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WordPress School: Categories and Tags

Badge - Learn WordPress with Lorelle VanFossen at WordPress School.We’ve covered WordPress posts and Pages, the core content elements associated with a basic WordPress site. Today we are going to focus on posts, specifically how they are organized and structured within a WordPress site.

Categories are your site’s Table of Contents.

Tags are your site’s index words.

Honestly, it is that simple.

Think of your site as a book. Posts represent the pages of your book, categories are the chapters and sections, literally the table of contents, and post tags are the index words.

You open your refrigerator and find an eggplant. It’s use it or lose it time. You turn to your cookbooks to find a recipe. Where do you look?

It’s most likely that you open to the back of the book and the index pages, right? But what if the book you opened is dedicated solely to eggplant? You might open to the front of the book to find a section dedicated to the specific dish you wish to serve such as eggplants in salad, appetizers, main dishes, deserts, etc. Both serve their purpose to help you find a way to cook up that eggplant or aubergine.

Such as it with your WordPress Site. Categories and tags increase navigation opportunities on your site. They also organize and collect your content into specific groups.

Remember, posts are considered timely content, the news and article content of your site. Posts typically represent the majority of the content on a site, and are sorted by reverse chronological order, then grouped by categories and tags.

Here is a summary of the key differences between categories and tags:

  • Categories and Tags are for your visitors, not just search engines. Think of your visitors’ needs first.
  • Categories and Tags are about navigation and sorting, grouping your content to help visitors find related information.
  • Categories and Tags are not fashion statements. Don’t be colorful or imaginative with either.
  • Categories are your site’s table of contents.
    • Categories help identify what your blog is about.
    • Categories represent your body of work on the subject.
    • Categories are not for you, they are for your reader.
    • Categories help reader know if they are in the right place.
    • Categories must encompass collected groups of information.
    • Categories must be specific enough to help visitors understand the content within, while not being too general or vague.
    • A category that dominates a blog may need to be spun off to a separate blog.
    • Categories with only one post tells the reader you don’t know much about that topic.
  • Tags are your site’s index words.
    • Tags are micro-data or meta-data, more specifically micro-categorization for your site’s content.
    • Tags were indexed by Technorati and others as “keywords” and today are just part of the collection of data indexed by search engines with little or no special relevance.
    • Search engines do not recognize or reward the rel="tag" which identifies a tag, though there is hope.
    • If you can’t write five blog post titles/ideas on a topic, then it’s a tag not a category.
    • If enough posts have the same tag, and it represents your blog purpose and goals, it’s a category. Typically the number is a minimum of 25 posts for a tag to qualify as a category.

When it comes to the power and confusion in and around categories and tags, I could (and have) talked for hours. Let me try to boil it down to the basics for this assignment. You’ll learn more about the power of categories and tags as we move through the course.

What are WordPress Categories?

Example of a category list in WordPress featuring hierarchical list.All posts published on a WordPress site need to be set in a category appropriate to its topic and subject matter. Categories lists are displayed in the sidebar of a WordPress site, or in other places as we will soon discover.

Categories serve two important purposes.

  1. To inform the visitor of the topics you cover on your site
  2. To direct the visitor to the information they seek

That’s the surface work of categories. Categories organize your content not just for the visitor but for search engines.

WordPress post categories are indexed by search engines, showing up in search results, directing people to collections of your related content.

This is why choosing the name of your categories is often the most important task for your site.

Category Names

WordPress categories are posts grouped by topic. Category names are most helpful when the represent the content within them.

Typically, a well-developed site should have 5-12 categories maximum. After 12, the categories tend to get a bit messy. You may have subcategories, which brings the mess typically under control.

Defining Your Categories

Lorelle WordPress School Tips and Techniques Badge.I use the Site Brainstorm for Content Structure and Organization Worksheet (PDF) with all of my clients, those starting out with a new site from scratch or revamping a site currently in existence. The process involves listing all the words representing topics and concepts the site owner wishes to feature on their site. The key to this exercise is to work on the brainstorming process for at least 25 minutes. The magic happens after the first 25 minutes when clarity begins to come through in the idea and decision process.

