This article is all about how to achieve better organization in WordPress. Whether you consider yourself a blogger or a website administrator, a beginner or a super-guru, there are a few rather easy things that you can do to help your visitors find the information that they are looking for. I have tried my best to make this topic digestible by every level of WordPress user therefore there are no code examples to speak of. Every customization can be made via free and open-source plug-ins. You can find a list of all plug-ins mentioned at the bottom of this page. Let’s get things started by looking at the ways that WordPress allows us to organize our posts…
WordPress Provides 2 ways to organize our posts.
These are Categories and Tags.
My Thoughts on Categories
- Categories are required. It is not possible to create a post without first adding it to a category. Due to this fact, I think it is safe to say that most WordPress users are familiar with the concept of categorizing their posts. I mean really, who wants all of their content published as “Uncategorized”
- Categories are Hierarchical. If you so choose, it is possible to arrange your categories in a manner where one category contains many other categories. This is very helpful for organization on sites where the content covers a wide range of topics.
- Categories are Mature The category system has been around in WordPress for a very long time, maybe even since the beginning. Categories are as much of a part of WordPress as posts therefore they have a very mature presence throughout an installation including
- The ability to be used in global site navigation.
- Categories can be displayed on the bottom of single posts views.
- There is a default widget that lists all active categories.
- WordPress themes have the ability to create a link to the previous or next post that is in the same category as the one currently being viewed.
- Categories have a good name The term category is universal. It is broad enough to encompass just about any set of objects. It is hard for me to think of a group of objects that cannot be categorized in some manner.
My Thoughts on Tags
- Tag are Optional I believe that it is the optional nature of tags which can sometimes push new users away from their usage. I know that when they were introduced into WordPress, I had no idea what to do with them and I really had no reason to find out since my site worked just fine without them.
- Tag are not hierarchical Unlike categories, tags cannot be further organized into sub groups.
- Tags are Less Mature
- Tags are not intended to be used as global site navigation.
- To create previous or next post links on single views would require the addition of another navigation structure not provided in the WordPress core.
- Tags have an ambiguous name While I can think of plenty examples of how tags are used in the real world it is hard for me to apply these examples to the scope of a website. You can find tags on items sold at department stores, there are tags on christmas presents, you may even find children playing a game of tag at the playground. The point that I’m trying to make here is that when you apply a common usage of this word to your website, it is hard to visualize a connection; unless, of course, you want to wrap up your website and give it away as a gift.
My Thoughts on the Future
We’ll start this section with a few questions “Don’t you think it would be nice to take control of WordPress… to organize your content in a way that best reflects you? Is it even possible to do so?” The answer to both of these questions is YES. It is easy to add your own personal flair to the way that your posts are organized. Doing so can increase the usability of your site drastically allowing visitors to find the content they are looking for faster. This can be achieved by setting up Custom Taxonomies – a very powerful, hidden feature that is simple to unlock and even easier to use. During the course of this article I will let you know what custom taxonomies are, show you how to use them, help you migrate from a tag-based system to a custom system as well as provided you with real world examples and a few hypothetical examples explaining how you might use this feature to customize your own WordPress Powered website.
Before we get started I think that is important for you to understand what a taxonomy is…
For those of you who cannot watch the video, please visit my Understanding Taxonomy in WordPress page.
Would you Care For a Bowl of Tag Soup?
I’m sure that you’ve been served up a bowl of tag soup in the past. Ever visit a site where every post has an average of 50 tags each? I know I have! When there is an excess of tags their effectiveness seems to fly out the window. In the next section we will be looking at a real world example where an abundance of tags were used. I will walk you through how the same basic information can be displayed using custom taxonomies and a few of the benefits to using a custom system.
Under the microscope we have Hungry Eyeball which is a site based in Portland, OR that posts a large number of art-related events that take place in the city. If you look at the image on the left (click to enlarge), you will notice that there are quite a few tags used on this post. 41 to be exact. Are all these tags necessary? Not in my opinion. Can the information be better expressed in another way? I think so. Let’s give it a closer look, shall we?
Breaking Down the Tags
Here, I have analyzed the tags placing each one into a group based on the information that it conveyed. I was able to determine that there we’re 5 separate types of tags: the artist’s Full Name, the artist’s Last Name, Location of the event, The Type of event, and finally the Neighborhood in which the event takes place. It is easy to see that the artist last names are redundant – as they are already expressed in the full name – and can be removed. There are two tags for the venue where the event takes place. I chose to remove the one that included the word Portland mainly due to the fact that “Redux Portland” is not the correct name for the venue, it is just Redux. I then consolidated the three tags that were used to define the type of event into one word: “Embroidery”. In my opinion, this was the one word in the group that sets this event apart from others.
The Same Basic Information Expressed in a Different Way
Here is a visual example of how the post could be better classified using custom taxonomies instead of the original tag system. First of all, we have minimized the total number of terms from 41 to 26 by cutting down on redundancies. We have also organized the information into sections which will allow readers to easily find the information that they are looking for as well as provide them a sort of “definition” for the term. When I look back at the original example with the tags, I have absolutely no idea what “Iron Pony” or “Redux” refer to. These two names are rather ambiguous until classified correctly as either one could be the name of the venue or a name of an artist in the show.
Organizing your tags into custom taxonomies can be beneficial to both you and your readers.
