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Keeping categories simple to keep readers happy

Keeping categories simple to keep readers happy

Whenever I write a new blog post, I always think about which category suits the post best. I keep the number of categories that I have at a minimal level so that an appropriate category for every blog post is immediately obvious to me.

My rule of thumb for naming categories is, if you’ve got two categories that can overlap each other in an obvious manner, then you’ve got to change something there. Either merge the two categories, or remove one and expand the remaining one. I also tend to review my categories every few months, and if I have a category with less than 10 posts, then I ax it and merge the posts with that category into another category.

At my own blog, for example, my only categories are:

  • business
  • computers
  • conference
  • design
  • education
  • entertainment
  • general
  • personal
  • programming
  • technology
  • web

None of those categories can overlap in an obvious way; instead, they complement each other. This means that if I made a post about me attending a web 2.0 conference, I would probably categorize it under ‘conference’, ‘technology’, and ‘web’ because it’s a conference, it’s about technology, and it’s more specifically about the web.

If you create really specific categories, then your readers automatically tune out from them because they can’t tell the difference between one category and another. If a reader reads one of your posts and sees that it’s categorized as ‘coding’ and ‘programming’, how do they know which category is more relevant to what they are looking for? If they see ‘business’ and ‘web’, though, then they have a better idea.

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The thing to remember is that your readers will consider a post to be in different categories than you placed it in, so if you keep your categories as distinctive as possible, then your readers will be more likely to categorize your posts like you did, which in turn will make it easier for them to find what they were looking for all along.

Gary King is a professional freelance web developer, primarily using Ruby on Rails and PHP to create cool new websites. When he’s not trying to take over the world one blog at a time, you can find him mulling over his thoughts at King Gary.

View Comments (9)
  • Don’t I know this! I had stupid categories started up, and it’s come back to haunt me.

    I should really spend a weekend cleaning it all up!

  • I must say that tagging information at a micro level has brought some readers to my blog. For example, instead of tagging a post simply Music I may tag it Beastie Boys. This tag or category then gets picked by Technorati and maybe some other key word type services or sites. Where the post may have been lost in the sea of Music tags it has a chance to be noticed in the Lake of Beastie Boy tags. I do agree with you on ease of use (for the blogger and reader) with the fewer and more collective categories though. This may be an upcoming project to wrangle in my out of control categories.

  • Couldn’t disagree more. The more you drill down and get granular with categories, the more useful they are for many readers (and definitely helps with the search engine traffic).

  • I think that keeping it close to ten (like your list) is important. Make sure you have a general that can be used as a catch all.

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