Content Marketers, Kill The Blog Category

Plato said Socrates thought very little of the then-newfangled objects that were books, arguing that the written word impinged upon man’s ability to remember and to think.

In the early 60s, Marshall McCluhan went on to write about “media determinism,” an idea suggesting that our communications technologies shape the way we think. Anyone who has ever written out a manuscript with pen and ink will be able to attest to the notion that how we write with various tools is fundamentally different.

Blog Post Categories

It’s understandable that when blogs were devised, the various blog posts were categorized. After all, that was easy to do with a database-driven system — you simply needed to associate each post with a category. There is also something about computer programmers: they seem predisposed to ontologies and organizing information in structured frameworks.

Magazines, on the other hand, aren’t so easily divvied up. Sure, in your monthly gardening magazine, there may be a monthly column Garden Pests, talking about raccoons this month and aphids the next — but we, as readers, don’t tend to move about through our magazines going from one category to another; we live within the particular issue.

Future Of Blog Categories?

The focus on content marketing has had many blog editors rethinking the need for categories. Will Critchlow, the CEO of Distilled, has been investing heavily into more substantial content and foregoing the traditional categories.

In a recent conversation, Critchlow told me that Distilled is evaluating whether they want to keep blog categories. “The current analytics shows us that [blog category pages] aren’t really entry pages; not really navigation pages. It’s not how people browse our content.”

Deep Content Experiment

According to Critchlow, Distilled decided to experiment with a deeper piece of content, titled Brandopolis, commissioned from an outside writer, Lydia Laurenson. The piece required weeks of writing, along with dozens of hours of editing and input from internal team members.

“We didn’t really have many expectations about what success would look like,” Critchlow confided. “The results were positive: it drove thousands of email signups, received attention and links from some major sites, and it was the catalyst for some new relationships.

These larger, deeper pieces of content have suggested new ways to navigate the blog. “You want an editorial opinion of what you should read. You go to a magazine like a New Yorker where they’ve got a strong editorial tone of voice. It’s not only that they have a strong tone of voice within an article; they’re also pretty opinionated about what the next article you read is.”

distilled-650

“The people who come to our site are broadly interested in online marketing,” Critchlow says. “They’re not so narrow as to say that if they read something about content strategy they wouldn’t want to read about conversion optimization. And so, we can be a more opinionated about pushing them towards our best content.”

Smaller pieces can be seen as more immediate resources that, in turn, help to promote the larger featured pieces, creating a healthy eco-system of content.

Critchlow tells me a theory they have about the value of larger pieces: “You can have some very, very lightweight content that ends up doing disproportionately well, and you can do big-ticket stuff that does pretty well. There’s a very dangerous place in the middle where you spend hours or a day on a piece; a kind of heavy-weight blog post. You can do that day after day and not really gain any returns from it. And so what we’re trying to do is the two ends better.”

Content Consumption Changes

Blog categories are still a logical framework for sites that are fundamentally about resources more than editorial (like Marketing Land).

There are changes, though, in the technologies used in consuming online content, and more people are becoming accustomed to using tablets to read magazines, books and blogs. For some organizations, a move to deeper, more substantial content is going to make a lot of sense.

Image courtesy of Distilled, used with permission.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Content Marketing | Content Marketing | Content Marketing Column

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About The Author: is the author of the DragonSearch Online Marketing Manual and Social Marketology (McGraw Hill 2012) and the ceo/co-founder of DragonSearch. He is a regular speaker for Google at their Get Your Business Online seminars. Dragon frequently speaks about the convergence of social media, process, information architecture, and sociology.



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  • http://dragonsearchmarketing.com/ Ric Dragon

    Another example of a magazine-looking blog is http://dupress.com/. They DO still have categories, but they’re all rolled-up into a navigation item of “Topics.”

  • http://www.seoskeptic.com/ Aaron Bradley

    I see your point from the point of view of actual (human) blog post consumers.

    But blog categories – or tags, or any any other sort of taxonomic arrangement based on topical clusters of pages – are of value to data consumers like Google, as they help these data consumers make assumptions about topicality based on linkages (it’s kind of a lightweight form of linked data).