Explained in Blog Exercises: Category Brainstorming, after all the words have been listed, group them together into like collections and choose a word or phrase to represent them. This is your first set of categories.

Go through the new list to look for redundancies and edit the group titles. Then write a minimum of 5 post titles under each category title. If you can’t get more than two article titles under a category, do you think that’s a good category title? If you come up with 25-50 titles under a single category, what do you think you should do with that category? Maybe use that in the site title and start over looking for new categories under that subject?

Try the exercise yourself with the topic you are considering for your test site.

Choosing category names challenge the developer, designer, and user to define the purpose and goals of the site.

One of the Blog Exercises in that series was on brainstorming and rewriting your blog’s categories. I introduced the Site Brainstorm for Content Structure and Organization Worksheet (PDF) I use with all my clients to help them identify the purpose and goals of their site. I challenge you to use it to do the same with your test site.

The names you choose for your category names are critical to guiding a visitor to that specific collection of content on your site, so choose the words carefully.

The single most important category name you should NEVER use, unless you are an expert on that subject is the category name: UNCATEGORIZED.

This is the default category for WordPress.

When you visit a site where Uncategorized is listed in the category list, what is your first impression?

Yeah, me, too. Actually, to me, over the years it has come to symbolize a broken site as well as someone not paying attention to the details.

I’ve written much about being uncategorized on WordPress, but trust me, you won’t need that information because you now know why every post should be properly categorized.

Words that should NOT be category names include:

  • Blog: A blog is a website with a collection of web pages, not a category. People expect to find all your posts on a Blog web page and not posts you have decided are “bloggy” for some reason. I don’t even know what bloggy is, and I’m sure your reader’s won’t either.
  • Thoughts: Have you ever clicked a category called “Thoughts?” There are just some minds you might not wish to look into, and mine is probably one of them. As one of my students explained, “If I wanted to read your thoughts, I’d have become a psychiatrist.”
  • Articles or Posts: This is common for professional, resume and portfolio sites where it works. It represents a collection of articles that serve as showcase examples of your work. However, if the site isn’t a portfolio or resume site, then Articles is another word for Blog and fairly useless because we don’t know what kind of articles. Same goes for Posts, another word for “Blog.”
  • Stuff, Junk, Miscellaneous: We all have a drawer in which we stuff everything and anything into (light bulb next to gum wrappers next to baggie ties next to that round plastic ring that goes into water hose connectors), and the last thing people want to do is open the junk drawer on your site.
  • Inspiration, Motivation, etc.: While these are nice words, they are empty words. “Parental Inspiration,” “Writing Motivation,” these words work because they label the nothing words. Be clear and specific about what and who you are inspiring and motivating.

Other weak words include Advice, Help, Dreams, My Writing, and similar words that don’t mean anything unless there is context such as WordPress Advice, Writing Help, Native American Dreams, Science Fiction Writing.

Use the Content Structure and Organization worksheet (PDF) to dig deeper.

Ask yourself if you were searching for this topic, what words would you use?

Category names change over time as a site evolves. We’ll come back to this later as your test site comes to life.

Posts May Belong in Multiple Categories

There is no rule that says “one post per category,” yet I hear this all the time.

You may put a single post in multiple categories.

However, don’t put a post into every category. That usually means there is something wrong with the post or the categories.

Categories may have subCategories. When checking a subCategory in WordPress, choose the parent category, too. This adds the content to another category, expanding the changes of being found.

The following articles and tutorials will help you learn more about categories in WordPress:

What are WordPress Tags?

WordPress tags are a site’s index words, the micro-navigation a visitor may use to drill down through your content to find what they are seeking.

