Do you read every post on a blog? If you're like me, you visit sites for a specific reason — be it the New York Times crossword puzzle or the latest gear roundup from Outside. You know what you're looking for when you click. That frame of mind is why blog categories help readers navigate your site.
But what categories should you choose? How do you name them? And what's the difference between categories and tags?
Let's cut the confusion with blog category best practices that keep readers combing through your content.
What is a blog category?
Blog categories organize your site and allow readers to find the information they want. They're high-level topics that make it easy for people to understand what your blog is about and navigate to the content that interests them. Think of it like a table of contents. The categories provide structure to your site by organizing individual posts and sub-topics under several main topics.
For example, imagine you run a food blog. You create recipes, write reviews for appliances, and share photography tips. These main topics (recipes, reviews, photography) are your blog categories. But within each topic fall a handful of sub-topics like bread and pastry recipes, small appliance and tool reviews, and low lighting and stop-motion photography tutorials.
If I'm visiting your site for dinner inspiration, I should be able to quickly click your recipes category to view all of the tasty options you have to offer.
No matter what kind of blog you run, the content you create needs to fall under one of your chosen categories.
Why Blog Categories Are Important
You put hours of work into each blog post, and you don't want it to disappear into the black hole of your archives. Without defined blog categories, your content quickly sinks out of view — only to be found by endless scrolling. Preventing this from happening is only one benefit of categories.
1. Blog categories provide simple site navigation.
A visually appealing site is incredibly important for visitors. 90% of people have left a website due to poor design. Blog categories group content under a handful of topics, so people get to where they want to be, fast. Some website themes limit the number of categories you can create, so make sure to consider that before grouping your content.
2. Blog categories improve site SEO.
Categories give you a leg up in the blog SEO game by adding hierarchy to your pages. This helps search engines better understand what each page is about and rank accordingly.
If you create a category page, for instance, and continue adding and linking posts that are relevant to that category, it will become increasingly optimized. Search engines will recognize this and bump up the ranking, which makes it easier for people to find your site.
3. Blog categories make blog content strategy easier.
Planning an editorial calendar is no easy feat. But with well-defined blog categories, you have a guide for what to write about. Your strategy can touch on each category to avoid stacking one with all the content. This rounds out your blog and prevents you from falling into single-category chaos.
If that's not enough to sway you, know that 65% of the most successful North American bloggers have a well-documented content marketing strategy. Among the least successful bloggers, 39% admit they don't have any strategy and 14% actually write down a strategy.
Blog Category Examples
Every blog is unique, but it's worthwhile to look at others for inspiration. Here are a few examples of how different sites sort their content into blog categories.
Since you're already here, let's take a look at how this blog is organized. The main categories are Marketing, Sales, Service, and Website. But within the Marketing category, for example, are sub-topics like social media, branding, SEO, and digital marketing.
Outside of their product website, Patagonia runs a blog called The Cleanest Line. It's broken down into the following categories: Stories, Films, Books, and Activism. You can search deeper by clicking on sub-topics organized by sports like kitesurfing, climbing, and trail running.
3. The New Yorker
Personally, I go for the cartoons. But The New Yorker has a lot to offer, which is why they sort content into 10 categories: News, Books & Culture, Fiction & Poetry, Humor & Cartoons, Magazine, Crossword, Video, Podcasts, Archive, Goings On.
4. Joy the Baker
I could scroll through this site all day, but it's easy to navigate thanks to five categories: Recipes, Cookbooks, The BakeHouse, Drake on Cake, and Workshops. Joy infuses her personality into the names while still making it clear what she's all about: delicious baked goods.
Blog Categories vs. Tags
Maybe you've grouped all your posts under one category and gone tag crazy to create some sort of structure. You're not the only one. The world of tags and categories can be confusing. But now is the time to learn the difference between the two so you know when to use one versus the other.
While categories and tags help organize your site, you already know categories are the high-level topics to guide readers where they want to go. Categories usually make up your navigation bar or are displayed on a sidebar for people to see. The fewer categories you have, the better. This is especially important if you're running a niche blog, because it helps you stand out from the other sites in the space.
There's no hard and fast rule for the right number of categories, but most niche blogs have between three to five, while larger sites have around five to ten categories. The New York Times has 19 categories, but this is definitely too many for most businesses. The larger the number, the more difficult it is to stay organized.
On the other hand, a tag is an indicator of what a particular post is about. It's one to three words that sort your post into a particular archive. It's not typically shown on your site, but helps search engines find your posts.
For instance, this post falls under the Marketing category, but it's also organized with a tag for Blogging so that you can easily navigate to other posts on the topic at the very bottom of this post. With tags like this, our post now pops up when you're looking for information about naming blog categories.
Choosing tags is simple — start with the keywords you already plan to use for a post. If you’re using a pillar/cluster model like we do, you might even consider naming the tags after the pillar or cluster your piece(s) will sit under.
Or, simply use existing words people may type into search that relate to your post. Avoid tags with the same names as your categories to prevent overlap. Aim for less than 10 tags per post. And don't make up words unless it's a strategic part of your blog or brand strategy.
Now that you have a better understanding of tags and categories, it's time for strategic fun: choosing category names.
Naming Your Blog Categories
1. Use analytics to help name your blog categories.
Choosing names for your categories starts with one major factor: analytics. Yes, really. Even if your site is whimsical or totally unique, creating strong categories requires data.
What articles are getting the most views, comments, likes, or shares? If you know what people love about your blog, you'll have a better idea of where to focus. It also helps to look at what topics aren't resonating with your readers, especially if you had considered them a priority in the past.
2. Narrow down the topics you cover.
It's time to whittle down your topics. There's no ideal number, but between three to five categories gives you enough breadth without being too overwhelming to manage. Some bloggers prefer five to eight categories, while news sites may have around eight to ten. The number is up to you. Just consider your content, your strategy, and your time. Blog categories are meant to make writing easier, not more complicated.
3. Get specific with your blog categories.
For some people, choosing names will be easy. Of course, food blogs always have a Recipes category. But this is the time to think about your unique brand and what you want to present to people.
For instance, the food blog Kitchn has categories for Recipes, Holidays, Meal Planning, Learn, Shop, and People. This site is mainly for an audience who cooks often, plans ahead, hosts holiday meals, invests in quality cooking tools, and is inspired by famous chefs. Know your readers, and cater to what they want. Just don't get so creative that people have no idea what your content is about.
4. Be consistent in your blog category naming.
Be consistent in style and structure. Remember how bad design scares away readers? Inconsistent categories play a part in the overall look and feel of your blog, so keep them as similar as possible. This includes capitalization and use of nouns, verbs, or adjectives. Not every category has to be exactly the same, but you don't want one to be a six-word question while another is a one-word noun.
If your blog has been around for a few years, you may have some serious organization to do. Blog categories are a great way to start sorting. Consider what categories your readers enjoy best, and get rid of any with only a few posts. Trimming down categories isn't always easy. But it's definitely worth the effort for a site that's simple to navigate and build a strong content strategy around.