I just got back from a little trip around the legal blogsphere and I was pretty surprised to find that A LOT of blogs written by lawyers and law professors don’t use Categories. What’s up with that?
As a blog reader, a blog without Categories is like a restaurant without a menu. Why lawyer bloggers aren’t including Category menus in their sidebar is a puzzle to me.
Categories are a navigational convention. Readers browsing a well-designed category structure will benefit from the organization and will likely stay on your site longer, read more content, and be more likely to subscribe to a feed.
I’m a big fan of Categories. They help me to efficiently cover a lot of real estate in the least amount of time. ProBlogger recently suggested that blog owners watch a first time visitor read your blog. It is an interesting exercise that should help you understand what’s important to your readers and why and how they navigate your blog. If you were to watch me visit your blog for the first time this is what you’d see….
After I skim the post I linked to, I will rely on your Categories to learn more about you and your focus. Your Categories will help me to determine if I want to subscribe to your feed. If there are no Categories on your site, you’ll probably lose me as a reader because I will likely scan your blogroll and find something interesting there, and leave your site.
Archives? –Too much trouble. Search? -If I know what I’m looking for, A-OK. Calendars? –Like a box of chocolates, you never know what’s inside. Categories? –essential.
Don’t make me think too hard either.
I don’t want a zillion Categories – why bother. Here’s an example where it looks like the blogger created a separate category for each blog post. The Trademark Blog In all fairness, this blog is 7 years old. (WOW!) There is a lot of great content that covers a lot of ground. However, it’s not a bad thing to retool categories every year.
I want the Category names to be clear, and I want them to be consistent –in tone and style. This eliminates guesswork, enhances my reading experience, and brands the blog in my mind.
I want the Category menu to tell me how many posts are in each category -that helps me to know which Category the blogger is more fluent in or passionate about. For a good example of a category list see Adam Smith, ESQ
Like newspapers have conventions making them easier to read, the best blogs will also follow some well-established conventions. One of those is Categories in a drop down menu on the right sidebar. Takes up less space than a list and is just as easy to use. I like an original and attractive blog face, but not a tricky interface -Category menu is in the right sidebar.
This blog, Crime and Consequences, changed the name Categories to Issues. No big deal, but it tripped me up the first time I visited.
Don’t give me a category that I can’t understand; e.g. Expressions of Cleverness. Surprises are good when it comes to the prize in a box of cracker jacks, but not when I’m browsing your content and have limited time to do so.
Multi-author blogs sometimes use the Categories feature to separate out each author. Here’s an example: The University of Chicago Law School Faculty blog
A name tells me nothing about what I’m going to find within that Category. It will probably lead me somewhere that I don’t have time to go so I leave. I understand the practicality of the organization in the mind of the blog owner, but I personally think this is an ineffective use of Categories.
I don’t mind if you make your Categories into Pages. The Categories then become your primary navigation. It’s becoming more conventional, especially for blogs with very focused content. Using Categories as navigational architecture moves your blog into more of a traditional Web site. It replaces those non-descript About Us, Practice Areas, Attorneys pages, and so on.
Two good examples of blogs that use Categories as Pages in the top nav bar are Biker Law blog and Scotusblog.com
Categories, are probably more important to me than to most. (Maybe I’ll add it as a Category!) The non-use of Categories takes me back to the days when law firm Web sites were new. Their interface just didn’t make it easy for the visitor to find real content.
For those readers who fall into the small-town-upbringing category….Happy May DAY!