Here’s How Many Categories Your Blog Should Have (Use More At Your Own Risk)

by Derek Halpern · 33 comments

How Many WordPress Categories Should A Blog Have?

This is the “chicken or the egg” question of the blog world…

When creating a blog, how many categories should you have?

There are people who say there is no definitive answer, but today, I’m going to debunk that myth, and show you exactly how many categories your blog should have and why.

A Tale Of Two Blogs (Which One Do You Have?)

There are two types of blogs…

The first type of blog is a database of information and news. When you visit that site, there’s likely 5, 10, or as many as 20 new articles each day, and you’ll find articles about everything within a specific niche.

As an example of this, think about Mashable. They release tons of new articles, and cover everything within the online space. They cover news stories, write in-depth articles, and more.

Then there’s the other type of blog. The blog that publishes less frequently. They may release one article a day, or less. While you may read some news articles on these sites, much of the content is evergreen—content that’s timeless.

As an example of this, think about the DIYthemes blog or Social Triggers. The articles are helpful, and often are applicable today, tomorrow, and will likely remain so for years.

As you might expect, depending on which type of blog you have, your WordPress category strategy changes, and now I’ll go through each of them with you.

Here’s the WordPress Category Strategy for Database-Driven Websites

When you’re running a website with loads of content, you need to organize it. It’s better for SEO, and helps readers find more articles about topics they might be interested in.

Here’s where most people go wrong though:

If you’re creating a category for every single thing that might make sense as a category, you’re doing it wrong. Really wrong.

Instead, you should only create a category when you expect to have several posts within that category. I’m talking like 10-20 articles at the bare minimum.

If you have less, that’s bad for usability, creates a lot of weak content-scarce pages, and overall, just pisses people off. Why would you send them to a category page when there’s nothing in it other than the post the person just read?

So, here’s the takeaway: if you’re running a large database-style news site, you should have as many categories as you need, as long as you have at least 10-20 posts in that category.

One note, when categorizing your articles, try to keep one article in one category, with a max of two categories. Yes, you can tag everything that matters, and that’s okay, but focus on the core point of your article, and that’s it.

Here’s the WordPress Category Strategy for Educational Websites

If you’re reading DIYthemes, you’re likely in the educational website business. You might post about news, but you often create unique content that helps people solve problems.

You’re likely a real estate agent, a service provider, a product seller, or a product reviewer, so you’re creating great, in-depth articles that can last a lifetime. Right?

Right!

So, here’s the WordPress category strategy that works for a site like yours. But first, let me lay the foundation…

Fewer Options, More Conversions

Have you ever heard of the Draeger Jam Study by Sheena Iyengar?

If not, she discovered that people are more likely to buy stuff when they don’t have to consider tons of options. It makes sense, too. Choosing one of three products is much easier than choosing one of twenty-four products.

When dealing with categories, I’ve found that the same applies. When you give people fewer categories to click on, they’re more likely to click on one of them.

Question is how many categories are the right amount?

Again, you want to only create a category for a topic that you’re most likely to write about. And in the case of information-based blogs, it’s probable that most of your articles can fall within 3 to 8 categories.

What should those categories be?

You want them to be specific enough that people can view each category page as a solution to one of their problems. But you also want them to be general enough so that you can always fit articles into them.

As an example, here on DIYthemes, one of our main category pages is WordPress SEO. It’s a large enough category that we can always fill it with content, and it’s specific enough to help people.

Now, for a bad example, a category like “How to” is absolutely useless. Yes, you might write a “how to” article, but that’s not specific enough to be worthwhile for people.

In Both Cases, Each Category Page Should Follow This Simple Formula

Now that I’ve told you how to categorize your articles on your site, here’s the next step…

How should your WordPress category pages actually look?

I follow this simple formula:

Part 1: A persuasive headline that includes the category text.

Part 2: Introductory copy that situates the reader, and primes them to read your content.

Part 3: An optin-form to sign up for more updates

Part 4: Links to your articles in that category

Why do I follow this formula?

It’s simple.

The default WordPress category structure isn’t great for usability. When people click on a category, they’re thrown on to a page where they see headlines of all your latest articles in that category

How confusing is that?

