Tag or Category: let’s get organised

Question

It’s blog makeover time I declare. I spent a good deal of last Sunday afternoon doing a tidy-up of the blog. The sidebars were starting to flow over, and I was particularly unimpressed with the way the category cloud looked totally useless … a mass or mess of words which I reckon would be daunting for a visitor to say the least. Time to sort things out.

WordPress 2.1 now supports tags, and those of us who had been organising our posts using both tags and categories, tossing in every possible relevant key-word, were faced with tag and category clouds which looked like a storm about to break. It’s nice now to be able to get some organisation into the blog, and to ask what use tags and categories serve. At the end of Sunday I felt good, like you do after a big clean out of a messy cupboard or file system. I’ve lost the tags … well, I hadn’t been using them for ages, not since I migrated from Blogger. My category cloud has reduced itself down to the lean animal you can see on the right. In fact I have only now got 8 parent categories, with the kids nestling underneath. What does this all mean?

Well, it doesn’t mean that I should lose tags, those nicely flexible, folksonomic (people-friendly) ways of marking a post in a way that is meaningful to me, the writer and also to visitors who are after fine-grained detail. I don’t have to make them visible in the sidebars though; and I’d advise against this. Perhaps I should start by noting that it’s useful to understand the difference between tags and categories.

If you’re a WordPress user (and even if you’re not … for the sake of consistency) you can find it all here. Follow the hotlinks and surf around to get the difference clear. You can also get some of Lorelle’s wisdom on the categories:tags issue on her great site Lorelle on WordPress. Essentially though, it’s up to you how you categories and sort your blog posts.

To cut a long story short, think of categories as you would shelves of books in a Library; each shelf deals with a different topic, with sub-topics nestling underneath: theatre/buildings/history/plays/ authors etc. When it comes to assigning a category to a post, think about the ‘kind’ of post it is. Is it a ‘how to’ e.g., make a PowerPoint presentation, or is it one with an embedded video? Perhaps it’s one that deals with the key theme in your blog, let’s say ‘parenting.’ You might set up various categories to deal with filing your post away : ‘How to,’ and another called ‘Videos’ and another ‘Parenting.’ You would then categorise your post in this way. It’s easier for your visitors to search for content, and for you. Scrolling down the Categories list is a snap if you organise them this way.

Now as far as tags are concerned, I might use them in my example post in this way. Say my video on parenting, which I’ve produced in a Power Point presentation, contained images of Toby a friend’s child at his recent birthday party. In addition to the categories I’ve filed the post under, I might also tag the post Toby and birthday. If you want to find that post later on, you can simply type the tags into the search pane, and voila! As far as searches out there are concerned, your local as well as global tags e.g., Toby and birthday and any other tag you assign to a post are going to be accessed, but Toby is presumably, going to generate fewer responses than birthday. But Toby in the context of my blog, is meaningful. Tags should be short and sweet; categories can be as complex as you like. But obviously, they need to have meaning as they relate to your site. You might in fact not even bother with young Toby as a tag; your call.

So to get my category cloud whipped into shape, I went to the Manage Posts page and assigned parent and child categories. I also knocked out a few, and converted some fine-grained categories into tags. Took me a while, but I believe the end result is worth it. The workspace is clearer, the category cloud more accessible, and as a footnote to the exercise, the focus of my blog was clarified for me. No bad thing from time to time … like an audit.

So, this post is categorised under ‘blogging’ and ‘tips’ whilst the tags are tips, makeover, categories, tags, and WordPress. Works for me.

PS. This audit wouldn’t have meant a thing to me 12 months ago. It has taken as long as this to realise the power and the purpose of all of this blog organisation. The learning curve continues upwards.


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