In a recent article, Noah Weiss shared his struggle to figure out categories and tags on his personal site. I know many of you following these Blog Exercises have also struggled to figure out your categories, so I thought Noah’s site would be a perfect example, He has gratefully given me permission to rip his category concepts apart so we may all learn more about how categories work on your site, and you can improve your own category choices on your sites in this exercise.
In a nutshell, categories are your site’s table of contents, tags are your index words.
You would think that the concept of categories and tags wouldn’t be so difficult to understand, yet people struggle with them, often harder than they need.
Noah Weiss is a grad student at Northwestern in the United States going for his doctorate, and already a well-traveled and adventurous spirit. He describes his blog as “adding the ‘b’ to his hand-written logs,” sharing the stories of his life, travels, and thoughts on the world around him.
In his post about categories and tags he listed his then current categories and offered up a list of proposed site categories, a perfect example for my Blog Exercises.
Noah’s original list was:
- Academic Considerations
- Article Response
- Blast From The Past
- Quick Update
- Random Thoughts
- The Week That Was
After much consideration, he narrowed them down to:
- Full Journal
- Memory Compilations
- Article Responses
- Soul of Wit (short posts)
Dissecting the Categories
Full Journal: I had no idea what “Full Journal” meant. Honestly, it doesn’t tell the reader anything. There is no information, nothing that makes the reader jump their mouse or finger to the link to uncover more vast secrets and stories to fascinate and inspire. “Full Journal” meant something to Noah. He combined this storytelling categories into this but it isn’t an easily identifiable term. It isn’t a term I’d search for, recognize, or one that would answer the question “What is that about?” Journal means something. Full journal? Is there a half journal? An empty journal? If this category represents the collection of thoughts on various subjects, “Miscellaneous” might be a better name. Or “Thoughts.”
Memory Compilations: This is another one that doesn’t mean anything to the reader. Whose memories? Noah’s? If so, then why aren’t they in the journal? What qualifies them to be memories and not journal entries? Or thoughts? Are they collections of other people’s memories, stories of their live, adventures, rituals, experiences? A compilation sounds like a pile of something, a collection. It could be a fascinating collection, like a box of papers and photographs found in the attic after a parent or grandparent dies, leaving you with more questions than answers, and the posts within this category reveal the stories stored in that box, helping us to explore a world gone by.
Thoughts: Whose thoughts? Thoughts are complex things. Are they thoughts on the world, family, work, life in general, poetry, or maybe your dreams. Or are they the thoughts of others, quotes, comments, interviews, the ideas of other people shared on the site?
Series: Series are any set of articles that flow from one to another. There may be two post series or dozens of posts in a series, such as these Blog Exercises. What kinds of series? On what topics? Or is this about television series or book serials? Reviews of them? Why would you wish to group all article series together? If this was a magazine, maybe a series category might be helpful, however without an adjective before the word, we don’t have enough information to want to click on the category. For a few moments I thought he meant the World Series or another sports series. Ambiguity doesn’t work with categories.
Article Responses: Having never seen such a category I don’t even know where to start. Are these articles in response to comments on the site? Article responses to articles written by others, thus editorial comments on their writings?
Soul of Wit: Of all the categories, this one inspired me to click. I have to admit that what I found didn’t quite measure up but it has potential. Noah had only two posts in that category out of a couple hundred. My rule on categories is that a category needs a minimum of 10 posts (20 is better) before it qualifies to be a category on an existing site. Still, Soul of Wit sounds like a book title. I thought about my expectations. I expected to find poetry or short stories here. I didn’t. Or comedy, silly stories with great wit and characters. The two posts didn’t qualify with any of my expectations.
Miscellaneous: No one should have a category called that. It’s like left-overs or the junk drawer where we toss all the things we know might be of value sometime in the future but not right now. We know they have value. Like the present you really don’t like nor need, you just don’t know what you are going to do with it so you shove it in a drawer and wait for a purpose. That’s a sad state of affairs for Noah’s lovely and thoughtful content.
How to Sift Through to the Right Categories
I look for three qualifications in a site category.
- The category must be a search term, a term people will use to look for the subject matter. This has a little to do with SEO but it mostly has to do with directing traffic on your site and being helpful to your visitors. Make them want to click the link as the words tell them something about what is found within. Consider a category a traffic sign, directing drivers to the right place.
- The category must meet expectation. If you provide a category called “Naked Women” and there are no pictures, expectations are not met, thus visitors are frustrated, so to speak.
- The category must help inform the visitor instantly about the topics you cover on your site. Categories and tags inform, educate, and provide the first impressions a visitor needs to determine if this site is one that answers their questions or meets their entertainment and social needs.
From the original category list, I found more appropriate categories. They made sense. “Blast from the Past” is a great category for memories, reflections, or revisiting the past. That makes sense. “Events” is a nice category if you blogged about specific events as if you were promoting them or were a band or artist announcing your upcoming events. If you don’t have such events, this category doesn’t meet expectations.
“Religion,” “Sports,” and “Travelogue” are categories that meet expectations. If I wish to read more on that topic, I know the “chapter” to look in for content related to those subjects.
