November 2, 2011

Use labels and tags effectively on your blog

While reviewing blogs and checking them for inclusion in the Indian blog directory, we found that majority of bloggers do not effectively use the facility of labeling blog posts. Labeling, we reckon, is a great tool to highlight content and make the blog more functional.

Most of the blogs [Indian as well as others] that we have come across are of personal nature, with posts on all conceivable topics. Since blogs are regularly updated – and that is indeed their strongest point vis-à-vis static websites - the content has to be arranged chronologically and not subject-wise. This makes it difficult for the visitor to find the matter he / she might be interested in.

overlapping items in category 
and tag clouds; and a category list.
  a bit too much!
Think of a blog as the ‘latest arrivals’ rack of a library where new books are added everyday.  If books of this rack are not sent to their assigned places, it will become difficult after a while to find the book of one’s choice. While in physical world, we need to place the books in their subject racks, in the electronic world we have the choice of tagging / labeling – it allows the objects to be grouped in many ways while they remain placed in a particular sequence. For that to happen efficiently on our blog, we need to give thought to how we’d use the tagging facility.

Different blogging platforms have their own ways of doing this job. Wordpress has the facility to put posts in different categories and apply tags to posts. Livejournal has tags only. On Blogger platform, we have labels on posts.  Community blogs often use tags to place individual blogs in different categories. Blog aggregators and blog directories use categories that are often assigned manually at the level of blog submitter or administrator. We’ll talk here about the use of categories / tags / labels on Wordpress and Blogger blogs, and we’d use 'tag' and 'label' interchangeably.

Difference between category and tag in Wordpress

Some bloggers are not sure of the difference between 'category' and 'tag' on the Wordpress platform. From a blogger’s point of view, there is just one difference as far as their basic function goes: Categories are used for major categorization [e.g. a blog on Indian websites can have these categories: English language sites, websites in native Indian languages OR Indian travel sites, finance & economy sites, sites for NRIs, etc]. Tags, on the other hand, are used for pin-pointing specific information or an information that spans across posts but does not deal with the subject of the post itself or an information that relates to specific events and will not occur again and again to justify a broad category [e.g. bringing up child, angry retorts, my spiritual side, Ritu’s wedding, grandpa]. Let’s admit that depending on the blog’s posting quantity and style,  any of the names given above can be of a category or a tag.  Wordpress mandates that each post is given a category but keeps tagging optional.

Putting a tag / label

Deciding beforehand how one will display tags on the blog helps a lot.  Editing all old posts for tagging may become a pain when there are already a few hundred posts and one finds that the old posts need to be re-tagged.
Tags can have different nesting structures, or they can be distinct from each other. For example, a post in a cookery blog can have these labels: Indian cuisine [for a grouping based on different locations], breakfast [for a grouping based on the type of meal], fried food [for a grouping based on the type of preparation] and so on. Also look at the example we’ve given in the Wordpress section above.

Number of labels

Think of the total number of  tags you should have so that managing them does not become a headache. You should also not keep adding labels as you go along. If you must do it sometimes, make sure to put this tag on all relevant old posts. Luckily, new blogging platforms give the facility to quickly apply and remove labels from the post editing menu.
Too many labels, when they are shown under a post, are an irritant. We are told, irrelevant labels also hurt a blog’s popularity on search engines.

Naming labels

As far as possible, labels should be one-word long. You may have longer labels if that adds value.
Think of the word that people will like to search the blog for. In multi-word labels, put that word in the beginning, so that the label comes in right place in alphabetical listing.
If breaking the norm serves a better purpose, do that.

Displaying categories / tags / labels 

You can display the tags in many ways. Each has its own beauty and limitations. You should not only think of functionality but also the label widget's matching with the template and other elements in vicinity, before deciding its form and placement.
a label cloud
As a list of labels in the sidebar. Lists look fine as long as they do not become too long, and the entries are not too frivolous. You can have labels in alphabetical order or in order of decreasing number of associated posts. You may or may not have the number of posts given alongside the label.
As a label cloud. In the cloud, labels with larger number of associated posts look bigger. Clouds can have a larger number of labels than lists and you can have all sorts of labels [though being sensible is desirable here too]. You can arrange labels alphabetically or by their importance. You may also choose to have the number of posts given alongside the label.
Animated labels. Labels can be arranged in a rotating globe formation, as a floating cloud, or in some other form of animation. We find animations less functional than the simple displays, and sometimes irritating.
labels used in the menu bar
As a horizontal menu bar. Menu bars – simple, many layered  or with drop-down sub-menus -   are one of the best ways to categorise blog content. When placed under the title, they should be used to showcase the best content in the blog. On the Indian Top Blogs site, labels have been used to display blogging tips and blog showcase.
There should not be many categories, and categories should be as distinct from the other as possible. As said above, Wordpress gives you the facility to have categories separate from tags. Wordpress also allows sub-categories. Blogger can do that by imaginative use of labels such as allowing you to show or hide labels. If you need to have many types of categorization, you can manually place the label URL where you need to put it [an example given below].
You need not give label list or cloud title to the label widget. Think of an imaginative one, such as ‘View posts by topic’ or ‘What’s in this blog?’

Creating a manual sub-labeled content page till Blogger etc give you that option

Suppose you want to have this type of content page that you'd like to put in a widget in the sidebar or as an item on the menu bar:

suitable for women
…suitable during periods
…suitable during pregnancy
…suitable after childbirth
suitable for the old
… etc
… etc

You can create this sort of content page if you have these labels: yogasana, pranayama, for woman, OK for periods, OK for pregnancy, OK after childbirth, OK for the aged,…  
Create a page. Write all the main categories and sections as given above. Link the label URLs appropriate for each of them. The easiest way to find the URL of the label on the browser window is to create a temporary label cloud of all labels and click on the desired label.  You may choose not to link the main category headings.
You can also manually mix pages, posts and labels by this simple technique.

Happy blogging!