What are categories and how to use them

Chapters are like categories

© Craig Sunter - Thanx 2 Million ;-)) Chapter 61 via Flickr

If you read a book, you will probably notice it is divided into chapters.

This is to make it easier for readers to understand where they are in the story, and to help their progression through the book.

Also, chapters help to sort the story into groups, or topics, which the reader can relate to. And this is how categories are used in a blog.

Make your blog's subjects easy to find

To make your writing more understandable, and to help with the archiving process of your blog, it's a good idea to have categories.

Remember, one feature of a blog is that newer posts are placed at the top, pushing older posts down the page until they are automatically archived.

So to enable these posts to be found quickly by your readers, especially if they are doing research or want to remind themselves about something you wrote about, having categories makes it easier to find them.

And categories also aid the search engines in indexing your posts. If your category names are made up from relevant keywords, this can certainly help the search facilities. However, I don't advise you to include categories in your blog post's URLs (see permalinks).

Think which categories will be suitable

When I first stated blogging, I had no particular focus for my writing. Therefore I didn't use my categories correctly. I got so confused, I ended up with far more than I really needed.

If you are organised, you will know your blog's subjects. They can be wonderfully simple and understandable, as well as relevant. And you can add more as you go along if necessary.

My categories can be seen if you mouse over the 'Blog' link in the main navigation bar. They don't have to be viewed like this within a drop down menu, they are perfectly suited to being listed in the sidebar as a widget.  Later in this post I shall show you how to do this.

When choosing your categories, think of simple, generic subjects or topics you will want to write about. Relate them to what your readers will search for. Reduce them to only very few descriptive words. Start with one or two examples, and then add more later.

Here is my list of categories:

List of categories

You can locate this menu in the right sidebar in your post editing page ('Post' > 'Add New' in the Dashboard's left sidebar).

You will see that the 'Beginners' category is ticked. This is because I set it as my default category. You can read how I did this in this Settings How To post.

When you write your post, you select the appropriate category for your post by clicking the box next to it. But I warn you, it is not advisable to have more than one category for each post.

In the old days I used to allocate lots of categories to my posts, but now the search engine algorithms, the mathematical elements that govern how they work, don't look kindly on posts with more than one category. So I had to go through all my old posts and delete the unnecessary multiple categories, which took me ages!

Each post's category can be found at the bottom of the post under my bio box:

Showing where my category is

but where your categories are placed may vary according to your theme's layout.

How to create categories

When you first start your blog, WordPress will have given you your first category called 'Uncategorized', which is a most uninspiring category name!

Your first instinct should be to add new ones. Otherwise all your early posts will be allocated to the Uncategorized category, whether you like it or not! And believe me, this looks most unprofessional.

So if you look at the bottom of the screen shot of the category menu above, you'll see the link '+ Add new Category', which if you click on it, will open up as this:

How to create a new category

You need to type in your new category name into the blue field.

However, below it is a drop down menu that says '– Parent Category –', what is that all about?

It opens up to reveal all my categories:

Showing parent categories

Now, if you choose one of these existing categories, it becomes the parent category to your new category. Your new category will become a child category, or a sub-category if you like.

Here is an example. If I decide to create a new category called 'Newbies' and allocate 'Beginners' as its parent:

Choosing a child category

When I click on the 'Add New Category' button, this is what happens:

Showing the child category

And you can create grandchildren categories too, if you want to (though it can get a bit complicated and confusing). Here is the grandchild category 'Scared':

Showing a grandchild category

How do I edit my categories?

Actually I don't want these child and grandchild categories, so let's get rid of them!

In the left sidebar, you will find the 'Categories' link under 'Posts':

Categories link in left sidebar

Which leads to this page:

Categories page

Here you can see all the categories in use and not in use, and how many posts have been allocated to them.

On the left is where you can also add new categories.

The 'Slug' is the editable bit of your category's web address. Each category has its own webpage which contains a list of all the posts allocated to it. You can view the Beginner category page here and this is what it looks like:

Categories page for Beginners

But you don't need to worry about the slugs too much as WordPress creates them automatically for you.

The Parent section I've already explained earlier in this post.

The Description area should only be filled in if your theme shows that detail. Otherwise leave it blank.

Beginner bloggers needn't worry about the 'Redirect Category links to Landing Page' bit - this is suitable for more advanced bloggers.

But let's look at the section on the right. The category names are in blue because they are links. Also if you mouse over them, you'll see the editing options appear:

Delete the category

And now you can see how you delete the categories you don't want. After you've clicked the Delete link, you'll see this menu:

Confirmation to delete a category

And once you've clicked the 'OK' button, the unwanted category will be highlighted in red before it disappears:

Category being deleted

If you have been particularly observant, you may have noticed that there isn't the Uncategorized category on the list. You may have thought I had deleted it, but unfortunately you can't. It is the only category that cannot be got rid of this way.

However, you can rename it. The Uncategorized is now my Beginners category. If you mouse over it, you'll see the Delete option isn't available:

Beginners category

But if you click on the 'Edit' link, you'll go to the Edit Category page:

Edit Category page

Where you can edit the name and slug accordingly with your category's new name.

Don't forget to search out the 'Update' button at the bottom of the page:

Update button

To make sure everything is saved OK.

How do you list your categories on the sidebar?

This is done by a category widget.

Once you've saved everything, look on the left sidebar for the link 'Appearance'. Then within the drop down menu that appears when you mouse over it, select 'Widgets':

Locating the widgets link

You'll find yourself in the Widgets page, and from the list of Available Widgets, which are listed alphabetically, find the Categories widget:

Find the categories widget

If you click on it, it will open up like this:

Choose which sidebar you want

So you can select with sidebar you want to place your widget on. Click on the 'Add Widget' button, and you'll see the widget placed in the sidebar column you've chosen, opened up for editing:

Showing open widget on sidebar

Give your widget a nice title such as 'My blogging topics', click on the green 'Save' button, and then view your new widget on your sidebar:

My categories widget in situ

Which will show the categories that have posts allocated to them. Now your readers can go directly to the category that is applicable to them to read the posts within that subject.

If you want to know how I got my categories into a drop down menu from my navigation bar, I will be covering that in another How To post later.

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Alice Elliott writes the Beginner Bloggers blog for beginner and post-beginner bloggers to “explain things really simply” about blogging and WordPress. She specialises in simple, easy to understand, highly visual courses and tutorials using ordinary, everyday words. Why not also visit her award winning Fairy Blog Mother blog to learn some more.

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