[This is part of a series following on from a post called “Business Blog Design“]
One of the key elements which makes a blog easy to use (as an author) and to navigate (as a visitor) is the fact that it is self structuring and self organising. The main way this happens is that posts are automatically stored in both Categories and Archives. However, even aspects like these can be used to our advantage if they are used properly.
Essentially, the categories on a blog allow you to organise your posts by filing them into various folders according to their subject matter. From a usability and navigation point of view, this has three main results:
- it makes it easier for people to find what they are looking for either browsing through the subjects covered by the blog
- it allows them to go directly to an area they are interested in
- from the author’s point of view, it gives us the chance to try to direct their investigation of the blog rather than just let them search blindly.
If I take the example of my own blog as well as those that I monitor for others, I find that the categories are where readers tend to look first when they explore the blog further rather than turning immediately to the Search function. So if we can get the naming and positioning right, then this is really going to help to increase the areas and posts which get explored.
The choice of Category names is also important and has an impact both with regards to our readers and also to search engines. It impacts in a number of areas namely:
- Visitor focus – using clear names allows readers to get a quick view of your content and focus just by scanning your category names;
- Friendly Permalinks – with certain permalink structures the category name is included, so make it count by covering your keywords in your category names;
- Category Headings – these are included at the top of the individual category pages usually in a ‘header tag’ and then of course relevant content follows below in the posts in that category. Great focused search engine content.
- Anchor text – the anchor text is the word(s) which make up a link. In your blog, the category links on every page point at your individual category page with relevant keywords as anchor text – Search Engines give added weight to this.
- Keywords on page – as well as everything else, just having the category names (and the keywords they contain) on each page is going to be beneficial!
Basically, category names need to be descriptive (there’s no getting away from that) but at the same time they should naturally include your primary as well as secondary keywords.
Don’t forget, that if you are using WordPress, then you can have subcategories as well as the main ones. This can be of use if you want to have different divisions on your page such as Geographic areas and Business areas because you can split your categories automatically into separate lists.
The Archives are another ever present feature on blogs although they come in a variety of forms, primarily monthly but also sometimes weekly or in calendar format. It’s good to keep them on the blog but I don’t recommend that they feature prominently, simply because visitors are less likely to search by date of posting (unless it’s something very specific) than they are by topic.
A long list of archives can sometimes help to give a feeling of gravitas and substance to a blog, though really this should come out in the writing in any case. Therefore, so as not to clutter a sidebar which could be used for other purposes, there’s no real need to give direct links to more than 12 – 18 months worth.
There is also a school of thought which says that it is better not to allow indexing of archives by search engines because they just end up in the supplemental indexes and clutter the results. Personally I’m not in favour of doing this, though I agree that the robots.txt file is the best place to control it from – however, I am in agreement that the calendar display formats can cause problems and hence recommend avoiding them where possible.
While I find that many people dont use this function, often preferring to navigate using the categories, it is nevertheless one that most people are familiar with and would expect to see on a blog or a website. It particularly comes into its own when they are looking for something specific and when the blog has grown to contain a large number of posts or perhaps a particularly large number of topics.
Make sure that the Search function delivers as much of the functionality that they would be used to as possible … and, let’s face it, that experience is likely to be based on Google. Particularly, try to make the results page as familiar to users as you can as it will help them explore your blog.
Make use of all opportunities available to help your visitors find the content they want and also to attract those Search Engines!
Tags: Blog Design, Business Blog design, Business Blogging, Corporate Blogs, Naming Categories, Small Business Blogs, Using Archives, Using Categories