Business Blogging: Content Is King [con't]
Categories and Tags
It's very important to organize your content in a usable and logical way. Your readers will be frustrated if they cannot find what they're looking for. Their overall experience of your blog is greatly enhanced if you use clear signposts to your content. Luckily, WordPress makes this easy with the use of Categories and Tags (in version 2.3 and higher).
The Difference between Categories and Tags
There can be some confusion about the differences between categories and tags, which can lead to them being used incorrectly. This is partly due to the fact that different bloggers use them in different ways. There is some debate about how they should be used, and some may argue that there are no hard and fast rules. However, I think it's important to establish in your mind some distinction between categories and tags; what follows is my method for using them.
Categories should be thought of as being part of the hierarchy of your blog's navigation. In a way, they are a bit like a filing system for your blog. Each post is 'filed' in a category, giving your blog a hierarchical structure. Some people also think of categories as being the 'table of contents' for a blog.
Categories are a high-level way of organizing content, while tags are more granular or low-level. A category will contain many posts, whereas a tag may point to far fewer.
Bearing in mind that categories are a high-level method for organizing your content, you should keep the number of categories to a minimum. I would recommend not going above 12 categories, and in fact, for many blogs far fewer will be sufficient.
Remember that we are also using categories as part of our blog's navigation; they are not just a way of labeling posts. Your category list should be clearly displayed on each page of your blog so that it can be used as a navigation enu.
Each post should be placed in just one category. This is a controversial point, and you will see some bloggers place their posts in more than one category. However, this detracts from the idea of using categories as a navigational aid on your site or as a table of contents. A section in a book only appears under one chapter heading; it only occurs once within the book, so it is only listed once in the table of contents.
You can set up your permalinks so that the category is part of the URL. For example:
http://blog.chilliguru.com/recipes/2007/04/01/the-worlds-best-salsa-recipe/. It's rather like the directory structure used in static HTML sites, where content is organized by placing each page in the relevant folder. This is an important reason for placing your posts in just one category. We will apply this to the ChilliGuru case study later in the chapter.
Avoid the use of sub-categories. If you keep the number of categories small, you shouldn't need any sub-categories. You must also constantly monitor your categories and how you are using them. If it turns out that one of your categories is only getting a few posts while all the others have dozens, you should consider merging the underused category into one (or more) of the others. A category with just one or two posts that reflects badly on you, and many of your readers may doubt your expertise or enthusiasm.
We've mentioned that tags are a more granular way of organizing your content. You may only have a few categories, but you should use lots of tags. However, just because there are lots of them, you shouldn't be cavalier in the way you use them. Always use meaningful tags but try to keep them as short as possible. The best tags are just one word, although sometimes you will have to use more.
The whole point of tags is to use the same ones over and over. Do not create more than one tag with the same meaning. For example, if you were frequently writing about architecture you could have the tags such as, 'building', 'construction', 'development', or a whole host of variations. The problem is that they are all too similar. It would be far better to use just one of these tags for posts on that subject. You should also be aware of any ambiguities in your tags, for example, 'building' can mean 'a structure of bricks and mortar' or 'the act of constructing'. If you were to use it as a tag, you would need to be consistent and use it in just one meaning.
You can give more than one tag for a post, in fact, you will usually find you have to. The whole point of tagging is that readers can use it to find related posts, and this may be best achieved by using several tags per post.
Applying Tags and Categories to ChilliGuru
Now, let's look at how we can apply this to our case-study blog. First, we'll consider the categories that are needed for the blog. Based on the subject matter of ChilliGuru, we can come up with a few broad topics that will be our categories:
- Recipes and Cooking
- Planting and Growing
- Chilli Culture
- Chilli History
- Speaking and Events
- TV Appearances
This looks like a good list of categories to begin with—we can always add more, later. Now, start up your local development server and log in to the admin area of the ChilliGuru blog. Select Manage | Categories. Begin by deleting all the old categories and then add the new ones.
Some of the category names contain several words, but you may wish to use just one word for the category slug. The slugs will be used by our permalinks, once we've re-configured them.
For the time being, leave the Uncategorized category—you can set one of the new ones as Default later. (See this detail)
Next, you need to go through each of the posts and assign them to a new category—remember, only one category per post. At the same time add a few tags for each post. Tags are placed in the box immediately below the main post editor. Since, we're only using dummy content, it doesn't really matter which categories and tags you use for each post.
Tags work in WordPress 2.3 and higher. If you have been following the ChilliGuru case study since the beginning of the book, you will have installed at least version 2.6.
The Sandbox theme, which we used for ChilliGuru, displays tags within the meta-information at the end of each post.
However, it's also useful to display your tags in a tag cloud within your sidebar. WordPress comes with its own tag cloud widget, but it's not very flexible. So, we'll use a third-party plugin, called Configurable Tag Cloud (CTC) developed by Keith Solomon.
Download the plugin. Unzip the file and place
tag-cloud.php in your
plugins folder. Go back to the admin area and activate it.
Click on the Design tab and then Widgets. So far, we've been using the default sidebar settings. We'll place the CTC widget in Sidebar 1. The available widgets are listed on the right-hand side of the page (the Configurable Tag Cloud widget is shown as CTC). On the left-hand side under Current Widgets, make sure that Sidebar 1 is selected from the drop-down box. Now click the Add link next to the following widgets: Pages, Categories, CTC, and Archives (in that order).
Now click on the Edit link next to CTC.
Here we can change a few settings for the tag cloud. I've changed the title to Site Tags; set the Number of Tags to Display to 100; set the Smallest Font Size to 10 pixels; the Min. Tag Color to #DF5E37; and the Max. Tag Color to #800000. Click the Change button and then Save Changes.
Now, we'll add a quick CSS rule to the style sheet. Select the Theme Editor. In
style.css, add the following rule on the line below
/* The Sidebars */:
Click Update File. If you view the blog, you should see the tag cloud in the first sidebar. Notice that the most-used tags appear larger, in the #800000 color; there is a sliding scale of font sizes down to the least used tags, which are colored #DF5E37. Also notice the dotted 'border' we added at the bottom of each tag using the CSS rule, which also removed the default underlining for hyperlinks. Clicking on one of the tags will show a list of all the posts that have been tagged with it.
You will see that there is a 'recipe' tag as well as a 'Recipes and Cooking' category. This is because ChilliGuru knows that many of his readers visit the blog primarily to read his recipes. This makes it is as easy as possible to locate all his recipes. Readers can either select the tag or the category. The 'recipe' tag shows just the recipes, while the 'Recipes and Cooking' category contains all the posts that are on the general topic of cooking, for example, techniques, utensils, tips, and so on.
Finally, we will update the permalinks so that the relevant category appears in the URL for each post. Whether you decide to implement this on your own blog is up to you. It has advantages and drawbacks. The advantage is that your category structure is reinforced in your post URLs and the drawback is that the URLs are slightly longer.
Select Settings | Permalinks. Under Common settings, select the Custom Structure radio button, and enter
/%category%/%year%/%monthnum%/%day%/%postname%/ as shown in this screenshot.
Click Save Changes. Your permalinks will now be structured like this:
Now, as we've dealt with categories and tags, we'll look at some of the static content you may wish to include in your blog.