When you create the persuasive headline, the introductory copy, and then link to your articles, you’re situating people to consume your content in the most efficient way possible.

In Thesis, doing this is really easy…. we wrote a tutorial about it here.

If you’re not using Thesis, maybe now is the time to start :-)

About the Author: Derek Halpern ran marketing at DIYthemes, and is the founder of Social Triggers. To get more tips on how to be confident, sign up to his list here.

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{ 33 comments }

Vivek Parmar

well its always a question and restricting categories to specific level or of certain numbers is always hard. It’s because, initially you do not know much things and after a certain amount of time you know many things and try to put them into blog and create specific categories for it….

songe

Spot on buddy.I think this will crack the code for me as well

Roger Dooley

Good stuff… I’m doing more tagging and less categorization, though I do like categories for major content silos. Too much tagging can have the same dilution impact, I suppose, but at least the tags aren’t fundamental to site navigation.

Roger

Sean Davis

I agree 100%. I don’t have a crazy number of categories but I do tag a lot. The categories are more important to me, though. I’m not even sure if there’s room to reduce my categories. Maybe I can rename them to make them more helpful, though.

Frank

I’ve often debated this and am in the process of slimming down my category numbers. Great post thanks.

Dinesh

What if i have numerous sub categories?

Bart

I advise my clients, who are primarily business consultants, to create categories that are based on two criteria:
1 – Along their service or problem solving lines – the areas where they write about help tips for their clients
2 – The category title words are based on what people are searching for
C – The fewer the better

This strategy seems to make sense and is easy to explain to the client that has little SEO experience or little experience blogging (I do not count writing the same as blogging – especially when you have the power of Thesis behind you)

Thomas Bodetti

I think that there are definite possibilities that SEO cannot account for while you might say this about a pure sales process using the same analogy for a future time and place may not be a good fit.

People often make the mistake of assuming that a particular thing is true of SEO, while never actually testing out said theory. The truth is that when something exists, there must be in equal amount a method of distribution.

Where you have distribution eventually there will be a demand for that distribution to assume that a set amount of demand exists in any one category is just silly.

Barbara | Creative Culinary

And then there are food blogs which require a fair number of categories but your rules still apply. I’ve re-developed client sites where it seems they made a category for every recipe. Hmm, I’ve yet to ever see a cookbook do that so I use them as my guide and try to blend together what I can, like Cookies, Bars and Brownies for example.

Always appreciate your advice!

Himanshu Chanda

Apart from ensuring sanity in your blog, categories also help you ensure clarity in thinking. Provide clear framework on what you blog about ….
Define what your blog is really about. Helps u and readers as well

Barbara J

Derek,
Great, informative, useful article on the two types of blogs. Mine is certainly the 2nd type,but I knew that. Your article makes it seem more valuable and therefore, more important.
Enjoyed the read. Thanks
Barbara J.

Stijn

I remember reading about the maximum recommended number of choices you should present a web user with on the weblog of Jakob Nielsen.

He says the ideal number of choices is 5.

I try to follow that advice, by limiting my subcategories to 5 as well. ;-)

Jo

As a new blogger I find this information really relevant and it helps get the fundamentals right from the beginning. Thank you.

Martin Malden

Hi Derek,

I extend your discipline on categories to my tags as well.

When I talk to others about this I ask them to think of categories and tags as a filing cabinet and folders.

So if I’m writing articles on WordPress I’d have the WordPress filing cabinet (category) and within it I’d have files (tags) for articles on WordPress themes, WordPress plugins, WordPress security, etc.

I never have an article in more than one category and most of my articles have no more than two tags.

My category pages rank really well now for competitive phrases, and I do put that down to the Category SEO and introductory text controls that Thesis offers – it’s a totally unique feature, that.

Cheers,

Martin.

Rob @ Atlanta Real Estate

Mucho coolioto my broth-a.

My site has four so far. They are all indexed, followed, etc., and some of them are even “developed” as normal pages.

I also long ago removed the ‘category’ slug just in case The Google ever starts hatin’ on that.

