How-to Create Categories and Tags for a Blog

You’re excited. You’re getting ready to launch your new blog, and you have some great ideas for your first posts. Then you get to the part where you need to create categories and tags. And you freeze.

What are categories? What are tags?

Categories and tags are really quite similar. They are tools that you use to categorize your blog posts and make it easier for your visitor to find related content. They can also be used to help search engines, such as Google, understand what your website and posts are about.

Is there a difference between categories and tags?

There are many different ways of distinguishing between categories and tags. In my own view, categories are broader topics and tags are descriptive words.

Category

A topic that you write about often, or a common theme that you can use to group blog posts.

If you think of a textbook, in the front you probably have a table of contents that gives a general idea of what topic each chapter is about. The table of contents is like a list of categories.

Tag

A specific word or phrase that describes what a blog post is about.

Back to our textbook analogy, at the back of the book, you might have an index with lists of words and what pages you’ll find them on. The index is like a list of tags.

A blog post might also fall into multiple categories, but you must always choose one that it fits in best.

One word in the index might show up in multiple chapters, just like one tag can be in as many categories as you’d like.

Are there any strategies you should use?

Categories

I like to set up categories on a blog ahead of time – right when you’re deciding what kinds of topics you’ll be writing about. What those categories are will depend entirely on your industry and what you are writing about. If you write about a general topic or industry, your categories might be a collection of loosely related topics. My own blog follows this structure, writing about a broad range of business, marketing, design and communications topics. If your entire blog is going to be about a very specific niche, your categories will be ways to help you break that topic down even further.

For example, you might choose broad categories such as travel, books, and food if you are writing about your life in general. If you were a food blogger, however, you might choose categories such as recipes, food books, and cooking tips

Sub-categories

You should keep your categories pretty broad because you can always narrow in with sub-categories. I like to suggest between 3-6 top-level categories. You’re probably not going to want to create sub-categories until you have at least 15 posts in a top-level category.

For example, the food blogger from the previous example might have a pretty big list of recipes. In this case, you would want to create sub-categories for the recipes such as breakfast, lunch, dinner, appetizers, dessert, and snacks.

Category longevity

Each of the categories should be a topic you plan to write about for the life of your blog. You really don’t want a category sitting around for months without having a new post added to it.

For example, a food blogger may not want to use trend diets as categories. You may create a paleo category, but that means you would need to keep writing about those topics on an ongoing basis. What happens if you choose to go from being paleo to being a vegetarian? Would you want to keep writing recipes that use meat when you’re not eating meat yourself? 

Business blogs

If it is a business blog or website, I highly suggest a News category so that you have a place to publish any news releases or interesting updates about your business. Blog posts in a news category don’t have to be overly formal – think of them as expanded Facebook page updates.

For example, you might want to inform your readers that you are expanding into a new market, have formed a new partnership, have won an award, or are hosting an event. 

Tags

When I use tags, I start by thinking of words someone might search Google for to find my post. A tag might also be a term you’d like to use as the sub-category for your blog, but you know you’re not going to write about it often enough or long-term enough to make it one of your categories.

For example, a food blogger might choose to use paleo and vegetarian as tags rather than categories. That way, anytime you write a recipe you can place it in one of your broader recipe categories, such as breakfast, and just tag it with the word gluten-free. Other optional tags for a food blogger might be crockpot or 5 ingredients or even seasonal tags such as Christmas.

You can use as many tags as you want, and create new ones for each post.

Because they are case-sensitive, I suggest keeping tags in lower-case to avoid confusion.

For example, raspberry and Raspberry are two different tags.

Can you change your categories and tags later?

Tags are created on the go, chosen for each blog post as you publish them. You can add or remove tags at a later date, although you might not remember to.

Don’t sweat your category choices too much. It’s important to pick categories that work for you, but blogs grow and change over time. If you need to change categories at a later date, you can do that. You just need to be aware of whether the category is listed in your blog post URLs, and create a redirect if that is the case.

It’s a good idea to spend a few minutes working out what you think your categories will be for at least the next few years to avoid the hassle of changing them in the future, but chances are your topics and ideas will shift over time anyway.

 

Editing Published Content

N.B. This post was originally posted in 2012. I’ve updated it slightly, but it continues to reflect my personal opinion on the topic. 

Let’s face it. The internet is a swamp of spelling and grammatical errors. Generally, when one is about to publish content (such as a tweet or blog post) they do a quick once over and send. Then it’s out in the universe, errors and all.

