Why is it that when you’re creating a linking structure for a website you call it “navigation”, but when it’s for a blog it’s sometimes called “categories”?
It’s one of the many oddities of Blogs—blogging is trendy, it’s different from building websites, it’s a different kind of medium. Just don’t ask us why it’s different…I’m not sure you’d get the same answer from any two bloggers.
Blog Categories Aren’t Special
The first step to building a strong navigation in a blog is to stop prefacing “blog categories” with “blog”. In other words, put less thought into making a blog feel like a blog, and more time thinking about how a user is going to use the website.
Categories are simply a means of organization. Organization is an essential part of a well structured website. Labeling and cataloging content allows users to quickly make choices, find what they want, and get on with their day. This is truth for nearly any website.
However, just because all websites require some means of organization doesn’t mean we should approach each site the same way—which seems to be a huge problem with blogging. Rather than trying to figure out how content can best be organized for a specific audience, blogs tend to depend on the abused keyword-based category navigation.
Navigation Is Key
Sometimes our first step in creating blogs is to start naming categories for our posts. Platforms like WordPress make this super easy to accomplish with a beautiful back end and instant-access to thousands of free themes and designs to choose from that take advantage of typical category structures.
Rather than jumping right into categories, consider three things:
- What kind of content will you be presenting? Is it all published in the same format (ie: video/text/image)? What’s the frequency of new posts?
- How will a user find a specific post on your blog using typical categories? Can you think of a faster way to find that same post by some other means of organization (by date, title, format, etc)?
- Are there any similar websites that may offer unique solutions that work well for a particular type of blog?
In many cases, traditional categories will be the best way to organize a blogs contents. You may discover that there is a better way to classify your content—maybe you should even offer multiple ways of organizing your blog.
The navigation from Digital Photography School is an example of a blog that makes use of several types of organization. On the surface, it uses typical categories such as “Photography Tips & Tutorials” and “Cameras & Equipment”, but these links are designed to be a part of the primary navigation. When an option from the primary navigation is selected, additional options allow a user to organize the content in other ways like by date, or by popularity. This may have been a design choice made after seeing how people used the site. Many times you’ll discover that there are better ways to organize your content after gathering statistics about the usage of your site. The important thing is to pay attention and test changes.
Don’t Make Categories Separate “Just ‘Cause”
Again, less thinking about categories and more thinking about navigation. Think about your blog in terms of Primary Navigation (the main stuff), Secondary Navigation, and Utilities (the less important but good to have stuff—contact, about, etc).
Looking at navigation in this way allows us to break a lot of barriers and really design a useful site structure based on what makes sense for the user. What would a user want to see on the front page to get them on their way? On the next page, what relevant content should they see?
Crafting a navigation system that is specially tailored for your audience may require more design work, and definitely involves more testing, but it doesn’t take a user experience expert to make a choice for what works better. Try several designs and see which your users respond best to.