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How to Approach Organizing a Complex Website

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In this session we discuss how to approach organizing a complex website so that users can find information quickly. We discuss the most important use of categories which is to provide structured URLs for search engines. The category names become part of the URL so they should reflect the content that’s being displayed and include the keywords and phrases people are using to search for the content.

We also talk about custom taxonomies that work like a category or a tag but have to be created to do something else. We show some examples of using plugins in Genesis that will let use taxonomies and how to choose taxonomies to modify the display.

We recommend watching the videos on the comparison of Genesis and Thesis – How to Choose Between Thesis 2.1 and Genesis 2.0 for Building Your Website and the Case Study Start Building Your Website Right which lays a system for organizing the site.

Video Transcript

Member: Well, I’ve got a bountiful opportunity because we’ve decided to establish a new domain. We’ve registered it so we’ve got the chance to redesign our website and this time get it right. Now it’s difficult to make it to get my head round here, the best way of laying out the material because it’s an educational resources site so we’re going to be uploading from time to time as what we’ve been doing in the past, various items that people can download.

Previously we just taught the basic on how to blog and bond everything up as it became available but then of course that became quite unwieldy and well, we’re using text and categories in things so that people could find their way around but I was wondering if what you feel about categories or should we be using pages to separate the resources into each groups perhaps and subpages to talk about the different types of items you know, whether they’re powerpoint or printable or whatever. So it’s just trying to get my head round how best to organize this content to be kind to our users so they can find what they want quickly.

Rick: Okay. So the first thing to say is that the most important use of categories is to provide structured URLs for the search engines and so you want to keep that paramount in your mind as you are deciding how to organize stuff because the category names, if you’re using them correctly the category names become part of the URL and therefore they should reflect the content that’s being displayed and they should include really sort of the key terms and phrases that people use when searching for that content.

Member: Okay.

Rick: So the primary purpose for categories is not going to be helping people meander around your site on a large complex site.

Member: Yes.

Rick: And so what I would do on a large complex site is I would use custom taxonomies on it instead and similar to what I’ve done here on BYOBWebsite, right it’s a large and even with all this unwieldy site sometimes and I have a couple of different taxonomies that I use. I have Lesson Subjects.

Member: What’s a taxonomy, Rick? Excuse me, what is a taxonomy?

Rick: A taxonomy is like a category or a tag but you created it yourself to do something else.

Member: Alright.

Rick: Categories and tags are both taxonomies. We say Custom Taxonomy, by that we mean you know some other custom organization system and I use primarily too on BYOBWebsite. I have Lesson Subject and I have Topics so Lesson Subject is you know, kind of hierarchical taxonomy and Topics are like tags and just organize them alphabetically. Obviously I have hundreds and hundreds of them, right?

Member: Yeah.

Rick: I’m teaching a class to professional developers right now and I’ve just started 3 new custom taxonomies on the site where the course is being taught and one of them is WordPress Functions, the other one is Thesis Functions and the third one is Development Concepts so that they can just essentially come to an index and say okay, where did I find those lessons about you know, Get the Post Thumbnail or the Thesis Options API and to each of the post I’ve assigned these different taxonomies so that people can use it as a reference for managing you know, finding their way around the site after they’ve gone through the course.

Member: Yeah.

Rick: This is what I would do to help people find your content. Now, are you using Thesis?

Member: Well, haven’t bought it yet but I’m going for Genesis I think.

Rick: Okay. So when you’re using Genesis you will use plugins that will let you list these. In fact, this is a plugin that I just installed this morning. I go to Widgets, NS Category Widget, Plugins, Installed Plugins. I am using this plugin NS Category Widget – is the plugin that I’m using to display those things and so you just drop the widget in the sidebar and tell it which taxonomy you want to display and it’ll display it. It’s quite simple really you know, you give the widget a title, you choose which taxonomy you want to display, you can decide whether or not you want to show all the parent categories or just some of them and there are various things here that you can set up on that to modify the display.

If you want more particular control over it then there’s another WordPress plugin that as long as you don’t have hundreds of taxonomy terms. I used to use it then I got too unwieldy. Let’s see, “taxonomy term display”, this Custom Taxonomies Menu Widget will let you even show you know, so if you’ve got a taxonomy called Product Types you can choose from those which things you want to show up in that listing of the widget so it’s actually quite powerful also but the question of organizing, okay I just went to the mechanics of displaying.

The question of organizing your site comes down to SEO first and then useability second. SEO you’re going to use categories for and usability you would use these different taxonomies. You might only need one taxonomy but say maybe you have two taxonomies – one of them is Topics and the other one is Media and so say you’ve got videos, audio and PDFs. Maybe those are the 3 types of media you have and so you could tag each of your post with the kind of media it is and so then somebody can go look for all of the videos or all of the PDF downloads or all of the audio posts or whatever. So you can use that to organize it but you have to try and figure out what your organizing principles are. Are you going to organize it by the kind of media it is or you’re going to organize it by the topic that it’s about or you’re going to organize it by well, I don’t know what kind of material is it?

Member: Well, it’s educational material and I think use it on something that’s being tasking my brain through a few days now, how most of the stuff can be organized in different ways, in more than one way. For example, we could organize it as we have richly done which was by resources for children’s ministry, resources for youth ministry and resources for other adults ministry but within each of those sections there will be a further breakdown, is it a teaching one, is it a visual aid, is it a review game, is it some ideas and most of those 4 sections will be each of the other age categories and so you know, when you put up a WordPress post, you can tag it with several tags, can you put things in different categories in more than one category?

Rick: Well, you can but you shouldn’t.

