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WordPress 3.9 Crash Course – Part 32 – Using the WordPress Blog Functionality

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We’re going to wrap today up by talking about using the blog functionality in WordPress 3.9. As I mentioned before, the history of WordPress is as a blogging platform and WordPress today is still fundamentally a blog application.

WordPress has made a very good transition from only a blogging platform to a platform that supports more complex content management systems but it still has its native built-in blog functionality.

What is a Blog?

You probably know what a blog is but just in case you don’t, a blog is essentially a place where you can write regularly and post those writings. The blog aspect of it really is the blog page where your blog posts are displayed. Generally, the blog shows the latest post at the top and the oldest post at the bottom.

Let’s take a look at one of my demonstration sites. It’s here at categories.byobwebsite.com and we’ll go to the blog. You can see the latest post that I posted was on September 28th of 2010, Rainier Cherry 2.

The next post under that was Van Black Cherries 2 and then the one before that was Sweet Red Cherry 2 and so on. These are just posts that I created for the purpose of demonstrating categories and obviously I created these a long time ago.

What is in a Single Post Page

The whole post is the featured image, the post name, the post content, the ability to leave a comment and any comments that might be down there under that. This is called the single post page but your blog page displays all of your posts and the blog page displays all of the posts whereas a single post just displays one.

Posts can be Grouped by Categories and Tags

Part of the blog functionality is its automatic ability to create pages that are grouped together by either categories or tags. For example, on this post I categorized this as cherries. If you click on the cherries category, you get to this page that was automatically created by WordPress.

WordPress Category Archive Page

I want you to take note that I didn’t have to create this category page for cherries. All I did was create posts and the ones related to cherries I gave a category of cherries. When I did that, WordPress automatically created this page. WordPress calls it a category archive page and it shows all the categories of cherry posts.

Let’s click on another category here, say the one for bananas. Then it shows all of the posts that have been categorized as bananas. If I click on oranges, it shows all the posts that were categorized as oranges.

I have found that many people who have used WordPress for a long time don’t recognize that this category archive page is a built-in feature, that this automatically happens. I just want to make sure that you understand this.

You don’t have to create a page to put your orange posts on, WordPress automatically does that for you as long as you categorize them. If you want to display a bunch of posts from a given category all you have to do is display it.

4 Types of Archive Pages for Organizing the Blog

The same thing happens with tags and it also happens with two other things, it happens with dates and it happens with authors. So fundamentally WordPress has these 4 different types of archive pages that it creates. And they are the following.

  • Category archive pages
  • Tag archive pages
  • Date archive pages and
  • Author archive pages

Categories Archive and Tag Pages

A category archive page is what you just have seen. Tag archive pages behave exactly the same way and WordPress displays all of the posts of a given tag. I don’t actually have any tags here so I can’t really show that to you yet but we’ll put some tags on in a minute so you’ll be able to see.

Date Archive Page

A date archive page will display all of the posts of a given date. In this case, it is all of the posts on September 28th although it’s not doing that, it’s only bringing up the category archive page here.

Let’s log in to this site and we’re going to activate Thesis here to demonstrate this. So we’ve got all these different posts here and they are categorized under these categories. If I go back and look at my blog, these are date archive pages.

When I click on February 2010, Hello world! is the only one for that date. In April 2010 we’ve got some orange and cherry posts, in July 2010 we’ve got some apple posts and in September 2010 I’ve got a whole bunch more. These are all date archive pages. And this is an author archive page showing all the posts that I created.

So WordPress has created those 4 different types of organization, date, author, category and tag, and you can display your posts by any of 4 of those automatically.

Understanding Categories

We’re going to take an in depth look at categories first. Let’s come over to posts. Categories is below posts because categories and in fact, all 4 of these things, categories, tags, dates and authors only apply to posts.

Only Apply to Posts Never Pages

If you aren’t using the blog and you don’t have posts then none of this applies to you. There’s no such thing as an archive page for pages. You can’t categorize pages, you can’t tag pages and you don’t set authors for pages. None of that works for pages, it only applies to posts.

How to Create a Category

WordPress comes by default with an uncategorized category. You create a category by simply doing adding a new category here. Let’s create an apples category. All we have to do is add a new category like so.

Categories are Important for URLs and Organization

If you’re using posts you definitely want to use categories because they provide you with the structure for your URLs. Let’s take a look at the URL for this page here. This URL is from my author page and it’s author/byobrick. That’s my author page.