The problem is that this content represents you and your organization. Gone are the days of ‘breathing time’ before publication. Gone are the days of an editor who reads over every public message.

In a social media course I attended, an instructor said that the authenticity of online content relies on the fact that people do not go back and edit. As much as possible, he stated, you should leave things as they are. The reasoning behind this is that if someone visits your content twice and notices a change, they would feel the content is illegitimate.

I’m going to disagree.

I believe that although you should check everything you send out before you publish it, mistakes happen. Facts that content are based on change.

Instead, on any platform possible, I believe it is our responsibility to correct information as often as we can. We should collectively try to clear up the mess that is the internet for future generations. Blogs are perfect for this.

Schedule it in your calendar to read through your old posts and make notes or edits as necessary. Link to newer content, or explain why you’ve changed your previous opinion.

For those of you who happen to visit a blog post of mine a second time and notice something has changed: I do not apologize. I am simply fulfilling my duty as a contributor to the world wide web.

I hope that future generations will thank me.

How to plan your marketing campaigns for the new year

One of the most important things you can do to prepare your business for a new year is to plan your promotional calendar. When it comes to marketing, there are ongoing activities and short-term activities. Today, we’re focusing on the short-term promotions.

What are you selling?

The first thing to decide when building out your promotional strategy is what it is you want to sell. This might be individual products and services, or it might be larger groups of what your business sells. Of course, we’re not going to promote every single item or service you offer, but you should have a good idea of what your top sellers are. What items would you like to sell more of? Are planning to introduce a new product or service this year?

What problems do you solve?

What are the problems that your products and services solve? When are your customers facing them or noticing them the most? Some problems may be concrete like needing winter tires, while others may be psychological like providing comfort or the feeling of safety.

This pretty much falls under the ‘who are you selling to’ category. Remember that you likely have multiple customer segments with different needs and expectations.

Are there any seasonal tie-ins?

If your business is naturally seasonal, this part might seem obvious but I challenge you to think outside the box. A ski resort, for example, often sells early bird passes in the early summer even though they operate in the winter.

Your promotion may tie-in to one of the four seasons. Official holidays, such as Christmas, Labour Day, etc., are another great tie-in option. Restaurants campaign for holidays such as Valentine’s day or Mother’s day every year.

Annual events such as back-to-school, tax season. spring cleaning, ect., are also times when people are looking to solve a problem. List out any special dates you can think of, then try to decide if there are any logical connections between what you sell and what your customers are doing at those times of the year.

If you have products or services that don’t tie-in to any events, you may choose to create your own annual sale. You can also schedule the item in to be promoted during a blank space in your campaign calendar.

How big is the decision being made?

The length of each of your promotions will depend on how much time your customer needs to make a decision. Is your customer is aware of their problem and looking for a solution? If so, you probably just need to give them enough time to compare your offer to others. If you are informing your customers of a new problem, they will need more time to decide whether or not they need your solution.

Some of your campaigns may be a few days or a week, while others may be a month or longer.

How will you create urgency?

If people know they can buy something from you at any time, they will be more likely to put it off. Creating urgency is one of the ways that you can influence your customers to buy now. Generally, it is created by some type of scarcity.

Scarcity can come in the form of a limited time offer or a limited number of items available. Not all promotions will require this sort of incentive, and you have to be careful of damaging your brand with too many discounts, but it is an effective way to build urgency.

Pulling it all together

With the information from the questions above, you should be able to pull together a simple promotional calendar for 2017. You should know what you’re selling, who you’re selling it to and why they’re buying it, when you’re promoting it, how long you are promoting it for, and if/how you will be creating a sense of urgency.

Remember that you don’t want to overlap any of your campaigns or exhaust your audience by always selling to them. Narrow your campaign calendar down to the number of promotions that you can put the time and resources into promoting and advertising.

Using your promotional calendar

Don’t let your promotional calendar sit around collecting dust on your computer hard drive. Add the campaigns to your computer calendar and print them out in a physical calendar. Be sure to schedule some prep time to create content or book any advertisements.

You can build out the rest of your content strategy, social media strategy and newsletter strategy around your planned promotional campaigns. Use the content you create for those channels to prep your audience and support your sales activities.

Your up-front planning for the promotional calendar sets the stage for the rest of your marketing efforts next year. Knowing what you’re going to sell and when will put you ahead of most small businesses in the marketing department.

