Some people are organizational whizzes. All their paper documents are filed neatly in cabinets, all their virtual documents are in the proper folders, and they can find anything in no time flat.
The rest of us? Not so much.
But no matter what level your organizational skills are, you need to structure your WordPress site so that readers can easily find what they’re looking for.
You wouldn’t expect someone visiting a retail store to paw through teetering piles of mixed goods — sweaters, pants, shoes, books, DVDs and saucepans all stacked helter-skelter on top of each other. You can’t expect your site visitors to do the same thing virtually.
On a well structured site, a first-time visitor should be able to find anything he’s looking for within three clicks.
Depending on the size and complexity of your site, that can take some serious planning.
It’s important to do your planning up front, though, because it will save you a lot of time along the way.
This is a big topic — I could write an entire book about it (and maybe I will). For now we’ll just hit the high points.
Your site’s organization involves two parts: your content and your navigation. Both are important.
WordPress lets you create two main types of content — posts and pages. WordPress also gives you the ability to create custom post types. Some themes might include video, pictures and audio as separate types of content. Your theme might break out even more types — quotes or links.
For now, let’s just deal with posts and pages. If you’re not sure of the difference, you can review this article. Basic, down-and-dirty rule of thumb is, create a page for important articles where the information won’t change much over time. Use posts for everything else.
Navigation includes your menus, categories and tags.
You can find menus in several places. They’re usually at the top of your site, above and/or below the site header.
Here’s an example:
Another spot you find menus is the sidebar and occasionally even the footer. Here’s an example of a sidebar menu (actually, two separate menus):
WordPress lets you create custom menus which can include pages, posts, categories and custom URLs. You can use any or all of these in a single menu.
If you look up at the top of this web page, the menu above the header includes Home, About, Work with Me, Contact and Social Fun. All of those are pages.
The menu below the header includes The Basics, How To, Design, Reviews, Resources and Blog. The Basics and How To are pages, the next three are categories and the Blog section is posts.
When you hover your mouse over The Basics or How To, you’ll see a drop-down menu. Under The Basics, the drop-down menu comprises pages; under How To, the drop-down takes you to posts.
Why am I telling you all this? No, there won’t be a quiz at the end. I just wanted to point out that the menu system WordPress provides is quite versatile. When you make it your friend, you can create a site where it’s easy for your readers to find the content they’re looking for.
WordPress lets you assign one or more categories to each post. If you click on the Blog link above, you’ll see some examples of the categories this site uses. Some of the posts have one category, but you can assign as many categories as you want.
Remember that the categories exist to help you organize, and to help your readers find what they’re looking for. Don’t toss a post into ten different categories just because you can.
You don’t use tags in menus, but they’re helpful for searching.
So How Do You Organize Your Site?
It helps to sketch out your site, or to use a mind mapping tool (I like XMind, which is free from XMind.net.
Your home page is the top level. It’s the page that most of your visitors will see first. That makes it extremely important.
After the home page, think about the most important content on your site. Where do you want your readers to go from the home page?
Usually there are lots of available choices, and the purpose of the site determines some of them.
Are you a freelance writer? Your About page is extremely important. So’s the page with your contact information. Maybe you want to highlight writing samples or testimonials. How about the specific services you offer? Those are lots more important than the article you just wrote on the use of funny abbreviations in social media.
If you’re a site like Amazon.com, your About page isn’t nearly as important in the site structure. Instead, you want to highlight all the different kinds of goods your site visitors can purchase.
Amazon does a phenomenal job of making everything accessible within three clicks. Take a look at how they’ve organized their home page.
First they grab your eye with the list of departments you can shop in. (When you hover your mouse over each one, it expands with more detail.)
Their links along the top aren’t quite as visible, but notice the prominent search box below them. And, because we’re approaching Mother’s Day, they do have a prominent link in the upper right for Mother’s Day gifts. Under the Mother’s Day offerings are links related to your account and shopping.
Dead-center in the middle of the top half of the home page they place images of their best-selling items.
To the right they feature a few more popular items.
Then, just in case there’s nothing there compelling enough to click on, they show a gallery of items that other shoppers on the site are looking at.
Remember that three-click rule I mentioned? They’ve got it down.
Now, back to you. . . After your second-level content, figure out what you’ll include in the third level. It helps to visualize your content as a pyramid with your home page at the top.
Do you have a fourth level? A fifth? More?
Your task is to figure out how to organize your site so that anybody can find what they want in three clicks or fewer. It may take a lot of time, but your readers will reward you for taking the trouble.