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If you’ve spent any time on blogs, you’ve probably noticed that a lot of them contain thumbnails on the bottom indicating “related posts.” How does the website know what posts are related?
The answer lies in the blog category options that you find on the right-hand side of your post on the WordPress backend, just under the “Publish” button. These categories are simple ways to group blogs of like topics together.
Yet many site owners don’t put enough thought into this topic. They fail to categorize posts, or create new categories far too frequently to be of any real use.
This is a shame, because using blog categories effectively usually doesn’t require a ton of strategy or deep thinking. Instead, all it takes is a few common-sense guidelines that you and your content team follow as part of your blog publishing procedure. It’s literally as simple as checking a box.
And the payoffs are huge. Blog categories help target buyer personas and build the time visitors spend on your site. They engage readers, help your previous posts stay relevant, and bring a sense of structure and cohesion to your site. Wondering how to use them effectively on your blog? Here’s how to do them well.
First of all, use categories that match your audience. If you’re running a marketing blog for your home gardening store, a list of your main blog categories can help you think of new content ideas. They keep your blog focused, while also helping you spread your writing over a range of key topics.
For instance, you may have a series of posts on organic gardening, types of fertilizer, pest control, gardening equipment, and planting tips. Each of those topics can be its own category, and within those categories you can go as broad or as deep as you like.
If you do decide to write a random, throw-away post on an off-beat topic, you don’t need to give it its own category. Instead, find a category topic that might serve as a catch-all for this type of post. Even better, find a way to make that random post relevant.
Another way to identify blog categories is to think about the people who are visiting your site. Are your categories appropriately targeting their interests?
Going back to our gardening example, you may focus most of your posts on small home gardeners who grow flower plots and a few kitchen vegetables. But what if some of your visitors are owners of small, organic farms? How might you write content that’s relevant to their needs?
Like your navigation menu, blog categories aren’t usually a place to fool around. Don’t use a category title that will only make sense to a few people, or that requires a lot of explanation. Similarly, don’t use broad or vague category titles.
As an example, even though we’re a web design agency, we don’t include “websites” as a category. It’s too broad to be useful.
That doesn’t mean our categories are perfect. Blogs develop over time, and there are definitely some categories we created back in the day that aren’t relevant or useful to us anymore. But after falling into a regular blog regimen, we now have a pretty tight list of frequent subjects. After a while, you’ll probably notice the same happening to your site.
If you’re a savvy blogger, you’re probably wondering where tags fit into this mess. It’s not uncommon for site owners to confuse the two, and treat them the same way. However, the distinction between the two is important, and understanding how to use each well can help with your strategy.
I like to think of categories as the large buckets that I would roughly sort my posts into. Tags, meanwhile, are for cross-referencing. This means that while each post will only have two or three categories associated with it, it could easily have a half dozen or more tags.
As an example, I’ll put this post into our “Content Marketing,” “Blogging,” and “Strategy” categories. But tags might include “blog topics,” “SEO,” “buyer personas,” “blog categories” and “blog tags.”
We also have categories for some of these, such as “SEO.” But while this post references SEO, it’s not really about SEO. And while it is about blog categories, we don’t spend enough time writing about those to warrant giving it a full category all of its own.
Also, while I referenced organic gardening as an example, I didn’t include it in my tags. Why? Well, for one, I don’t expect to ever use an organic gardening tag again. And for another, my blog isn’t about organic gardening. I don’t expect to attract visitors who are interested in reading about organic gardening, and the tag isn’t relevant to the personas I do want to attract.
At the end of the day, blog categories are all about helping your visitors navigate your content. Without categories, most visitors will only find the posts on the front page of your blog—or the ones you link to internally. If you blog as frequently as you should, many of those posts will quickly disappear into your archives. Many visitors won’t click through your archives trying to find relevant content, and you shouldn’t expect them to.
However, blog categories offer a fast, convenient way for your visitors to find posts similar to the ones that attracted them to your site in the first place. When they do, they spend more time on your domain, which sends a strong signal to Google that your content is relevant and valuable.
So use your categories well. They’re a good friend to you and your audience.