What you need to know before choosing your website platform

The internet has come a long way over the past couple decades. Design trends have come and gone, and so have the tools we use to create websites.

We’ve moved into the realm where most people I talk to realize they have choices when it comes to creating their website. The decision is no longer between learning HTML and hiring a website designer. Actually, those haven’t been the only choices for over a decade, but the popularity (and marketing) of tools like Squarespace and WordPress have skyrocketed them into the mainstream. Everyone seems to have some idea of what they are.

My experience with website design

Early in my career, I was a freelance graphic designer and I realized that website design would be a great add-on service for my clients. In fact, for the first couple years of my business, it was my bread and butter. Let’s be clear – I’m not a developer. The best way to describe my website knowledge is ‘front-end designer,’ which basically means that I would plan what the website would look like and use HTML to make it work. Sometime around 2011 I discovered WordPress as a way to create a website and hand it off to clients to make their own updates, and I never looked back to plain old HTML. It wasn’t until 2014 that I started hearing and seeing ads for Squarespace, and in 2016 I’ve had the opportunity to work with clients on each of the website platforms.

I’m a bit biased to WordPress but I’ll try not to let that affect this article. I teach basic and advanced WordPress courses at my local college and have used the website platform for years. My experience with Squarespace is much more limited, but I have a good feel for what it’s like to use it and will make comparisons between the two in this article.

What are Squarespace and WordPress?

First, let’s talk about what these tools are and why you might want to use them. As you have probably gathered, both Squarespace and WordPress help you make websites. That much is the same about them, although how they operate is where you’ll find the differences.

Squarespace is a web builder subscription. You purchase a monthly or yearly plan from the company and they give you access to their tools for building websites. It’s a very visual way to design. You literally drag a photo or heading where you want it to be. You also get access to customer support with your subscription.

WordPress is an open-source content management system. WordPress itself is a free framework for placing content into a website, but you will need to find and pay for your own hosting, domain, and free or paid tools from other developers to build your website the way you want. Because of its popularity, there are free online resources for pretty much anything WordPress related, but you would need to pay a designer/developer if you wanted customized support.

The two WordPress options

It’s worth noting that there are actually two options for using WordPress, and that makes it confusing. WordPress.org is the free, open-source framework that I will be talking about for this post.

WordPress.com is a service that uses the free WordPress framework and monetizes it as a subscription service (although the first tier is free). Similar to Squarespace, WordPress.com takes care of your hosting and domain, offers customer support, but limits your customization options.

The reason I’ve chosen to compare Squarespace with WordPress.org is that it is much more powerful (and popular) than WordPress.com.

Which one is easier to setup?

Both can be incredibly easy to setup, although the benefit to Squarespace is that the setup all happens in one place. For an absolutely basic setup, you need hosting and a domain.

Hosting

If you’re using WordPress, you’ll want to decide on a web hosting company first. Think of hosting as leasing a property to build your house on. You can move hosts at any time, but it will take a little work. Most hosting companies have a 1-click setup to install WordPress, but if the one you choose doesn’t there are a couple additional steps.

It’s worth noting that many hosting subscriptions (paid monthly or yearly) can hold more than one website. Hosting generally costs between $4-100 per month depending on the level of security you need, the size of the files you’re storing (e.g. videos or high-res photos), and how much traffic you expect. It’s ok to start with a cheaper host and move to a more expensive one when you start to feel growing pains (e.g. your website crashes from too many visitors).

One major benefit to using Squarespace is that the hosting is part of your monthly subscription, and it is a very good quality host. There is no such thing as a perfect host, but your website is not as likely to be down on Squarespace as it is with a cheaper hosting package and WordPress.

Domain

First, you’ll want to decide on a domain name. This is your website address (e.g. www.mysite.com), and it has to be unique to your site. On Squarespace, you can search for and pay for a domain right within their website. If you’re using WordPress, you’ll need to purchase a domain and connect it to your host. If you’re very new to this, I suggest purchasing your domain from the same company you’ve chosen for hosting. That way connecting them is easier, and the support team at your hosting company will have all the information they need to help you out. I’ve used GoDaddy for this in the past, and it was pretty easy.

Pricing

Price is a big consideration when choosing between the two options. If you are going to have one website and expect a lot of traffic, Squarespace can be more cost efficient compared to paying for similar high-quality hosting with WordPress. If you decide to host more than one website, WordPress can pretty quickly become the better deal.

Which one will make my site look better?

