How You Should Use Categories?

December 27th, 2008

This posts is summary of Chris Pearsons What Every Blogger Needs to Know About Categories.

Categories are something bloggers don’t tend to use in their posts, at least not as often as they should. At the beginning I myself thought of them only as navigational menus for users, but in reality, categories are a powerful tool that bloggers can use to exercise precise control over content in a dynamic environment. In this content don’t mix categories with pages, they are both navigational tools but in terms of usability categories are much more than just ugly unnecessary menus.

Unfortunately, the true power of categorized content has been masked by the “one size fits all implementation” you see everywhere on the Web – the proverbial long, ugly list of category links now appearing on a blog near you. I don’t know why but people think that listing bundled categories in sidebars actually helps readers to navigate somewhere!?

Why Your Category List Isn’t Doing You Any Favors

By giving users a list of categories to browse on your site, you are creating a psychological conundrum that usually leaves them with a severe case of analysis paralysis. This is a condition where users, when presented with too many options, end up selecting nothing at all.

Being presented with more choices, even good ones, can hinder effective action. In one study, doctors couldn’t make a decision when a second promising drug showed up.

Fast Company, November 2007

Counter-intuitive? Maybe. Human nature? Absolutely.

Whether you’re selling products, writing copy, or designing interfaces, you can benefit from playing into basic human psychology. And interestingly, with Website categories, accommodating natural human behavior also turns out to be an excellent SEO strategy!

Automated SEO and Content Management with Categories

At first glance, it seems convenient that WordPress automatically creates category pages, tag pages, and just about every other type of page you can imagine. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find that this form of page bloat is a remarkably poor site-building practice-it’s a condition that should be avoided whenever possible.

As far as blogs are concerned, categories are the single biggest contributor to both page bloat and link dilution, two of the most abominable SEO sins. Ironically, when used properly, these same categories hold the key to efficient, automated site optimization and content management…

The difference, of course, is all in how you use them. Armed with a bit of knowledge and a few lines of code, you’ll be able to use categories to:

  • display content however you like, wherever you like
  • link directly to interior pages-not to interstitial “bloat” pages like monthly archives or category archives
  • provide your users with a smarter, more intuitive way to browse content that may be of interest to them

WordPress Example:  “Featured Post” Category

I use “Featured Post” category to show my best articles on top. Many WP themes have this usability tweak already incorporated but this is just one example how categories can be used in much smarter way to show your readers what matters. Besides this you could use subheadings like “Must Reads”,  “Improve Your Blog,” and  “Worth a Look” and guide users out of information overload.

The first step to do this is to categorize each applicable post in an identical and meaningful way – in this case, “Featured Post”. Keep in mind that it makes no difference how many posts you lump under one category, simply because you’ll establish all display control through your code (as already said some themes have this tweak incorporated).

Once you’ve categorized your articles, the second step is to determine what you want to display and where you want to display it and and this is it!

The Final Advice

Categories are like a site’s DNA – they literally form the organizational framework that houses all of a site’s information. Like DNA, category structures are unique, and therefore, a one size fits all solution for handling them doesn’t make any sense. Instead of that use as little categories as possible, gain absolute control over your content, improve SEO and help your users to read only what matters!

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