Many of the websites that Visceral works on include blogs, resource libraries or features that require schemes to organize and relate content. The most common instance of this is a blog—including those on sites we’ve launched for Wildlife Conservation Network, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and Quinn Thomas.
The question and challenge that always comes up (after a potential freak out regarding the ability to create regular content on a continual basis — we suffer from this as well) is how to organize content.
Should we use categories or tags? Or both? Or neither?
The good news is, it doesn’t need to be complicated. There is no single answer to this question but there are several driving principles that can help guide you to creating a smart, simple taxonomy. Let’s go over the basics first.
What is a taxonomy?
Taxonomy is a technical term for organizing information. Not to be confused with taxidermy. Yikes.
On a blog, a taxonomy is used to classify your posts into common themes or attributes found within the content itself. There are two types of taxonomy commonly used:
Categories: Categories allow for top-line, thematic grouping of post topics. Categories can be hierarchical.
Tags: Tags are used to describe your post in more detail. They quickly tell users what types of content your post contains. Tags have no set relationship to anything else and are not hierarchical.
You can think of them as the “ingredients” of your post. For example, if you are going to post a Japanese Sweet Potato & Quinoa Recipe on your blog (Allegra’s Favorite starch!), then you’d categorize it as Entree and tag it with Sweet Potatoes and Quinoa. You can already see how it could get a bit overwhelming because there are a lot of options on how to organize this content. Check out more helpful advice from WordPress on Categories versus Tags
Why should you use a taxonomy on your blog?
A strong taxonomy creates relationships between posts and eases the user’s ability to find information that is most relevant to them. This is important for three key reasons:
1. A taxonomy can be used to build navigation system within your blog. Since most blogs display posts in chronological order, valuable posts can often get buried. A taxonomy based navigation allows users to simply click a category or tag, thus displaying all posts with that attribute. Taxonomy is usually displayed within the post itself, creating valuable context for your user and another opportunity for users to use it as navigation.
2. Assuming your blog is part of a greater website, a taxonomy allows you to target and pull content into key ares of your site based on context. For instance, for the Wildlife Conservation Network, each of their wildlife program pages pulls in blog posts attributed to each program, take the Ewaso Lion page for example. By taking advantage of the relationships created by a taxonomy, you can distribute your blog’s timely and compelling updates throughout your site, getting that content more visibility and bring pages to life that might otherwise be more evergreen. It can also be used to point users to related posts, highlighting posts that they might find valuable given their interest in the post they are currently reading.
3. A taxonomy creates an essential foundation for your editorial strategy. It helps you set writing strategies, track what types of content your users find most engaging and creates consistency. I’m assuming that if you are at this point, you already have an editorial calendar in place. If you don’t, check out these resources from HubSpot to help you in that department.
5 steps to creating a taxonomy on your blog:
1. Brainstorm themes
Take a sample of blog posts that you have or that you will be writing. Review them and type out all possible themes for the posts. Are they campaign or program specific? Organization updates? News articles? Case Studies? Product updates? Just write down words like “publications” “events” “news”. Don’t get hung up on if they make sense or not. That can come later. Keep narrowing down your themes until you can’t go any further or you feel like you need a coffee.
2. Define your hierarchy
The organization of your taxonomy will depend on how complex your content is. Often times, the hierarchical structure of Parent Category to Child Category (top level to sub level, Sheep to lamb, Dog to puppy… whatever) works.
3. Choose your depth
Decide on using one level of categorization or two. This goes back to the definition of Categories and Tags. Based on what you wrote down in step one, does your content require two levels of organization? In some cases, like on the San Francisco Bike Coalition website, the answer is yes because they post more than once a day on a variety of topics and activities, and they needed depth in categorization.
On Quinn Thomas, the team has selected one level of organization and it keeps things simple and makes information easy to find.
Comb through your word dump from step one and make a decision. Remember that users will be clicking on categories or tags and seeing post listings based on that tag so you need your choice to match that experience.
Note: Every thing will be case by case (we love that phrase here at Visceral) but I do not recommend going more than two levels deep in your taxonomy because it stops being useful to your users. Decide on your hierarchy now. If you need to change it later, you can.
4. Create Rules
Rules or guidelines will help you appropriately tag your content. If you have two levels for example, a category and a tag, you should allocate 1 category to each blog post and 1-3 tags (which are really descriptors) to each post. If you have only one level of organization, then you choose whether you want to add only one tag per post or between 1-3.
Do not add more than 3 tags to each post. You know how your working memory can hold 3-5 pieces of information? Think of your blog post that way as well. The more tags you overload on a post, the less useful your tagging system becomes. Why? When a user clicks on a specific tag, each filtered view they get will look very similar if all the posts are tagged with that one tag. The navigation system breaks down and then you’ve lost a reader to Facebook. Forever.
5. Document your taxonomy choices.
Use a simple outline in Word format or Blog-Taxonomy-Template in Excel. The document includes the system you have set up with basic instructions (from step 4) on how to use it.
This will keep you and your team accountable for the decisions that you made early on. You then apply this system into your editorial calendar on a post-by-post basis by adding appropriate taxonomy terms to each post in your calendar.
As people join and leave your team, documents like these will allow you to maintain consistency with your content. You can always change your organizational scheme later, just make sure that you update your documents when you do that.
- Keep it simple. There will always be exceptions and posts that don’t fall into one category or that fall into all ten of your categories. Be decisive in your categorization. Don’t worry too much.
- Be fluid. Use your taxonomy to support your content strategy but let your content ideas go outside of what you set up… and then just adjust the taxonomy accordingly.
- Be deliberate. Don’t be afraid to change it. Just make sure that when you are changing it, you are assessing the impact for better or worse on the overall structure and most importantly, your users.
- Be analytical. Review your analytics to see what is getting read, found, not read and then consider changing your editorial content, SEO strategy and scheme accordingly.
Common pitfalls to avoid:
- Too many tags for reasons already discussed
- Mis-tagging. Be devoted to the system you put in place. Don’t get lazy and mis tag or not tag items at all. This is a disservice to your users
Questions, thoughts? On taxidermy or other things? Want more examples of good taxonomy? Give us a shout!