UPDATE – Since I posted this, I’ve had two people tell me they use 15 tags + categories all the time, check every topic, and see their posts in them all. So it seems I was worrying over nothing. I’ve also had a friend tell me he’s also not getting a lot of referrals from the WordPress reader. However, it’s curious to me that I’ve got more than 1,000 all-time referrals from the WordPress reader and 325 for the last quarter, but only 28 for the month. I’ll add more to this when I learn more.
I spied a conversation this morning on last week’s Blog Traffic and Engagement post about WordPress tags that’s got my wheels turning. I’m not sure the tagging strategy I laid out last week is optimal, and it may even be harmful. Since I don’t want to steer anyone wrong, I decided it was best to go ahead and publish this today.
First, Hannah of Things Matter asked me if perhaps the WordPress penalty for over-tagging starts at 16 rather than 15, as I was thinking. Her question was prompted by information she read at WordPress support here.
Planetary Defense Commander has actually experimented with 15 .v 16 tags, and he says WordPress removed the posts he tested this with from some or all feeds starting at 16 tags + categories. So there’s that. The absolute maximum is likely 15 rather than 14. That’s a minor error compared to this next bit, though.
All this prompted me to re-read the original support article on tags that I used to develop my tagging strategy, and this paragraph makes me think using the maximum number on every post might not be such a good idea.
However, you don’t want irrelevant content showing up on the topic listings or search, and neither do we. That’s why we limit the number of tags and categories that can be used on a public tag listing. Five to 15 tags (or categories, or a combination of the two) is a good number to add to each of your posts. The more categories you use, the less likely it is that your post will be selected for inclusion in the topic listings.
Now, here’s the kicker. I’ve been paying closer attention to my stats than usual lately because I’m monitoring search traffic and StumbleUpon referrals very closely. I don’t think I’m getting what I should be getting from the WordPress reader. These are my top all-time referrers. This covers a period of about seven months. No other source has generated 200+ referrals for me at this point.
I could wank on these numbers all day, but I’ll focus on the WP reader and discuss these other sources very briefly. Right now I’m sitting at about 15,900 views, so these four referrers account for a little more than 25% of my all-time views.
Until a month ago, the WordPress reader was my top all-time referrer, but the search engine traffic has passed it by. Very little of the Facebook traffic is coming from the fanpage. Ninety percent of it has come from a handful of posts with very specific characteristics which were shared on personal timelines. Most of the Twitter traffic has come in the last 4 months. The WordPress reader should be out-performing Facebook and should be bringing us a LOT more views than Twitter, but it is not. And look at StumbleUpon. That’s mostly from five or six lucky shares.
Here’s my top referrals from the last 30 days for comparison. I’m including so many because that’s how many it takes to get to the WordPress reader in this list. We’ve generated about 3,100 views this month, so the referrals here represent half our monthly traffic.
As you can see, this month accounts for about half our all-time search traffic, a third of our StumbleUpon traffic, and a quarter of our Twitter traffic. The Facebook number is about average – less than 2 referrals per day. But look at the WordPress reader. It’s gotten us less this month that a Tumblr page which I barely mind and don’t even have comments enabled on.
Our average monthly traffic from the WordPress reader, just based on a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation, is about 150 views per month. Obviously, that comes in spikes like all the rest, and I haven’t been paying attention to the reader traffic specifically, so I don’t know just how low this number is compared to what we’ve been doing. But I think, given the size of this blog and the amount of blogging we do, 28 views from the reader this month is not enough, and an average of five per day over a 7-month period is way too low.
Part Time Monster is sitting at 842 all-time referrals from the WordPress reader with about 16,700 all-time views. Given the differences in the way we operate, PTM is doing about as well with the reader as Sourcerer. However, because of those very differences, I don’t think we should be doing the same. One of us should be doing better, I’m just not sure which one. I could make a case either way, but that would require an entirely separate post because there are so many variables to consider. Once I drill down beyond our all-time views, there are no other similarities of this sort in the numbers. It can’t be a coincidence.
Since we’ve been using the same tagging strategy from the beginning, and since both our numbers are so low, that’s got me thinking I need to experiment more with the tags. So here is how I’m tagging my posts for the month of July.
- Use only tags that are strongly-related to whatever I’m posting about, even if this means I only use 5. So no more dropping the name of an author who’s mentioned once and barely discussed, for instance.
- Cut my average number of tags back from 13-14 to 7-10.
- No general tags like “all,” “random,” or “thoughts.”
- One category only.
Here’s my reasoning for this move. WordPress is a smart and powerful assortment of technologies. That sentence I highlighted in bold at the beginning of this post can be interpreted to mean that WordPress is telling you what the absolute maximum is, but suggesting you use many fewer than that.
Given what I know about WordPress’ philosophy, and their other ways of controlling spam like the rate-limiter on likes from the WordPress reader, it may be that the way I’ve been going about this is technically ok, but frowned upon by the powers that be. If so, I have no problem with that, and I obviously want to be a good citizen. I also want more views from the WordPress readers.
I’ve never once checked every single tag on a post to see if it was included in every topic. It’s entirely possible that even with 15 or fewer, there are other things going on that we don’t know about. Like I would think WordPress could very easily scan a post as it’s published and exclude it from feeds if there isn’t enough content related to a particular tag. In fact, that link Hannah shared to the WordPress help file on topics suggests this is exactly the way it works.
It is also possible that there’s an element of randomness to feed placement, and WordPress includes posts in some number of feeds, up to 15 at the very most. If that’s happening, and I have a comics post with 7 good tags, I think it’s a bad idea to give WordPress the option of including it in the “all” or “random” topics. I’d rather WordPress have only comics-related tags to choose from for that post. And really, for most posts, seven or eight tags are the most I can come up with without getting creative.
We’ll look at my referral numbers again at the end of July, see if we notice a difference, and draw what conclusions we can from there. I think we’ll see a significant difference. I’m so sure of it, I’m kicking myself already, and I’m not including last week’s post on my Better Blogging page until I get this sorted out.