One of the things I like best about blogs-as-websites is that you do not have to design the navigation system. Instead, you let the content itself generate the navigation. Your readers use automatic features like "next post" or "previous post" to move from one post to another, and you can also add features to the sidebar to provide further navigation options, like a search box, an archive box, recent posts, etc. The most power of these sidebar navigation options is LABELS. If you make sure that every blog post has at least one label, and if you put the label navigation box in the sidebar, presto! You have provided a navigation system for your whole blog.
In this post, I will explain how to install and configure the Blogger Labels feature in the sidebar. In WordPress, there are categories and tags; WordPress categories are more or less like Blogger labels, and Blogger does not have a tag system. If you are using WordPress with your students, you'll want to make sure to provide some recommendations on using categories and tags; I make sure to explain about Blogger labels right from the very start in my classes.
Labels in the Sidebar
As part of the Orientation Week in class, I ask them to add the Labels to their sidebar. Specifically, after they add their Introduction post, which has the label "Introduction," they add the Labels sidebar widget: Introduction and Labels. That means everybody can access their Introduction post from every post in the blog. So, no matter where they end up at someone's blog, they can find out more about that person.
Here's how that works, step by step:
1. Go to Layout in the Dashboard menu.
2. Click on Add a Gadget.
3. Find the Labels option and click the plus button.
4. The default configuration is fine, although you can choose from various options. Click Save when done.
5. You can drag-and-drop the new Labels box in the layout to position it wherever you want it to go, including in the cross-column space across the top of the blog.
Multiple Label Boxes
One of the best things about Blogger is that you can add multiple label boxes (in WordPress, it's not easy to add multiple category boxes). So, for example, if you have lots of labels, you can divide the navigation up into multiple boxes. Some of my students do that, for example, by having one box to navigate the blog content by week (Week 1, Week 2, and so on), and a separate box to navigate the blog by content (Stories, Readings, etc.). To divide up the label navigation by different boxes, use the "Selected Labels" option in the configuration.
The trick here is to remember that if you add new labels later on, you'll need to manually add them to the label box later. If the box is displaying "all labels," any new labels are displayed automatically, but if you use the "selected labels" option, then no new labels are added to the box automatically; you have to remember to do that yourself.
If you need to change labels on a post, delete labels, add labels, you can do that by editing the post.
In addition, you can also do some editing of post labels via the Blogger Dashboard. The label-editing interface is one of the biggest changes between the old Blogger display and the new Blogger display, and I'm honestly not very happy with the new display. I'm guessing I will get used to it, but I'm still opting to use the Classics Blogger display for now because I rely heavily on labels at all my blogs, and being able to bulk-edit labels on multiple posts is something I do a lot, and that seems to be much easier to do in the Classic Blogger display.
I'll have more to say about that later when I write about coordinating a blog with Diigo for workflow and project management.
More Tips about Labels
By default, Labels display alphabetically, so it's a good idea to be systematic about that. You can always go back and edit labels if you want to make changes so that the alphabetical display is working the way you want.
Labels are case-sensitive, so make sure to keep that in mind.
You can use punctuation and spaces, so if you want to use colons or other punctuation marks for a kind of organizational hierarchy, that works!
At the same time, you don't want labels to be too long, especially if you are using a narrow sidebar in which to display them. So, even though you can use multiple words in a label, don't let it get too long.
Don't be shy to use labels just once. In the case of my students' blogs, they have only one post with the Introduction label and only one post with the Comment Wall label, for example. The whole idea is that people should be able to get to their Introduction post or their Comment Wall post from anywhere in the blog, and the label is what makes that possible.
Okay, I think that's all I have about labels. Next up... RSS, Email, and Other Sidebar Boxes.