I have compiled the following live examples for you to look at. Unfortunately, I had a hard time finding more than this. If you or someone you know are using custom taxonomies on your site, feel free to leave a link and a brief description in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
[browsershot url="http://design.mfields.org" width="200" align="right"]
I have seen many other design portfolios in my day. One link that I frequently click on other peoples portfolios is their clients page. It is interesting to see a list of the people and companies that a certain designer has worked for. It is even better if you can see all of the work that the designer has produced for that client. By using a custom taxonomy called “client” and the Taxonomy List Shortcode plug-in, I was able to create a page listing all of my clients. Each client name links to a page that contains all of the work the I have completed for them. I have also used the Taxonomy Terms List plug-in to display the client’s name on the page containing the individual design.
[browsershot url="http://art.mfields.org" width="200" align="right"]
I use repeated symbolism in many of my pieces. I thought that it would be neat to bring this to my visitor’s attention. If you view the symbolism page, you will see a list of all of the symbols that I have chosen to feature. You will also notice that there is an image representing the symbol as well as a description. You can click on each title to view all of the artwork that contain this symbol. The functionality for this page is achieved via the Taxonomy Images Plugin. My art portfolio also has another custom taxonomy powered page for collectors. I thought that it we be neat track where my paintings have ended up over the years. This example is very similar to the clients section in my design portfolio.
[browsershot url="http://wordpress.tv" width="200" align="right"]
WordPress.tv uses custom taxonomies to help organize the videos that they post. If we navigate to the video of Lorelle VanFossen’s presentation at WordCamp Portland 2009 we will notice that there is a screen shot of the video on the left and a long list of useful information pertaining to the video on the right. The following headings use custom taxonomies to produce the navigation Language, Producer and Speakers. I think that it is very helpful to have the videos organized by the language of the speaker. It is easy to see from the example that (at this time) there are 416 videos available in the English language.
[browsershot url="http://popcritics.com/" width="200" align="right"]
This example was created by WordPress expert Justin Tadlock who has put together a movie database which uses custom taxonomies to organize movies in a very useful way. If you look down the right side of this Hannah Montana movie, you will see genres, actors, directors, writers, producers and studio. We can easily see that the studio that produced this film is Walt Disney Video and if we click on the link we are brought to a page showing all films by Walt Disney Studio.
I’ve compiled this list of hypothetical examples in the hopes that it will inspire people to set up their own custom taxonomies. Their true power comes to light when used in an environment that is familiar to you. This list is not exhaustive, but I hope that it will get your gears turning! If you have any ideas about how this list can be expanded, please leave a comment.
This is the first real application for custom taxonomies that I came up with. It just seems so natural to me. If you cover sports of any kind on your blog, I believe that your readers will definitely benefit from setting up custom taxonomies. Imagine if you had a page that listed every player that you have ever written about. Readers could skim through this page and find a link to every post where you mention Shaq Attack. Don’t stop at players though, you could easily organize your posts based on “Teams”, “Coaches” and “Leagues” as well.
Do you write fiction? Better yet fantasy fiction? Authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien have created complex worlds where newcomers could really benefit from a glossary. Why not use custom taxonomies to create an interactive glossary by organizing your chapters by the characters or locations featured in the chapter? You can use the taxonomy pages to create definitions and add illustrations too.
Perhaps you write restaurant reviews or commentary on the local food scene. If so, it might be a good idea to organize your blog posts by “Restaurant” or “Entrée”. Another neat idea would be to create a taxonomy named something like “My Experience” with terms such as “Loved it”, “Hated it”, “Great Service”, “Poor Service” or even “Food gave me an Upset Stomach”.
I believe that blogs about music would could also help readers find the content that they are looking for by adding taxonomies for things like “Performer”, “Band”, “Record Label” or “Release”.
Turn your website into an interactive resume using custom taxonomies.
- Clients Who did you work for?
- Skills Did you use a specialized skill to complete the project? This taxonomy may possess the following terms: page layout, color separation or color correction
- Tools What did you use to get the job done? This taxonomy may possess terms like: which may possess the following terms: Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign or a pencil and paper.
- Symbolism As shown in the above example, organizing your artwork by symbolism can add a new dimension to your art portfolio enabling viewers to get a feel for some of the thought that goes into your work.
- Collector Organizing your art by collector can help you track the final destination of sold work.
- Medium Creating this taxonomy may be appropriate if you create in a variety of media thus allowing your viewers to find the work created with the media they are interested in.
- Location This is more for you than your visitors, but can be a useful method of inventory tracking. Do you frequently show work at galleries? Is work constantly leaving your hands? By setting up a location taxonomy you can use your website to track the location of your pieces.
- Body of Work This is something that may only appeal to artists who create separate bodies of work but could be a rather good use of a taxonomy.
Useful Taxonomy Plugins
This is a short list of the plug-ins that I have mentioned in this article as well as a couple of others. If you have made a plug-in that makes using custom taxonomies easier, please leave a comment below.
- GD Custom Posts and Taxonomy Tools
- Enables you to create and manage your own custom taxonomies.
- Taxonomy Terms List
- Automatically create multiple lists of taxonomy terms associated a given post in the single post view. This one is plug and play, just activate and you’re good to go.
- Taxonomy List Shortcode
- Add a shortcode to your WordPress powered site enabling you to create a styled list of terms for any given taxonomy. Useful for creating custom index pages for your taxonomy structures.
- Taxonomy Images
- Trick out your categories, tags and custom taxonomies! This plug-in enables you to link images from your media library to every term of every taxonomy on your WordPress installation. This plug-in also includes a shortcode enabling you to make stylized index page of your taxonomy terms.
- Simple Taxonomies
- Another plug-in that enables you to create and edit custom taxonomies. Simple Taxonomies also enables you display taxonomies in a few different places throughout your blog.