You want your website to look good, obviously. The good news is that the style or look of your website is customizable in both WordPress and Squarespace. In fact, at the time of writing this WordPress is used on over 25% of the websites on the internet, and you probably didn’t even realize it because they all look so different.

WordPress uses ‘themes’ to setup the basic structure of your website. This includes things like where your navigation might go, whether you have a big banner image on your homepage, and how your blog posts are displayed. There are thousands of themes available for WordPress that you can find in marketplaces all over the internet. Some themes are free, but many are paid and a theme is only as good as the designer who created it. Some themes will have built-in functions, such as places for testimonials or a portfolio, so it’s worth spending the time to find the one that is as close to what you want your final website to look like as possible and that has good reviews. In addition to the basic structure, you’ll usually be able to choose your own colours and fonts in the theme preferences.

Squarespace uses ‘templates’ for the basic structure. At the time of writing, there are 58 templates available. They are all created by the Squarespace team and free to use with your subscription. As with WordPress, after you’ve chosen a template you can customize the fonts and colours, plus add additional functionality with some of their tools.

Plan your pages

One of the steps people miss when they create a website or choose a design is planning what they actually want to put on their website. That’s why for me, this step comes before choosing a design.

Every website has a home page (the page you see when you type in the web address), but what information do you plan to put on it?

What other pages do you need? Some common ones include:

  • About
  • Contact
  • Products/Services

Will you have a blog? If so, what kind of content will you publish in it?

You can plan your pages any way you want, but having a basic idea of what you want to put on your website will help you pick a theme or template. With both WordPress and Squarespace, getting it to look exactly how you want is a pain and beyond this beginner guide.

Which is more functional for more advanced website needs?

If you want to go beyond the basic ‘brochure’ style website or blog, there might be specific functions your looking for. It’s important to understand that Squarespace offers certain functions as part of the tool set that is built into their monthly cost, but that’s it. You can’t add other features. With WordPress, you can choose from thousands of tools called ‘plugins’ that add specific functions. Some plugins are small and focus on doing one thing, while others are more robust. Additionally, plugins may be free or have a one-time fee, or they may require a monthly subscription. It’s all up to the person or company that built the plugin.

For example, if you want an online store you can set up an e-commerce website right out of the gate with Squarespace by choosing from one of the 9 templates available. The monthly subscription fee is higher for e-commerce on Squarespace, but the option is there.

With WordPress, you have more options when it comes to e-commerce. When you first install WordPress, there is no e-commerce function built in so you have to add it with a plugin.

Probably the most popular way to do this is with a service called WooCommerce, which is free for the basics. If you want to do specific things with the store, you may need to pay a yearly fee for each additional service. If you go with WooCommerce, it’s best to choose a theme that has it built in to keep things as smooth as possible. Other popular options for e-commerce include plugins for Shopify, WP E-commerce, and MarketPress. Each has its own pros and cons, so initially, you’ll need to do a little more research to find which one is right for you.

Another example would be a membership site. If you want to give your users their own login to access special areas of your website, you can do this with WordPress plugins but the function doesn’t exist in Squarespace at this time.

The massive number of plugins available for WordPress is one of the reasons the website platform is so powerful, but also one of the areas you’ll have to do research and make decisions about. If two or more plugins don’t work well together, it’s up to you to figure out what’s going on. Also, if a plugin is not updated by the creator when a new version of WordPress comes out, it may stop working altogether. Just like with themes, it is important to read reviews and find a plugin developer you trust.

Which is easier for adding content and making changes?

Both systems have a slight learning curve to them. In fact, I’ve helped out clients on both website platforms when they started a project and just didn’t know how to work with them.

Changes in Squarespace

The argument I hear often is that Squarespace is easier to get started with because you are using a visual editor (what you see is what you get). You have a menu on the left of your screen and the website itself on the right.

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-2-50-02-pm
Editing a page in Squarespace with the menu on the left and visual editor on the right.

 

With WordPress, the biggest hurdle for a newbie to get over is that there is the front of your site (what other people see) and a hidden area called the dashboard (where you make changes and add content).

Front of a WP blog post
Front of a WP blog post
screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-10-17-06-am
Dashboard of a WordPress blog post (where you create the content and choose settings)

 

With the Squarespace visual editor, you have to click around the screen to figure out what changes you are able to make. With WordPress, you’ll need to try out different settings (like where to put an image) and preview it on the front end before deciding on a style you like.