Tag Cloud Clutter

Lorelle WordPress School Tips and Techniques Badge.Speaking of clutter, make a decision early on how to capitalize your tags. Most people choose to keep all of their tags lowercase as a mix of upper and lowercase words adds clutter to the overall look and feel of the site. If you choose to go all caps, then make a note to capitalize properly every time you add your tags.

Tags are displayed on posts and in the site’s sidebar in a Tag Widget. In WordPress, tags are presented most commonly as a tag cloud, though a list is available by default. The tag cloud is a heat cloud featuring the tags with the most posts in the largest fonts. There may be any number of words or phrases in the tag cloud, though most start to become cluttered past 25-50 tags.

What are tags? Tags are your site’s index words, the words people use to look something up, right?

If you wrote a post about how to adopt a cat from the local pound, what would be the tags, the words people would use to find this helpful advice?

cat, adoption, pet adoption, cat adoption, new pet, kitten, animals, pets, how to adopt a cat

Sound likely? What wouldn’t be appropriate tags?

everything you need to know about adopting a cat from the pound, my favorite pet, adopting Frisky, want one yourself, feeding your cat, petting, heavy petting, name of pound

While these topics maybe covered in your post, what are the odds that someone will see a tag for “my favorite pet” and know that this is a post about how to adopt a cat?

While categories may have sub-categories, tags do not. They are one of a kind.

Example of a tag cloud.Keep remembering that tags are index words, the words people use to look up information, and that may help you narrow down the words when adding tags to your posts.

The following articles and tutorials will help you learn more about WordPress tags:

Learn More about WordPress Categories and Tags

This is a topic we will return to over the course of the next year as you learn about the important role categories and tags play on your site.

For more information on categories and tags:

Assignment

Lorelle's WordPress School Assignment Badge.Your assignment today is to work on your test site’s categories on paper. Don’t add them to the test site that you haven’t created yet.😉

  1. Use the Site Brainstorm for Content Structure and Organization Worksheet (PDF) and your Site Master Plan worksheet to begin the process of sifting through your ideas to generate category names.
  2. Write down on your worksheet the 5-7 category names. If you can’t come up with 5, write down the ones you have. They will come later as you work on developing the content for the site.
  3. Write a description of each category being as specific as you can to describe the category’s contents.
  4. Start developing a list of tags, the various topics and subjects you may use on your site.

Tomorrow is WordPress Terminology day, so expect to learn more about the naming of WordPress bits and pieces, and on Friday, we setup your test site for this course. Get ready. You have a full weekend of work ahead.

This is a tutorial from Lorelle’s WordPress School. For more information, and to join this free, year-long, online WordPress School, see:

Subscribe to Lorelle on WordPress. Feed on Lorelle on WordPress Follow on Twitter. Give and Donate to Lorelle VanFossen of Lorelle on WordPress.


8 Comments

  1. eclectic
    Posted February 4, 2015 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Oh wow I have missed your last few posts and now sooo behind crikey this looks great to do🙂

    • Posted February 4, 2015 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

      Not very far behind. This is a year-long course project, and you can jump in any time. No worries. Come join us!

    • Posted February 6, 2015 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      Thank you🙂 Can I use my existing blog or do you recommend starting a new one? Thing is i have a few blogs already lol

    • Posted February 6, 2015 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      Please see the course description for all the details. You are to create a test site, preferably on wordpress.com, because you will be breaking it as you learn it. You do not want to use the live site that has readers in a community. You can take the lessons that you learn on your test site and apply them to your life site, but you need to start from scratch.

    • Posted February 6, 2015 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      aahhhhaaa i am with you now, thank you, I will try to sit down this weekend and grab a few moments to read thorugh it x

    • Posted February 6, 2015 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      Excellent. And so glad to have you on board.

      If you have an existing junk site, you may use that. I’ve put together a tutorial on cleaning up an existing site to use.

    • Posted February 7, 2015 at 2:09 am | Permalink

      ok thank you🙂 youngests birthday this weekend so all a bit hectic but will try to get around to it hehe x

  2. Posted April 6, 2015 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Just Cause.


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