I always know when I really like a blog. I won’t just sign up to their RSS feed and move on with my day. I’ll start nosing around to see what their old content has to offer. I want to uncover the hidden gems, the diamonds in the rough, the neglected evergreen content.
But bloggers and blog readers are very forward-thinking. Blog posts are presented by default in a reverse chronological order because of an implicit understanding between author and reader – “you want the new stuff”.
More often than not, if you didn’t know any better, you would assume that bloggers are trying to make it difficult for you. If you have been reading my articles for the last few weeks, I may be starting to sound like a stuck record, but I just can’t help repeating myself – for the love of all things good in the world, please make it easy for your visitors to find your content!
I have recently been covering a lot of ways in which you can improve the engagement factor on your blog. I revealed 1 Simple Step to Keeping Visitors on Your Blog. I asked if you were losing visitors by omitting a key page. I asked if you were neglecting the most important page on your blog. I argued how a clean design can increase visitor engagement. And just last week, I published The Ultimate Guide to WordPress Post Tags.
Now I want to talk about cleaning house - making your blog just so darned easy to navigate that visitors can’t help but stumble upon your best posts, regardless of how old they are.
Your list of categories should ideally be short and sweet. This will of course depend upon your blog, but the list should be as concise as possible.
Think of it this way. Ultimately, categories are for the benefit of your visitor. They should look down the list, pick out what they want, and be presented with a list of relevant posts. If your category list is a mile long, or poorly-worded, you’re making it difficult for your visitors to get to where they want to be. And what happens then? They leave, frustrated.
So it’s probably time you took a look at your categories list and consolidated them down into a more user-friendly number. Ideally, each category should tackle a broad topic.
But even with a finely-honed list of categories, the visitor can be left wanting. The problem with typical archival category pages is that they do not judge your content. The visitor sees a reverse-chronological list of your posts, just as they do on your homepage.
Wouldn’t it be better if you could pick the best posts you have published in each category, and present them to the visitor, front and center?
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If you think you can do without categories, I have a better solution.
Ultimately, your blog shouldn’t cover too many broad topics. If it does, you’re probably trying to do too much. There are of course exceptions to this – news and reviews blogs, for instance. But for the most part, you can distill the vast majority of your content down into a few key resource pages.
A resource page does not have to be anything fancy. There should be some introductory blurb, followed by a list of your most popular posts relating to the topic. If your internal linking strategy is doing its job, these resource pages alone will do a great job of keeping your visitors engaged.
Let’s consider an example. Say you ran a dog training blog. You have a pretty good idea of what visitors come to find. So you can take that knowledge and use it to create three resource pages, linked to in your sidebar:
- Master Dog Discipline
- Teach Your Dog Tricks
- Find Your Local Dog Trainer
If your sidebar is clean and simple (as it should be!), the vast majority of your visitors are going to get to where they want to be very quickly. And that, ladies and gentleman, is the whole point of the exercise.
So the above principles, coupled with all of the different topics I have covered in my recent articles (which I have listed at the bottom of the post for your reference), should turn your blog into a real engagement machine.
However, you may one overriding fear. If you start messing around with your established categories and tags, you are quickly going to make a mess of existing URLs, aren’t you? And if people have linked to (and Google has indexed) them, the dreaded 404 error is going to become a powerful pain in your backside.
Luckily, there are two plugins that can help you handle all of the shuffling with relative ease. No longer will you wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, having had yet another 404 nightmare.
This recently won an award for “sexiest plugin name of 2011”.
Not really. Uninspiring name aside, Term Management Tools adds some extra functionality to WordPress that really should come as standard.
If your tag situation has got out of hand, this plugin offers you a quick and easy way to merge multiple tags together.
Not only that, you can set hierarchies (where applicable) and convert terms from one taxonomy to another (e.g. from tags to categories). This plugin can be used for tags, categories and any custom taxonomies that you may have created.
This plugin does exactly what it says on the tin (that’s right, plugins come in tins these days). I’m not going to run through the full feature list here, but amongst its many bells and whistles, it can set up 301 redirects.
Say that you use Term Management Tools to merge the “badger” tags above. If anyone had linked to the now defunct tags, those links would return a 404 error. You can use Redirection to – yep, you guessed it – redirect those now non-existent URLs to the URL of the newly-consolidated “badger” tag.
So now you have all the know-how and tools to turn your blog into an utopian paradise for your grateful visitors.
For the full round-up on how to turn your blog into an engagement machine, here is the full list of articles:
- Are You Neglecting The Most Important Page On Your Blog?
- Tips For Dirty Bloggers Pt 1: Clean Up Your Design
- Are You Losing Visitors By Omitting This Key Page On Your Blog?
- 1 Simple Step To Keeping Visitors On Your Blog
- The Ultimate Guide to WordPress Post Tags
- Why Your Blog Frustrates Your Visitors and What You Can Do About It