    There’s increasingly inline methods of achieving the same thing (such as structured data markup that links content pieces or fragments to URIs), but by and large I’d say there’s still a role for blog categories – again, for machine consumers.

  • http://dragonsearchmarketing.com/ Ric Dragon

    Nice angle, Aaron. Perhaps, for some blogs, one might still USE categories, and have those categories pages for then engines, but depend more a less-category-centric navigation (like the Deloitte example above).

  • http://www.keshkesh.com/ Takeshi Young

    Have to disagree. Even websites that are primarily editorial have categories, including Time, Buzzfeed, CNN, etc. Different people are interested in different topics, and categories are a natural way to organize topical content.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Category pages do tend to receive less traffic than individual articles but people should look at their Webmaster Tools data before deciding whether to do away with categories. Category pages often make great sitelinks; unfortunately, too many people blindly allow SEO plugins to Noindex/Nofollow their categories, thus skewing the performance of such pages in search results toward arbitrary failure.

  • http://www.feldmancreative.com/ Barry Feldman

    Me thinks the numbers are meaningful whether you like them or not. In the age of data drives personalization, I believe the “if you like that you’re bound to like this” approach will gain the most traction for the author/publisher.

    This is a focus of the Disqus blog comment tool, which I’m fond of. Can’t say it’s tuned perfectly, but it does aim to fulfill a need.

    The either/or mentality is probably best addressed with experimentation, just like everything else in digital marketing. I believe that’s Ric’s POV.

  • http://dragonsearchmarketing.com/ Ric Dragon

    DEFINITELY true that for larger info portals, categories are de rigeur. But what about the smaller blogs, like Distilled’s or even Deloitte U.’s?

  • http://dragonsearchmarketing.com/ Ric Dragon

    You’re right, Michael; you should definitely look at your stats to see if taking this approach makes sense. I doubt my own agency’s blog will be going that route any time soon – I’m just blown away by the notion – creating more of a deep information site that flows in a more natural way.

  • http://www.keshkesh.com/ Takeshi Young

    I guess if you only write about a single topic, categories are less necessary. Although it would probably still be helpful to have tagging or some other categorization that users can find relevant content (Distilled does have categories, BTW).

  • http://dragonsearchmarketing.com/ Ric Dragon

    YESSIREE! Experimentation! I also think that we might just be sort of locked into the whole blog category format because that’s the way blogs were originally created, and now we think like that. But do readers, in all cases, really need that? It might be cheating us of a richer way of presenting content. Maybe.

  • http://dragonsearchmarketing.com/ Ric Dragon

    Hi Takeshi – yes; Distilled does, although they’re thinking about rolling things up into just “resources.” Tags are a whole other story. I heard from someone who participated in the original talks with WordPress that Tags and Categories are fairly synonymous… although I’ve never thought of them that way.

  • http://www.keshkesh.com/ Takeshi Young

    Yes, they’re similar concepts and can be used interchangeably from a technical standpoint, but categories tend to be fixed, while tags are more fluid. Also, people tend to organize posts in a single category, whereas they might add a half dozen tags to a single post.

  • http://dragonsearchmarketing.com/ Ric Dragon

    BTW: A really insightful different take on the topic from Lisa Barone http://overit.com/blog/save-blog-categories

  • http://dragonsearchmarketing.com/ Ric Dragon

    My favorite description of the two came from Liz Strauss who likened Tags to a book’s index, while the Categories create the Table of Contents.

  • http://www.clickfire.com/ Emory Rowland

    Categories are for browsers. Users browse ecommerce sites, not blogs IMO.

  • http://www.whizpress.com Bryan Fleming

    I still think keeping your categories at the top of the blog will work. Even in mobile. But you bring up good points.

    - Bryan

  • https://medium.com/@naidav Naida Volkova

    I agree and disagree at the same time. Magazines already have one big category or theme that they cover, e.g. food magazine is not going to cover car industry news. That’s why people already have expectations when they buy a magazine issue or go to the online version, they know what kind of news they are going to read. On Blogs, it’s a bit different – there is a stream of news, which after can go to categories for those who want to read something from a year ago.

 

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