Member: Something like a (10:40) so all the new stuff or whatever.

Rick: You can but you shouldn’t.

Member: Yes?

Rick: You shouldn’t because it screws up your SEO.

Member: Okay.

Rick: You can but you shouldn’t and so what you should do is always only have one category per post and always use categories for your SEO organization and tags would probably be better for topics than it would be for what you’re describing and so I would probably create a hierarchical custom taxonomy that is I don’t know, the concept would be age appropriate, right?

Member: Yes, yes.

Rick: I don’t know what you would call it off at the top of my head. I’m working with another member on a site where he provides resources for people who are retiring or in retirement and so he’s got a taxonomy that is essentially what stage of life are you in – are you planning for your retirement, are you in retirement or are you having an emergency and so he uses that taxonomy to breakdown his content, I mean use his categories for other things but he uses that to give people a place where they can say, “Well, I want to look at all of the content about planning for retirement” and when he clicks on that then they can see all the stuff about health care and pensions and investing.

Member: Yeah.

Rick: So you might think about custom taxonomy based on the…

Member: The age groups?

Rick: Yeah, the age groups, right. And you might have another one that overlaps that based on the kind of material it is.

Member: Yes, yes.

Rick: And you might have another one that overlaps that that is just topics.

Member: Yes.

Rick: I mean I don’t know.

Member: No, you’re getting there.

Rick: You know, you might have one that well, that’s what I would consider doing.

Member: Sorry, Rick but each of these that you’re talking about – age groups, topic material, topics for example. Would they be a menu item at the top of the page then?

Rick: They could be a menu item on the top of the page, you can do that.

Member: And could you then have a dropdown from that where various sub…

Rick: Absolutely, yes.

Member: Elements within each of those?

Rick: Yes, you can.

Member: Got you.

Rick: Or you could have a page that acts like that so you go to you know, for adults and they click on that and it takes them essentially to a hub page.

Member: Yeah.

Rick: And that hub page has a bunch of information on it related to adults and it has a listing of all of the you know, related content in it and that kind of stuff.

Member: That’s very appealing.

Rick: Now that in particular is easier to do in Thesis than it is to do in Genesis but you can do it in Genesis in one of two ways. One you could use that Types plugin and then buy their Views plugin and use their views to display that stuff or you can use… I was looking for and did not find but I just didn’t bother looking very hard. I was looking for a tool that would let me list these things using a shortcode that I could just drop into the content.

And you know, I’m sure that exist I just couldn’t put my finger on it when I was trying to do this. Well, actually you know and maybe something else for you to consider would be this… Let’s see where is my search for this, this is “custom content types”. Now, this is not a plugin that I use however, oh not that one. Oh, Custom Content Type Manager, this might give you the ability to use shortcodes to display your taxonomies. So it’s worth taking a look at this plugin too because it’s one thing to do the organizing and it’s another thing to display that organization.

Member: Yes.

Rick: And in your situation, in Genesis you’re going to need some kind of a plugin that helps you do that on your pages. Thesis has a whole bunch of tools for this and so you don’t need a special plugin for that but if you’re already planning on using Genesis then you’re going to need something to help you display it and…

Member: Well, I’m not 100% sure whether I (16:45) and it sounds like Thesis has got a lot going for it, it’s going to give us an easier ride on putting this stuff together so I may (16:55)

Rick: Well, I like them both and I don’t know, have you watched my video on comparing them?

Member: No.

Rick: Oh yeah, you should watch my video that compares Genesis and Thesis.

Member: Okay.

Rick: I like them both obviously, I teach them both but I would never use Genesis for a complex CMS which is what you’re talking about.

Member: Yes.

Rick: Because it doesn’t have any built-in tools for that so you either need to learn a little bit of programming you know, to figure out how to insert this custom content in you know, custom templates that you create or you need to find a perfect plugin that will let you stick shortcodes and stuff like that.

Now, that might exist but in Thesis it’s very very simple to do that because Thesis gives you access to custom templates and gives you templates for every one of those taxonomy types and it’s quite easy to set up a hub page like that in Thesis by simply creating a custom template and assigning that template and then telling the template what content you want it. That’s generally I think what you’re talking about once 1, 2 or 3 custom taxonomies applied to your posts.

Member: Uhuh.

Rick: The nice thing about doing it with the custom taxonomies in posts is that WordPress creates archive pages for you automatically and so you can automatically see every post that has you know, for children or every post that has videos or every post for children and has videos whereas with pages you can’t do that at least easily.

Member: Yeah.

Rick: You can do it but it’s not out of the box.

Member: Well, that’s given me a lot of food for thought and I’m so glad they’ve gratefully given me so much time tonight because as I say, we should to get it right from the offset and take off time and get properly…

Rick: You may want to, I mean videos to watch on this subject. You may want to start off with this How to Choose Between Thesis 2.1 and Genesis 2 for Building Your Website, okay. I don’t know if you’re a member of my site or not but if you’re not these are free videos so you can watch those.

Member: Thanks so much.

Rick: And then I have a case study on how to start doing something like this. Start Building Your Website Right and I believe this is also a free video so it at least lays out for you a system for how to start thinking about organizing your site.

Member: Uhuh.

Rick: So I would recommend you look at both of those seminars before you get too far down the road and to help you make decisions about organizing and theme choices and all the rest of that kind of stuff.

Member: Thanks. Thanks ever so much Rick, that was just brilliant.

Rick: You’re welcome. Well, you have a great night.

Member: And you have a good day.

Rick: I will. Thank you.

Member: Thank you.

Rick: Bye.

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