Both website platforms will require you to spend time learning how to use them, and the biggest struggle for both will be upfront when you spend hours trying to publish your very first site. In this regard, WordPress will likely take you longer to get setup. Once you have the design and basic pages in place, adding new pages and blog posts on both is fairly easy.

Final thoughts

Squarespace is an all-in-one website platform, which means that they have complete control over the templates and tools that they provide to you. This can be a good thing – everything works well together, and if you need help their customer service team will know how to help you. It can also be terrible if you want to do something with your website and they don’t provide the tools to do it. With Squarespace, your choices are much more limited, but again this isn’t always bad. Choosing Squarespace means simplifying your choices to just what they offer.

WordPress is a central place to pull together themes, plugins, and widgets from external sources. There are thousands of choices to make – which hosting service to choose, what theme to buy, which plugins you need and trust. It can be exhausting. It can also be very rewarding when you find the combination that is right for you. As you learn new tools and techniques in WordPress, you’ll be able to build a website that is exactly how you want it.

Websites are a lot more than just the platform you build them on. Both Squarespace and WordPress will be challenging and frustrating at times. Both have their limitations. On either one you’ll spend a good amount of time planning where things should go, writing content, and creating graphics. Knowing what you want your website visitors to feel and do while they’re on your site is still the most important factor.

If the last big decision you want to make is whether you should WordPress or Squarespace, choose Squarespace. If you like to have control over which hosting plan you use and you don’t mind spending some time making decisions on themes and plugins to get things exactly how you want, choose WordPress.

At the end of the day, it comes down to how many options and how much control you would like to have.

Was this guide helpful? Is there anything you were hoping to learn about that wasn’t covered? Let me know in the comments. 

 

 

Five Good Reasons to Start a Blog as a Professional

Can’t think of any good reasons to start a blog? Let’s see if I can change your mind, shall we?

I remember the first friend I had who started blogging. This was back in 2002 and it seemed really strange. Keeping your journal online? Sounds like a good way to attract stalkers to me.

Now that it’s become mainstream, I’ve come to embrace the idea. It might just be that I’ve found a lot of good information from blogs in the past. Or that if you find the right person to follow, your day can get just that much brighter when you see a new post.

I might not be the best at keeping up with it, but I do get why it is worthwhile. Especially for those who are working toward a long-term career.

Benefits of having a blog as a professional:

1. You practice your writing. Often. Writing is a skill that is useful in just about any professional position, whether you are writing for an audience or just shooting off an email. Blogging might be extremely casual in comparison, but the repetition will help make you a better writer in the future.

2. You have a web presence. No matter how big or small, you can be located online and use your blog as an opportunity to connect with other professional bloggers. This is networking in the early 21st century.

3. Your work is published. Self-published maybe, but you’re ahead of those who aren’t. You’ve taken a leap and put yourself out there, and you never know if your next opportunity might come from one of your published posts.

4. You share your wisdom. Maybe you learned a quick tip that made your life a thousand times easier. Share it. Someone, someday, will be grateful. You also get the perk of becoming an authority on your passion or topic of interest.

5. You establish yourself as someone who knows what they are talking about. This can give a potential employer the little nudge to choose you over the other applicants for a job, or potential clients to reach out and hire you.

(By the way, to any potential clients or employers reading this: I am always looking for a great opportunity, should you think we might be a good fit. You can contact me here.)

To Schedule or Not to Schedule

When blogging and tweeting, there’s a divide between pro-schedulers and anti-schedulers. The argument is simple to understand for each:

Pro-schedulers
Having the ability to write multiple posts in a single day and provide them to people on a regular schedule can help a writer maintain consistency and still take days off.

Anti-schedulers
Blogging and tweeting are about expressing ideas and sharing content in real time. The beauty of following a blog or micro-blog is seeing subtle changes in opinion and watching someone explore the world or industry they write about.

But why not do both? In my opinion, this is the strongest way to approach your followers. You might choose to regularly schedule your posts to maintain consistency plus write when something really gets your attention and you just have to share. One marketing blog I follow regularly is sent out every day, but on occasion, there is a second post delivered at a different time. While I love those insightful regular posts, on those other occasions I know that the post was inspired by something in the real world and shared with an enthusiasm that I can’t ignore.

The regular posts keep me hooked and keep me in touch, which is a benefit that should not be ignored.  But I read those second posts much more regularly than I read the scheduled ones because they come from a different place within the writer that I just know will be worth my time.