I had to hunt through Noah’s site to uncover the mysteries of MAPLE and OCTOBER. Without context, the words in caps meant nothing. At first I thought they were book titles, which would be appropriate for a category called “Books” with these as subcategories. These are self-assignments. M.A.P.L.E. means “May Acquires Posts Logged Everyday.” If these are part of homework assignments for a class or a specific project, such named categories would be appropriate, but I would put them under a parent category called “Homework” or “Class Assignments” so a context would be established and we wouldn’t think they were spy games.
I spent some time reading through Noah’s site. His writing draws you into his story quickly. He is a gifted writer. I found him fascinating through the words on the page, and through the stories he tells of his life.
I also found the start of an autobiography, stories that could easily be pulled together into a fascinating story of his life and his struggles with Asperger syndrome. He describes himself as on the Autism spectrum, highly functional, which allows him to share insights on his experiences so others can better understand the potential of such a diagnosis. He calls himself a success story, one that has come with challenges along the way.
Looking at his site’s organizational structure and categories, I don’t know this until I’d read several posts. This tells me that he does not wish to be defined by Aspergers. If he wishes to set an example for others and help others looking at the future of their child or themselves with such a diagnosis, this is something he may wish to change. That’s his decision, but the earnest quality of his posts about Aspergers are touching and sincere and worth sharing with the world.
Note this beautiful explanation in “Therapeutic Writing” as he responded to a newspaper article about writing as therapy to help those with mental illness:
They write this article about people who write as a way to recover from mental illness, whether essays, poems, or stories. This is very similar to my use of my journal for everyday events, and on the exceedingly rare occasion of a bad day, I can take it out in my journal instead of the people around me. I seem to know if it was a very good or very bad day based on how many ALL CAPS or large multi-line texts that I use.
In the article, the people who wrote suffered from depression or emotional traumas at some point in life. Though Asperger syndrome is different from these, at the same time, there are those times when I tend to withdraw into my own world. This is not nearly as frequent as it used to be during my developmental childhood, but I feel that my journal can be my “retreat world” for those cases that I am in distress. Of course, I could also talk with others about it.
Writing down thoughts and actions can be a boon for both the person with the mental irregularity as well as any members of that person’s support team. Somehow, I feel that if a person writes down their thoughts, actions, etc. on paper, or makes it into an art project, it may make it easier to share.
Without a doubt, Noah is a young man who believes in the power of sharing. Through the compassion of his writing on his site, he helps so many, making connections daily to those struggling in the world themselves.
Using the articles I read on his site, and his self-assignment article “Triple digits!” celebrating the 100th post on the site, I feel like I have a sense of what defines his life and his blog to date.
He will have to make the final decisions for himself as his site is personal thus reflective of his personality.
These are the categories I came up with, suggesting alternative titles in parentheses.
- Asperberg’s Syndrome (or Autism)
- Journal (or My Life)
- Education (or School Life)
At a glance this list gives you a sense of what interests him, doesn’t it? We see the interests of a person, not labels for the types of articles.
Remember that a post may be in more than one category. His writings about Asperger Syndrome could fit well into his Journal and Autism/Asperger categories. Travel and Education could also overlap, as could many topics.
I added “Writing” to the mix. I found several articles dedicated to writing in general and writing self-assignments such as his post on figuring out his categories, therapeutic writing, drafting (writing a draft in WordPress), and many other examples. The quantity qualifies them to be in their own category as well as another if necessary.
If I were to add one more, it would be “Music.” Noah’s connection with music is fascinating to read. Music is a friend, hobby, mathematical study, and obsession for many people, including those with Autism. The way he writes about music and uses it to define his world could make it an ideal category.
Your blog exercise is to read through this example and the other articles on categories and tags and reprocess your own categories.
Do they truly represent your content, creating a strong first impression?
Are they few or many? A good number is 5-7, though up to 12 may be acceptable as long as they are clear and specific enough. More than that, you are using categories as tags and possibly confusing your readers.
Are the words easily identifiable, words that clearly describe the content found within those categories? Are the terms search or keywords, words people would use to look for that information?
Does the content within each category meet expectations?
It’s a category review and update exercise! Go for it and report on what you come up with below in the comments. These exercises are for us to learn from each other as well as me. Ask us for help if you are having trouble with your category names.
Articles on Categories
- Blog Exercises: How to Tag Posts
- Blog Exercises: Category Cross-Pollination
- Blog Exercises: Category Counting
- Blog Exercises: What Are You Talking About?
- Blog Exercises: Curing Uncategorized Fever
- Blog Exercises: The Content Project Form
- Blog Exercise: Category Brainstorming
- Adding, Deleting, and Changing a WordPress Category
- Blog Struggles: The Blog Focus
- Are Tags Working For You?
- Are You Uncategorized?
- One Year Anniversary Review: Tags, Tagging, and Categories
- Tags and Tagging in WordPress
- Putting Some Thought Into Blog Categories and Tags
- Tags Are Not Categories – Got It?
- What Do You Blog About? Check Your Tags
- The Problems With Tags and Tagging
- Categories versus Tags: Defining the Limitations
- Categories versus Tags – What’s the Difference and Which One?
Share your categories thoughts and stories below to help us all learn about the process.
A Note of Appreciation: Please thank Noah Weiss for being so generous with his personal site to allow me to dissect it this way. He’s a great sport!