Optimize your categories, tags and menus

Categories and tags are key to optimising your site’s structure. They work differently but both are important for improving the users experience while on your site. Attention spans are getting shorter, people skim through pages rather than reading them. Research has shown you have 8 seconds to grab a viewer attention.

Categories are a hierarchical grouping mechanism, which means you can have parent categories and child categories. Think of it kind of like nesting a folder inside another folder on your computer.

For example, if you have a blog about soccer (or football, depending on which side of the pond you’re on), you could have parent categories for the popular leagues, such as:

Premier League

La Liga


Then, inside each league’s parent category, you could have child categories for each team.

For example, you could create child categories inside of the Premier League category for Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and of course Newcastle United.

If someone clicked on the Premier League parent category, they would see content from all the teams. Then, if they wanted to filter out content for a specific team, they can select that team’s child category.

Creating these hierarchical categories can be helpful for your site’s visitors because it creates a natural funnel to draw people into your site. For example, someone could land on your homepage, click into the Premier League category to catch up on league-wide news, and then drilldown into their favourite team.

What AreTags?

 Tags are a non-hierarchical or “flat” grouping mechanism, which means there are no parent/child relationships.

Instead, each tag exists by itself and has no relationship to the other tags or categories. Typically, you’ll use tags to group posts by very specific topics that don’t merit their own category. Your visitors might use tags if they want to dig into a specific topic on your site, but most people will browse your categories.

When to Use WordPress Categories and When to Use WordPress Tags

Now, let’s talk about when you should use categories and tags to organize your content. Generally, you’ll want to use child categories for specific topics that you regularly write about and tags for very narrow topics that aren’t regular features on your site.

Keep in mind that you can use categories and tags at the same time. If you write a post about a specific player on Manchester United, you could put that post in the child category for Manchester United while also tagging it with the player’s name. That way, your visitors could use both methods to discover the post.

How to structure your sites menus

Primary Navigation Menu (Header)

Your primary navigation menu is the menu that appears at the top of your site, typically in the header.

You want to use it to direct visitors to the most important parts of your site. You’re not trying to include top-level links to every single piece of content on your site – you’re just telling visitors how they can get to the most important parts.

As a rough rule of thumb, you should normally aim to have around four to eight top-level navigation items, along with options to register or login if applicable to your site.

For example, the WordPress.com navigation menu has four top-level navigation items (beyond the log in and register links):

These numbers are not a hard rule – you can add more top-level items if needed. But you don’t want to feel like you’re trying to cram in every single link on your site. Remember, you just want to help people quickly access the most important content on your site.

If you do want to provide links to “deeper” content on your site, you can make use of drop-down menus or mega menus that appear when a visitor hovers over one of your top-level navigation items.

Drop-down menus can be really useful for displaying your site’s categories. For example, you could create a top-level menu item that links to your main blog page, but then you could show your primary categories in a drop-down menu so that people can jump straight to the content that they’re interested in.

Footer Menu.

While you should limit your primary navigation menu to just a few top-level menus, your footer can include a lot more navigation links.

For example, while the WordPress.com header only has four top-level links, the footer includes 27+ visible links, divided into four columns.

Typically, your footer serves two key functions.

First, you can use it to place links to key “utility” pages, such as your privacy policy, terms of use, cookie policy, help centre, and so on. These pages aren’t important enough to put in your main navigation, but you still want to make them accessible from any page on your site.

Second, you can use it as a “sitemap” to provide direct links to your site’s most important content.

If you browse travel booking sites or real estate listing sites, you can find some excellent examples. For example, look at the footer from Agoda, a popular travel booking site. It includes utility links in the grey section and then a detailed sitemap to popular destinations and guides.

Wirecutter from the New York Times also illustrates this principle. The footer includes both utility links and direct links to all the categories.

On your site, you might break it down into three to four columns like so:

  • A list of all your pages.
  • A list of all your categories and child categories.
  • Direct links to your most popular/important blog posts.
  • Utility pages.

In conclusion:

If you want to create the best experience for your visitors, you should plan out your site structure early in the site-building process. Limit the options you offer your visitors. Keep in mind that 8 second attention span, readers will tend to scroll through pages, skimming information rather than take the time to read the information thoroughly.

The more choices you offer your reader the lower the chances that they will take action. If your website navigation pane has too many links to browse or you have a long scroll homepage you are offering too many choices. If your landing page has three options it will lower the likelihood that the visitor will take any action at all. So, offer only one option – the one you want them to take. Remember only one CTA per page.

To begin, plan how you’ll organize your site’s content with categories and tags. Here’s a quick recap:

Categories are hierarchical (they can have parent/childrelationships) while tags are non-hierarchical (each tag is completely separate).

Use your parent categories for broad topics. For more specific topics, you can consider child categories (aka subcategories) or tags depending on your site’s content.

You must assign each post to at least one category but using tags is optional.

Once you know how you’ll organize your content, use your site’s header and footer navigation to make it easy for visitors to access important details. Remember, your header should just have a few top-level items for the most important content on your site, while your footer can include more “deep” links and utility pages.

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