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Nuts and Bolts: Categories

May 27, 2011

How To Choo-choo-choose the Right Categories

Greeting Card Universe has a dizzying variety of categories including unusual and obscure ones. As a business, this is their strength: the ability to provide cards to fit a customer’s every need. As artists, the category system can be puzzling, confusing and downright frustrating at times. However, don’t tear your hair out. Help is on the way.

The first thing artists need to understand is that GCU’s category system is highly specialized and incredibly specific. Because of this degree of specialization, every greeting card must be designed to fit exactly into its desired category.

This is a difficult concept, I know. No other POD is as stringent. Nobody else seems determined to make you conform. Newcomers especially seem to have a hard time adjusting their thinking. Let me break it down for you as simply as I can: you must categorize a card only by WHAT IT ACTUALLY IS, not what it could be.

For example, you’ve got a beautiful picture of a dewy red rose. You think this image is appropriate for a number of categories like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. You even put “I love you” in a lovely script font on the front. Okay, you’re right – it could fit either category. Problem is, unless the card actually has “Happy Valentine’s Day” or “Happy Mother’s Day” somewhere on it, you cannot put it in those categories. As it stands, if you submit this card as is, you can only put it in Collections >> Flowers & Garden (where there are over 130,000 cards right now).

Repeat after me: WHAT THE CARD ACTUALLY IS, not what it could be.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s actually a very logical system once you wrap your brain around it, and GCU has made category selection even simpler during the card creation process.

Bottom line: think like a shopper, not an artist.

No one is out to stifle your creativity. No one at GCU is deliberately trying to make you cry, I promise. I know the concept can be difficult,  and it’s a major reason for card returns. You need to understand that the Reviewers aren’t going to correct categories for you. In rare instances, they might add a second category if you haven’t and it’s appropriate, but do not count on their intervention. It’s YOUR responsibility to get the categories right, and if you don’t…well, you’ll be seeing a lot of those Returned for Edits notifications in your e-mail.

Best advice: don’t try to shoehorn an existing design into a category it doesn’t fit exactly. Seasoned artists know the best way to design cards is to look at the categories first. This can actually help you make future sales – you can find niche or orphan categories that have few or no cards in them, and be able to design cards to fill those categories.

Why should you care about niche and orphan categories? Let’s face it – there are literally thousands and thousands of general birthday cards (over 8000, in fact, as of this writing). Shoppers doing an on-site search or browsing certain categories receive pages and pages of search results. Chances are, if your card isn’t in the first couple of pages, you’ll miss out. Cards in niche and orphan categories don’t have a lot of competition. This is a golden opportunity you shouldn’t miss.

So before you design a card, take a look at the categories list. Just go to the GCU homepage (you’ll see a “Home” link at the top of every page, click the link “Browse Our Entire Selection of Holiday Cards, and you’ll be able to find and click on whatever categories interest you. What makes this list worth your while is that you can instantly how many cards are in each category and sub-category – valuable information for any artist serious about wanting to sell greeting cards.

Sometimes there’s a little confusion when it comes to age- or relationship-specific cards. Let me clarify GCU’s current policy: you should place such cards in the exact category and sub-category that fits it (ie, Happy Mother’s Day to my Birth Mom goes into Holidays >> Mother’s Day >> For Birth Mother) PLUS a collections category if it fits (ie, your Mother’s Day card has a cow on it, so it can also go into Collections >> Animals/Pets >> Farm Animals as the second category.

Now we have to talk about General vs. specific categories. This one can be tricky. Here’s how it works: a general greeting card can be sent to anyone for that occasion (ie, a card that simply says Happy Grandparents Day can be sent to any grandparent, and goes into Holidays >> Grandparents Day >> General Grandparents Day), while a specific greeting card would go into the appropriate sub-category (ie, a card that says Happy Grandparents Day from Your Grandkids goes into Holidays >> Grandparents Day >> From Grandchildren).

A card in either General or a specific category can also go into an appropriate Collections category. However, you cannot put a General card into a specific category. Scratching your head yet? Let’s take my previous example.

The general Happy Grandparents Day card I mentioned… just because a shopper COULD send it as a “missing you” card doesn’t mean you can put it into the Missing You on Grandparents Day subcategory. Only if the card SAYS “missing you”, and then it wouldn’t go into the General category, only into the appropriate subcategory.

Repeat after me again: WHAT THE CARD ACTUALLY IS, not what it could be.