If I come back over to the cherries category page, you’ll notice that its URL is cherries/rainier-sweet-cherry-2. If it wasn’t categorized as cherries it wouldn’t display like that. Again, you want to use categories to categorize your posts so that you have this URL structure. Categories can also be used for navigation like we just did here by clicking on cherries and being taken to that archive page.

Adding Category Widgets

You can also add a category widget to the sidebar. I’ll show you how to do that now. Let’s go to the widgets panel and in our main sidebar we’ll add a categories widget. Save that and return to our page. Now when we refresh this, we have a list of our categories.

You can also use it for navigation but its primary purpose for you, in this case, is for your URL so that you have good SEO optimized URLs.

Naming Conventions for Categories

There are some things you need to know about naming categories. First, you should know what not to use for names.

What You Shouldn’t Do

You should not name a category the same as the name of a page. If you’ve got a page called About, you should not have a category called About. The reason is that it will confuse WordPress.

WordPress won’t know which one to display so it’ll display the page instead of the category. You don’t want that to happen so if you’ve got a page name don’t create a tag or category with that same name, the names need to be unique.

You should never use names like blog, page, post, category, tag, archive, id, class, or html. I see people do this all the time it’s just absolutely horrible practice. It stems from a misunderstanding of how WordPress works. People say to themselves, well, I want all these posts to show up in my blog page so I’m going to give them the category blog.

It’s bad practice from an SEO standpoint and it’s confusing especially if you’ve created a page called blog. It confuses WordPress and you don’t want to confuse WordPress.

Your names should be meaningful terms and that means that they are meaningful in the context of URL as well. I see beginners do this sort of thing regularly. So don’t use words that sound like they are primary WordPress words that could have lots of different meanings in different contexts.

Also, there are WordPress aficionados who say that you should use categories for styling your page so you can use the blue category and then if you’ve got something that’s categorized as blue you can have a special style for that. That is absolutely absurd and the most horrible use of categories possible.

It blows my mind that people who theoretically know what they’re talking about make suggestions like that. Categories are far too important to use for styling. You don’t use them for styling, you don’t use them for featured posts, you don’t use it for anything other than good semantic URLs and organization.

Naming Convention You Should Use

However, a good category naming convention is as follows.

  • The category name should be relatively short
  • The category name should be descriptive

Since you’re using them as the structure of your URL, they should be descriptive of what they are categorizing. When somebody reads the URL of a blog post they should be able to tell by reading that URL what the blog post is about because if they can do it, Google can do it.

If Google knows what the URL is about, it’s going to help you measurably in getting your post and pages returned in relevant search results.

Hierarchical in Nature

Something to know about categories is that they are hierarchical which means that categories can have subcategories. For example, I’ve got an apples category here but I can create a subcategory for green apples. I’ll pick the parent as apples, save that category and now it’s a child category.

If I tag something as green apples, the parent category is going to show up in the URL. Let’s go over to categories and go to apples. Under apples I’ve got green apples. If we look at the Irish Peach category you can see it’s apples/green-apples/irish-peach/. This is the category and its subcategory showing up in the URL of this post, that’s what it means by it’s hierarchical.

You can have categories and subcategories and your categories, in that case, should be meaningful in the organization of your content.

I’m not really going to talk about site organization here but I have what I think is a pretty good example in a recent seminar, the Start Building Your Website Right case study also humorously entitled “How to Eat an Elephant”. In this seminar I talked quite a bit about organization and defining content categories and related topics so this might be something that you would find useful.

As I said, I’m not going to talk about planning your categories here but in terms of categories, you’ll use categories to create a nice clear hierarchy for your content.

How to Add a Category to a Post

You saying that’s fine but how do you actually add a category to a post? Well, you add a category to a post in the post edit screen. We’ll add a new post and call it “Granny Smith”. Over here under categories I now have a choice of these ones. I created them over there and now I can pick one.

Never Assign More Than One Category per Post

Another rule for categories is that you should only assign one category per post. Never assign more than one category per post and assign the lowest category that applies. For this example, since Granny Smith is green apple I’m going to choose green apples.

You don’t need to choose green apples and apples because that’s assigning two categories to it. You’re going to pick one category and it should be the most specific one. The reason why you don’t choose more than one is because it confuses WordPress when generating URls because WordPress wants to use categories as it’s producing the URL.

If you have given a post several categories then you are breaking WordPress’ ability to use that semantic URL structure. So never use more than one category on a post and always use the lowest or most specific category that applies. By lowest I mean lowest in the hierarchy as in don’t choose apples if green apples is the more specific.