Kien

Derek,

Great article. Exactly what we need- this kind of content is the ideal complement to DIY Themes and Thesis Framework.

Helpful, to-the-point and crystal clear thinking.

More like this please!

Rich Martin

That makes sense. I’ve got a couple of blogs. One with too many categories and too few posts…not good. Another with a lot of posts but categories building up. My question is: does it hurt me to go back now and changes categories, lump some together , etc? Meaning does it screw up some of the on-page SEO I’ve tried so hard to get? Will Google lose a post if I change the category/or eleiminate it?

Madeline Ong

One suggestion is to think about categories later on. If you’re just starting a new blog, it can be time-consuming to think of all the tags and categories you want to use for your first, second, third post. After the twentieth post, though, you have a better idea of what your blog is really about, and the tags and categories come more naturally.

Donna Anderson@White Hat Writing

Very nice article. I never thought about setting up category pages but it makes a lot of sense. And darn it – another reason to think about finally getting Thesis. LOL For the past 6 months Thesis has been constantly cropping up in my peripheral vision. I just hate the thought of the work involved in changing my theme. But I think I’m gonna have to suck it up and make the switch. Thanks for the great info.

Danny Cruz

You just got me thinking. Haha. I have a Q&A category on one of my sites. I wonder if that is just as stupid as “how-to” :s

Keira

Now what about book blogs? One of the reasons I started Love Romance Passion was to control the categories and I have 280. Yup. 280. I use categories to help readers find the type of books they want – by author, genre, rating, and character archtype, plot/hook, and character job. Now my YA is much less involved, but still includes author, genre, and rating.

Keira

Also as I have 280 would this even be worth implementing? Seems time consuming.

Tara Jacobsen

Just one question on this – BECAUSE it is a database driven site, my main category (small business marketing) won’t load because there are too many posts (almost 200) associated with it. Should I use the category to have the true evergreen small biz marketing posts and then have the older posts in other categories that are relevant and less important to me seo-wise? Rocking the Thesis theme for all my sites…:) Tara

PS – The webinar you gave that showed how to make the dynamic category pages was BRILLIANT! Thanks…:)

Deb

I used to make a category for every little thing- my main site is a WP blog, personal, that until I just deleted the first 7.5 years of content, had over 2,000 posts. One day, I sat down, and created about 25 cats from the 50 or so I had, and re-labeled everything. All of my categories had at least 20 posts per, though since I deleted so much content, a few are a bit thin now. Still, due to the variety of topics, it’d be hard to pare down my cats any further. I do think the general gist of this article is correct.

Kathy James

Very useful information Derek,
Its encouraged me to clean up my categories somewhat, something that I know I should have tackled a while ago.
I am trying to pare them down to broader categories. Silly me when I started ShrinkRap 4 years ago I made a category for everything conceivable under the sun :) So I have a tedious amount of work ahead of me oh well!

Bella Bellini

Great advice. I really have to edit my categories and I’m launching a few new niche blogs soon. So I’ll really have to restrain myself! The pointer about 10 to 20 articles per category is the perfect concrete helpful tip.

John the Self Esteem Guy

Thanks a lot. This was a long post, but it goes into just the right amount of detail to make it clear. I find it really requires a lot of thought beforehand to choose categories and decide which posts go into which category, as the topics often overlap.

Michal Levi

Thank you so much!
Up until now i didn’t really knew the difference between tags and categories.
You made it clear for me.
Thanks again.

Car Tuning

CMON MAN “Here’s how many categories you should have”….

and you didn’t give a single number…

all I see is it said your article should fall in 3 to 8 categories..

So how many categories is best- 10, 20, 30, 100?

Tushar

Apart from ensuring sanity in your blog, categories also help you ensure clarity in thinking. and what happened if my blog have more.? plz reply/.

kevin blumer

myself i had lots of then i went down to about 5 since i moved down to five my blog has done a lot better plus i seem to get a lot more visitors so to me the more you have the less traffic you will get

knev

Thanks for good seo advice, cutting down the number of category

Jack

Hey Derek,

Lots of good advice there. I’ve got to take some time to digest all the info you’ve written here. I do agree that having too many categories is not so good