Should You Use A Shotgun Or A Rifle Approach When Categorizing Your Posts?

on target

You can aim for the bulls-eye, or you can just aim for the whole general target. But which is better?

You’ve finished your blog post and now you have to decide which blog category it belongs in. Is it best to include a blog post in all possible categories, or to choose just one main one?

I suppose the question you need to answer before starting down this path is one about the purpose of category. Should it make things as simple as possible, or cover all possible bases?

In other words, is categorizing for you, or for the reader?

This started when I noticed an interesting thing about Medium a few weeks ago. People were loading their posts there into an insane amount of collections (which are sort of like categories), as many as possible, even if the content only had a tangential connection to the collection. I assumed it was an effort to get their post seen by as many eyeballs as possible.

But.

It also seemed highly spammy and it got me to thinking about how bloggers use categories on their own blogs. Some bloggers take the shotgun approach, using as many categories as possible, while others are more precise, and use the rifle approach.

If categories were meant for you, the writer…

You might be tempted to load up as many possible categories as you could.

More chances your post will be found if a reader is on one of the category pages! An opportunity to write with a broader brush instead of winnowing your post down to fit one category! More is better! Readers want a post as cross-categorized as possible!

But if you can’t categorize your posts without using multiple categories, chances are pretty good that…

You have too many categories that are too small and specific in scope. You are using categories like tags. You add more categories on the fly as you need them, never having a plan ahead of time. You’re not sure what your own post is about. You’re hedging your bets and looking at categories as a kind of “in house” spam tactic.

If categories were meant for the reader…

You would keep things as simple as possible and ideally give your post one category.

Less chance for the reader to wander away on a category page filled with posts that are barely relevant! Less chance for the reader to feel overwhelmed! Less chance for the reader to confuse what the post was about!

If you can categorize your posts with just one category, chances are that…

You use tags correctly, if you use them at all. Your categories are a well-thought-out few. Your categories are bold, broad, and singular, helping you keep on track with the focus of your blog. Your reader knows what to expect on your blog, because you’ve been able to define it to yourself clearly and concisely through your categories.

It seems like purely a personal preference, but there has been online debate about whether posting in multiple categories can actually hurt your blog.

You must strike a good balance between offering as few options as possible, whilst giving the reader a choice that they will be satisfied with. -Tom Ewer, Manage WPClick To Tweet

It seems the general consensus is that you aren’t hurt with multiple categories when it comes to SEO. And, helping your users find your content is more important than a constant focus on SEO. However, that doesn’t make multiple categories a good idea. Think about the example I gave from Medium, and how a single post was being put into multiple categories.

More categories ends up being a dilution, a signal that the post is spammy, that it isn’t about a specific topic. It hints that the writer doesn’t even know, for certain, what the post is about. It suggests a lack of focus, and that the writer finds it easier to dump a larger amount of content and decision-making onto the reader instead of doing it herself.

It’s not doing the reader any favors. And that’s not good for bloggers.

How many categories do you think is the optimal number for a blog? How do you determine categories?

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  • Chris M Cloutier

    I spent months trying to figure this out. One of my first blogs had posts in two or three categories sometimes. I thought it was helpful. I asked around a little and found the general thought among SEO guys was posting to multiple categories was a terrible idea.

    so when I started my new blog, I really tried to take the time to plan ahead. Taking that time and planning the “layout” has saved me tons of headache. It still isn’t perfect and I have to plan my posts but I think the reader enjoys it much more.

    Thanks for sharing, I thought I was the only one that struggled with this.

    • http://todaymade.com/ Julie R. Neidlinger

      I still struggle on my own personal blog. This post was almost me writing out my thought process. It is very difficult to pare everything down to a handful of core categories, but the flip side is…way too many categories and each post having three or four. I know I appreciate fewer categories as a reader, as you mentioned.

      Glad the post was helpful! (Now I just have to take my own advice…)

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  • Mj Mj

    Ah, thankyou for your insight. I’ve been considering multiple categories is a flaw, so I have searched for a viewpoint and the first I find is yours.
    I’d also changed a theme for a WP blog and noticed the category sitting very neatly at the top of the post when viwed on a smartphone. Given the post only had one category, it was just so clean in the way it introduced the reader to what the content was.
    It seems logical to me to also keep categories simple and expand on that with tags. Guess I needed a second opinion!

    • http://todaymade.com/ Julie R. Neidlinger

      Glad the post was helpful in making your decision. Categories easily get away from bloggers.

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