Adding Categories to a Menu

If you want to add categories to a menu, that is a very easy thing to do. All you have to do is come to Appearance and Menus and then note down here that there is this categories selection. This allows you to add categories to your menu.

Let’s choose the menu we want to apply a category to. I created this category menu which is not actually on the site at the moment but it’s got bananas, cherries, oranges, apples, green apples, yellow apples. I created this menu structure by simply going to these categories just like we added any other category to it.

So add that to the menu and when I save this menu now this category I just selected will be added to it. Of course, this menu is not the one that’s being used on the site at the moment so we’ll add it to the main menu as well. Go to categories and then view all, choose quotes category and add to menu.

Save the menu and then we’ll take a look at it on the site. Here it is, now quotes is added to my menu. I don’t have any post categorized as quotes so it’s empty. So that’s how you add categories to a page.

Understanding Tags and How to Use Them

So what are tags? Tags are similar to categories except they are not hierarchical. You don’t use them as URLs and you can have as many tags on a post as you want. Let’s go back over to posts and then go to tags.

You can use tags for anything. For example, I have a seminar where I show you how to display featured posts by adding the tag featured to them. So you can add the tag featured and add new tag and now you’ve got the featured tag.

How to Add Tags in a Post

The quick easy way to do this though is when you’re working in a post. Let’s edit the sweet cherry one and come down here to tags. You can just add tags. Let’s say red, round, yummy and good for baking. Actually, these are “not good for baking”. Those are all tags, right?

So now that I assigned all those tags to this post, I’ll update it and now has all those tags. Let’s go to another one and let’s assume that Morello cherries are baking cherries. Come over here to tags and I’ll add “good for baking” and see it brings up “not good for baking”. I’m not going to choose that one so I’ll add this new tag. As well as red and we’ll update that.

Again, you can have as many tags as you want since there is no hierarchy. It’s very simple for you to just add whatever tags you want to add here.

Using a Tag Cloud

Let’s come over to our widgets panel to add a Tag Cloud so that you can see tags on the site. We’ll add it to the sidebar. Go to Appearance, Widgets and this Tags is a Tag Cloud widget. Add that and now when we come back over and view the page you can see it’s listing all of my tags.

The way the Tag Cloud displays the tag names changes based on how much it is used. So the more you use a tag the bigger the text gets. You can click on the tag names here to go to the posts with those tags. For example, “not good for baking” brings up the one post that’s been listed as “not good for baking”.

Red, brings up both posts that are good for red, yummy brings up the one post that’s good for yummy. And that’s what tags are for. They’re for you to provide a means by which you locate related posts. It’s sort of a free flowing, non hierarchical means for people to find posts that are linked together with tags.

Tags don’t Apply to SEO

Tags are no use for SEO. People ask me all the time what the right tagging strategy is for SEO. And the answer is that there is no right tagging strategy for SEO. They’re not useful in SEO so don’t worry about it.

Those SEO experts who tell you that they are useful are mistaken. In fact, if you configure your sitemap incorrectly they can be harmful for SEO because they can provide duplicate paths to the same content.

However, if you’re using a sophisticated theme like Thesis you don’t have to worry about that because Thesis will generate a canonical URL for your page that won’t include the tags and the paths.

Tags can be Useful for Navigation

This is another subject and I’ve got videos if you want to look at the whole sitemap subject to learn how to properly configure your site for working with Google and it includes ignoring tags for the search engines. However, they are useful for navigating for your customers.

If you go to my Live Answers, you can see this list of what I call Live Answer Topics. Note the great big ones have lots of them and those that don’t have a whole bunch of posts are in smaller print. Paint.net for example will have fewer posts, it only has 4 posts. So that’s what I use tags for, I use tags to give people the ability to find content.

I also have a Topics List a page that shows all of my tags. These are all of my tags and all of my content is tagged. So say I want to look at everything I had to say about z-index, I just click on that and it takes me to a couple of videos on z-index.

So that’s how tags can be useful and again, you can have as many tags to a post as you want because WordPress is designed to have multiple tags per post but with only a single category per post.

Adding Tags to a Menu

You can also add tags to your menu in exactly the same way as Categories except that it’s not immediately obvious because WordPress assumes nobody is going to want to add tags to their menu.

But if you want to add tags to your menu you have to come up here to screen options and then put a check in here beside tags. There now you have tags and you can come along here and say “good for baking”. Add that to the menu and if we refresh it, “good for baking” is there.

So that’s the typical blog functionality. The editor in Posts works essentially the same as the editor on Pages but all of this functionality is around categories and tags and dates and authors, all of things that are unique to blog posts and does not exist for pages.

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