Using categories and permalinks on your blog: A simple approach

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by bledsoe on July 9, 2009

When I first started blogging, I ignored both categories and permalinks.  I didn't really understand what either was for, but I just wanted to get my blog up and running and figured I'd worry about them later.  Now that I've been thru several different blog incarnations (both mine and others), I have a better understanding of the value of categories and permalinks, and how they can work together to a) allow you to better organize your site, and b) improve your blog's visibility to search engines.

There's not a consensus about the single best way to use categories and permalinks on your blog, so I decided to go with something that was simple to understand and implement, but which I could easily change if I decided to get more fancy in the future.  (I largely followed the advice of Michael Martin in this post.)

Here's what I came up with:

  1. Use a relatively small number of broad categories. Then use tags to add more "finely-grained" descriptors of your posts.
  2. Use /%postname%/ as your permalink. Most everyone agrees that you should not use the WordPress default permalink, primarily because it doesn't include the title of your post in the URL, thus making it more difficult for search engines to accurately index your posts.  Beyond that, opinions vary widely, but the two main contenders for the Best Permalink Award seem to be /%postname%/ and /%category%/%postname%/.  You can find plenty of advocates for both, but since I value simplicity, and also since I wanted to allow myself the freedom to change my categories in the future without worrying about having to change any previously-created post URLs, I decided to use the postname-only structure.
  3. Assign each post to one, and only one, category. Some people assign their posts to more than one category (my wife does this), but I like the simplicity of the one post-one category approach.  As Martin describes it, categories are like drawers in a file cabinet, and your posts are like papers to be filed; you can't put one piece of paper into two drawers and you shouldn't put one post into two categories.   (Assigning your posts to multiple categories may also exacerbate the WordPress "duplicate content" issue, but that whole debate is pretty complicated as well, and I'm going for simple.)

Using just these three guidelines, you can easily make use of categories and permalinks in your WordPress blog.  The main benefit will be a much better organized site, and a nice side benefit will be that your posts will be more easily indexed by search engines.  You may not care too much about either of those things when you first start your blog, but they may become important to you later and by setting up a simple category and permalink structure early on, you won't have to do any major redesign of your site down the road.

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