How To Use Categories And Tags To Organize Your Content

When a site contains a handful of pages you don’t have to think too hard about how to organize the content. You can drop a link to every page in the global navigation and be done. What about a site with hundreds or even thousands of pages?

How do you plan the content organization early on so the site can grow into a structure that holds all those pages?

I recently noticed that I’ve passed 725 posts here and the organization of those posts is far from ideal.

When I started blogging I didn’t know what direction this blog would take and so didn’t plan the best categories. Tags didn’t exist and I was admittedly too lazy to go back and add them once they became available.

How should this or any blog be organized to hold both its existing content and the content it will need to hold in the future?

The 50 minute video by Lorelle Van Fossen above is a great introduction to setting up categories and tags for your blog.

How To Use Categories, and Tags

WordPress has allowed us to create custom taxonomies for a couple of years, but for typical blogs the two default taxonomies (categories and tags) will be enough.

What’s nice about categories and tags is that they work independently of each other making them more powerful in combination.

Think of categories like the chapters or table of content of a book and tags like the index of that same book.

Each chapter in a book is about one general subject and no page or section exists in more than one chapter. In a book each chapter sticks to one general topic and so should a category.

Someone should be able to look at chapter titles alone and understand what the book is about. Similarly someone should be able to look at your category list and understand what your blog is about.

When you look through the index of a book there’s a different kind of classification going on. Topics in an index could be found across chapters. The same page could be located several times under different sections of the index.

Where chapters are good at giving a general overview of the structure of a book, the index is good at helping you find specific information inside.

Combining these two taxonomies operating at different levels offers a lot of flexibility for navigation.

Colorful tags hanging from a rod

General Guidelines for Categories and Tags

Categories are your higher level organization and when choosing categories think about the following:

  • Categories should be broader in subject matter
  • Categories should be fewer in number
  • Each category should pertain to one and only one subject
  • All categories should be at the same level of granularity
  • A post belongs in one and only one category
  • Your system of categories should generally be planned ahead

Tags exist at a lower level than categories and the following should be considered when setting up a tagging system:

  • Tags will be narrower in focus
  • Tags can be created after posts are written and the system can grow organically
  • Post can have multiple tags, though the number should remain reasonable
  • Tags can be seen as subtopics of the general category
  • Tags can be seen as a completely different system of classification as categories
  • Tags can cross categories

Periodic table of Jazz Music

How To Classify Your Content

If you’re tasked with organizing content for a new blog or reorganizing it for an existing blog, start by making a list of all the possible topics you’ve written about or think you will in the future.

Don’t worry too much if the topic should be a category or a tag until you have the list. Once you have the list, group the topics into different themes.

Say your blog is about about different styles of music. Your list might have included ragtime, swing, freeform, smooth, hard bop, acid, and afro-cuban. These are all different styles of jazz and so naturally fall under the broader topic of jazz.

Jazz then becomes the category and the different styles can become tags.

You might argue that something like hard bop is better as a subcategory instead of a category and you may be right, however tags make it easier to classify a post that compares hard bop to bebop.

If both were subcategories you’d have to chose one or the other. As tags you can include both.

In brainstorming your topics you may have also listed topics like guitar, bass, drums, saxophone, and piano. Later you might have grouped them all under the more general instruments. Should instruments then be a category like Jazz?

It really depends on where you want the focus of the blog to be. Do you plan on writing posts about specific instruments and if so will you talk about jazz, classical, rock, and blues piano all in one post?

Under what category would you then place a post about Rock guitars? Would it be better under Rock Music or Musical Instruments?

If you want to write about both musical genres and musical instruments, perhaps you need to rethink the categories a bit. In fact you might settle on just those two main categories.

  • Genres (or Styles)
  • Instruments

Under this system both jazz and guitar would become tags.

An organized craftroom

How I Might Reorganize this Blog

Again when I look at the categories currently in use here, I don’t think things are classified well.

Some categories have a couple of posts while others have hundreds. There are too many categories and too many levels of granularity. It’s a mess.

Here’s how I might reorganize things.

Categories

  • Web Design
  • Web Development
  • Marketing
  • Freelancing
  • Content Creation
  • Some kind of Catchall Category

These are the main topics I write about and they’re broad enough to hold a variety of different subtopics and a quick look at the list should help you understand the general content you’ll find within.

The Catchall category would be for things like general news about me, or the business or those few posts that don’t fit into any other category.

Under this system I could write a post about grids from the perspective of design, perhaps discussing how to decide what type of grid to use based on your content. That post gets categorized under Web Design and tagged with grid or grids.

Another post could be about how to use the 960 gird system. That post would also be tagged with grid or grids, though would now fall under the Web Development category.

The system of tags could grow organically, though off the top of my head they might include:

  • grids
  • typography
  • layout
  • html
  • css
  • seo
  • links
  • keywords
  • clients
  • inspiration
  • creativity
  • etc.

Hopefully you can see the flexibility in a system like this that uses very general subjects as categories and much more narrow topics as tags.

Both systems could be used as navigation or even better they could be combined to provide a system of faceted navigation. That would make it easy to zero in on posts taking about grids in the context of design, but not development.

Summary

While the focus of this post has been on blog post classification I hope it sheds some light on how you might classify and organize other types of content.

When structuring non-blog content we tend to go with category and subcategory, which works well when the content isn’t too much or too deep. However once your content grows past a certain point you either need to have multi-level navigation or a very wide top-level navigation.

Using systems of classification that can cross each other like categories and tags can ultimately be much more flexible and more usable.

The key is using taxonomies that can work independently of each other as well as working together.

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

5 comments

  1. What about organizing content on a blog that is a few years old. That’s something hard ..any ideas on how to make it more accessible to readers ?

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