn’t mean anything to anyone but me.
Use long category names: Make sure the category adequately describes what it contains and has a title people WANT to click on.
Use category descriptions: WordPress lets you put in some meta information about specific topics. Use it. You can even put links in these descriptions.
Niche is king: It is much easier to organize categories on a niche blog. Niche blogs can have very specific categories because they are all related to the same main subject. If you write about a multitude of subjects, then you need to have general categories with more specific categories underneath them.
Less is more: The more options you give a reader the less likely they are to interact with any of them. Too many categories/tags means I’m not inclined to click on any of them. Don’t have a lot of categories and don’t assign posts to too many categories so that readers feel like they’re always seeing the same posts in different categories.
Think maintenance: Time spent managing categories and tagging is time spent not writing posts or *gasp* doing something else. Too many categories makes it hard to pick a category for a new post.
Plan it: write down your planned list of categories before you start reorganizing and do a walk through your archive to see if they match.
Categorize your flagship content: Blogs always end up with a lot of “meh” or “look at this” type of posts. What you want to do with your categories is focus on the articles that add value to the reader. If you have posts that should be swept under the rug, then don’t bother categorizing them, or put them under something like Misc, Asides or Links.
Rule of 10: If a category isn’t going to have at least 10 posts, then it shouldn’t be a category of its own.
Use excerpts: Your category/archive pages should show excerpts instead of the full content. The excerpts should be long enough to entice the reader.
Screw tagging: This took me forever to realize, but tagging isn’t usually worth the time and effort. Tagging only works well when more than one person is tagging content. If it’s just one person doing it then it turns into a mess every time… a big cloud of nothing. Tags are useless for helping people find things if each tag only has one post. Tagging with WordPress makes categories unmanageable and unorganized. A well directed Google Custom Search engine can replace the need for tags.
The solution I came up with tags is to have some direct sub-categories under my main categories.
How Did I Do It?
These are the steps I took to drastically reduce the number of categories I had on my blog.
- Delete all categories willy-nilly
- I had to write a script to do this because the WordPress delete category interface is too slow (I’ll release it next week)
- Turn off the visual text editor on my User Profile
- Use the WordPress Category Resizer to make the category editor in the edit post window bigger.
- Fix manual navigation links to category pages and CSS effects
- Regenerate my Tag Clouds
- TODO: Run a link checker against my blog and fix all broken links
- TODO: Regenerate CSS for category icons
There’s a reason why I only do this every nine months or so.
What Does It Look Like?
- Becoming a Better Blogger (14)
- Book Reviews (18)
- Geeking Out (14)
- Humor (19)
- Internet Duct Tape News (15)
- Lifehacks (15)
- Miscellaneous (12)
- Programming and Software Development (57)
- Software (4)
- Web 2.0 and Social Media (23)
Still too many categories, but much better than before. Obviously I didn’t follow a lot of my own advice. There are still some categories that could get nuked, but I’m using them as tags.
The users will be presented with the following categories in the sidebar as a text widget.
- Becoming a Better Blogger
- Book Reviews
- Geeking Out
- Internet Duct Tape News
- Programming and Software Development
- Web 2.0 and Social Media
All of the subcategories are used as tags.