Classifying and Sorting Content

The Ulwazi Programme attempted to put together an online resource around the local history and knowledge of the people of the eThekwini Municipality. To do this, we trained participants in digital media production as well as online content management. An important aspect of this work was sorting and classifying information, to make it accessible to both the end-user as well as indexable by search engines.

Gathering content through methodologies such as oral history and field research is only the first step in creating an accessible and useful body of information. In order to make it easily navigable and retrievable, it is important to apply classification and sorting principles in a logical and consistent way. This ensures that the content follows a set hierarchy and is presented in a way that is most appropriate for the intended users.

Why Classify Content?

Classifying content for the web involves very similar disciplines and systems to those used in bricks and mortar libraries, with the Dewey Decimal System being one of the best-known examples. When using this system, each book is assigned a number based on its content, which dictates its place on the shelf. This system works well for physical texts because it allows for very specific classification that is universally understood and used. 

However, with online content,, a slightly different approach is needed. Digital content tends to evolve more organically as  files can changed, added to and updated as needed.Yet, it still requires the same rigour and consistency in hierarchy. When conducted properly, the process of sorting content also ensures that search engines can properly index the site. This is necessary for the content to be displayed as results in search pages, and helps to increase the readership of the site and its general profile online.

Organising Content

In Organizing Your Website (n.d.), Harvard Web Publishing provides the outline to a simple process for taking stock of and managing a website’s content:

1) Build the Inventory

Generate a list of the different pieces of content that make up (or will make up) your site. This should take into account the format (type of content) as well as the focus (subject matter).

2) Evaluate Existing Content

Make use of the OUCH status to assess the relevance of the content:

  • O – Out of Date: useful content that needs to be updated
  • U – Unnecessary: content that is not needed
  • C – Current: good, up to date content
  • H – Have to Write: gaps where new content needs to be written/generated

3) Identify Gaps in Content

Once you have sorted your content you will have noted where you are missing information (the H in OUCH). Make a note of what needs to be done here so that you can action it later. Keep this content in mind when completing this process so that you can account for it in the final plan.

4) Map Content onto the Site Structure

Taking the extent of your content into account, you need to determine what logical categories can be put into place to help organise it. These categories are the broad sections that will be navigated by users to find information before they “drill down” to more specific content. 

One of the easiest ways to do this is to simply work on a whiteboard/flipchart and sketch out the structure that works best for your site. Work out what logical groupings can be used to divide your content into “chunks” and how these relate to each other. Once you have developed a plan that you are happy with, document it and use it as a guide for the next step.

5) Gather and Manage Content

In this final step, you need to apply the structure you have developed to your content. At this stage, you should also tag your content to help users search (see below). Content management is an ongoing process, and requires you to apply the structure you have developed consistently, ensuring that new content is categorised and tagged appropriately.

Site Structure

There are two main tools used to sort content, namely categories and tags. 


  • Work vertically to create a hierarchy
  • Drill down from broad to specific
  • Help to sort information broadly


  • Work horizontally and vertically
  • Are specific rather than generic
  • Help to sort information around keywords
  • Must be audience appropriate – can be slang or vernacular language

Based on the process and thinking covered in this section, you should ultimately end up with a site structure that looks something like this:

  • Category (e.g. Natural World)
  • Subcategory 1 (e.g. Environment)
  • Subcategory 2 (e.g. Landscape)
  • Article 1 (Tag 1, Tag 2, Tag 3…)
  • Article 2 (Tag 1, Tag 2, Tag 3…)
  • Etc.

With planning and consistency in execution, content classification and sorting can be a simple process to put in place. It offers significant benefits to a project, from ease of content management and improved user experience to search engine indexing of the project website or platform.

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