If you grasp this principle, I guarantee you will have less cards returned for edits, and you will save yourself a lot of frustration. Let that be your mantra, and you’ll be all right.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2011 7:07 am

    Thanks Corrie for the post. Very important to learn this quickly before you get them sent back to edit. We have all done it and I still get the odd one back, even after posting over 21,000 cards. lol!

    Madeline / SmudgeArt 🙂

  2. May 27, 2011 9:00 am

    100% agreement, Corrie! I learned this particular lesson quite early and it cuts out the returns. Funny enough, once absorbed, this style of categorization becomes quite intuitive.



  3. May 27, 2011 2:26 pm

    Thanks, Corrie! I’m still learning my way around the categories (and subcats) so I REALLY appreciate this article. But I also have a question that is somewhat related (in a distant sort of way – lol). If there is a card request from Mindy in the forum under New Cards…are we allowed to fast-track cards that we make for those specific categories more than a month after Mindy made the request?


    • May 27, 2011 9:27 pm

      Hi Cindy,
      If it’s a submission based on a Wanted Cards post it is fine to still use FastTrack however the urgency is greatly diminished since the requesting shopper is typically expecting to see cards for their consideration (and make their purchase) within 48 hours of the request.

      FastTracked cards require a Note to Reviewer, so simply include a note along these lines “custom request per Mindy on the forum”.

      • May 27, 2011 10:55 pm

        Thanks, Mindy. I happened to find a specific ‘Wanted Card’ today that you requested back in April before I opened my GCUstore. I wanted to enhance a card that I have for it, but preferably if I could fastrack it–because (being a newbie here) getting my stock built up quickly is important to me. 🙂

        Thanks again for answering.

  4. May 27, 2011 3:08 pm

    Oh great & wise Corrie! Thanks once again for spot on advice! And let me add for those newbies, when I read Corrie’s words about 18-months ago in a Squidoo Lens, it was my big AH-HA moment… so let me repeat Corrie’s famous words one more time:

    WHAT THE CARD ACTUALLY IS, not what it could be!

    I first think of what it could be, write those down and then create a card specifically for each of those I wrote down and rarely ever have category returns anymore.

  5. May 27, 2011 3:26 pm

    Corrie, you are so right. I am learning every day. I’m going back through my old cards and trying to realize why no sales because the art is good. I’m redoing a lot of cards just because of this problem. What the artist sees when he looks at his card is entirely different than what the customer might be thinking when they do a search. frustrating but necessary. thanks for the post.

  6. Cathy Gangwer permalink
    May 27, 2011 6:34 pm

    Thanks I needed to look at categories this way!

  7. May 27, 2011 6:49 pm

    Great article Doreen!
    One more thing: If you design a floral card for MY MOTHER ON YOUR 82nd BIRTHDAY, you can place it in: Birthday>For Family Specific>Mother>Age Specific
    You canNOT place it in a second category of BIRTHDAY>FLOWERS
    The ‘Specific’ ones cannot have a second category.
    Do I have that right, Doreen?
    After 3 1/2 years at GCU, I still make mistakes in categories.
    Good Luck!

    • May 27, 2011 7:10 pm

      Specific cards CAN have more than one category if the card is also relevant to a COLLECTIONS category. You cannot put the example card in Birthday > Flowers; you’re right about that. However, if it has flowers on it, you could put it in the second category Collections > Flowers and Garden.

      Here’s a link to Tom’s video on Basic Category Selection. It’s long but worth a look if you’re still unsure.


  8. May 27, 2011 9:31 pm

    Super piece Corrie and the video reinforces the method to our madness! Worth a watch, or two.

    The motto “WHAT THE CARD ACTUALLY IS, not what it could be” also applies to keywords and titles.

  9. June 2, 2011 3:59 pm

    I wonder how many customers look thru the first several pages and come back a few weeks or months later and see the same cards…and some might even be mine, but who say, oh, same ol, same ol…and find another source elsewhere? I know I get tired of seeing the same cards up in the same area myself.

    If this is not a valid question, I withdraw it, but it is worth a consideration, imho.


  10. March 3, 2013 2:24 pm

    Thanks Corrie… this is helpful. The category that seems to “trip me up most” is when I am placing my Inspirational line of cards. I tend to place them in the Spiritual/Inspirational category – but wondering if there is a better spot.

  11. December 16, 2013 9:00 am

    I really like it whenever people come together and share ideas.
    Great blog, continue the good work!

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