On Blog Traffic and Engagement: WordPress Tags

This issue has come up one too many times in conversations over the last month for me to not address it. Tags and categories. If you want people to find your blog and read it, you need to understand tags and categories.

One of the first things I did when I started blogging again was figure out how tags work. I have an entire page titled “Tags Are Your Friends!” but when I created that page, I only had about 30 followers. Not many people have seen it, and this is important. You bloggers want to read the rest if you don’t already know this.

First, the difference between tags and categories:

  1. Categories are internal to your blog. You use them to create topic indexes.
  2. Tags are the way you get your posts into news feeds. There’s a feed for every tag on WordPress. If you create a tag that’s never been used before, WordPress creates a feed and puts your post in it. I’m pretty sure tags also influence search rankings.

Now, the important bit.

You never want the tags + categories on one of your posts to exceed 14. If you hit 15 tags and categories combined, WordPress does not include you in the feeds. This is a way of controlling spam. Doesn’t matter how we feel about it – that’s just the way it works.

I am not 100% sure about the number, or that it removes you from every feed, but I am pretty confident. I got this info orginally from a WordPress support forum.  I have seen, multiple times, posts with 18-20 tags + categories not get included in the tag feeds. I’ve also seen posts from people I follow with too many tags not appearing in my reader. I try to use 11 to 13 tags + categories. That’s the best way I’ve discovered to take full advantage of the feeds, but not to lose anything if I miscount.

WordPress has a tag cloud for the whole network that you can use to see what’s hot and tag your posts accordingly.

Here’s my tag strategy:

  • Tags absolutely must be relevant. If you tag something art, and the post has noting to do with art, people will not only decline to like or comment from the reader, they will decline to visit your blog.
  • I start with half a dozen general tags. Things like music, books, news, writing, blogging, etc.
  • I include three or four more specific tags – authors’ or bands’ names, series titles, etc.
  • I have a handful of “anytime” tags that I use for situations when I need more tags but run out of ideas. All, thoughts, random, and musings are all good for this. I’m changing this part of my strategy, for awhile, though. When I run out of tags that are good for news feed placement, I’m going to start using three or four tags that might be good for searches, even if no one’s looking at them on WordPress.
  • Something to keep in mind. The more popular a tag is, the larger the potential audience is when you first post it, but the less time it’s going to get at the top of the feed.  That’s why a few specific tags are as important as the more popular general tags.

And that’s the extent of it. My two hard-and-fast rules are:

  1. Never use more than 14 tags + categories.
  2. Never use fewer than 10, unless I’m really just talking to my peeps, in which case tags don’t matter. Because my peeps have me in their readers, or bookmarked, or are following by email, or actually click my links on twitter.

Have a great week, and I hope you find this helpful.

Addenda:

This just came up in the comment thread. I should have included this info in the post

  1. Posts are added to the tag feeds at the date and time of the original timestamp, no matter when you tag them. So, if you forget to tag them and do it two days later, you’ve missed the top of the tag feeds forever with that post. It still might be worthwhile to add the tags when you notice, because search engines. But not worth your time to correct a month’s worth of posts. It makes more sense to adjust what you’re doing and see if you get better results going forward. I’m sure about this because we’ve had posts we forgot to tag and corrected them a day later. Seen it happen.
  2. That first item makes reblogs more valuable than they seem. Reblogs put a link to the post back in the feeds at the date and time they are reblogged. This is why, if I don’t have anything to post, I always reblog something from a friend. You have to edit/tag reblogs after they post because they only post to your default category when you publish them. I always edit and tag reblogs immediately.
  3. This is one of those topics where it’s best for us all to have the most accurate info possible. So, if you see something here that’s not-quite-right, or have a piece of info that important, but I haven’t covered, feel free to correct me or share what you know.

 

 

 

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21 thoughts on “On Blog Traffic and Engagement: WordPress Tags

  1. Another interesting post! Thank you! Regarding tags, I sometimes have posts that exceed the 14 tags, when I post link round ups, but even when you limit the “themes” I always make sure to include the authors I mention. As for some regular posts, I’m definitely below the 10 tags especially if writing a movie or TV show review.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this. I haven’t to admit to not understanding the tag think despite other articles I have read. I know now I have to go back and put tags on many of my entries. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I should have also added – when you post without tags and add them later, it adds them to feeds, but it places them where they should would have been if you’d tagged them at the date/time of the original timestamp. So, if you forget to tag a post, you miss the opportunity to have that post at the top of the feed forever.

      We found this one out the hard way 🙂

      I might be a good Idea to tag them with a few tags for searches, but if it were me, I wouldn’t spend just a whole bunch of time tagging every old post with 12 tags. It won’t help them much.

      Like

      • Thanks! I’ve never done that particular experiment, so I could very easily be off by one. I read something early on that made me think 15 was the cutoff, but I could have misinterpreted. Or, I could have simply decided to err on the side of caution, then forgot that 14 was my own thing. Seven months is an eternity on the internet.

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    • You know, after re-reading the paragraph below from the WP help file on tags, and just looking at what I’ve gotten from the WordPress reader over the past few months, which seems too low, I’m wondering if I should cut my number of tags down to eight or ten. It’s the next-to-last sentence which makes me think that:

      “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. Learn more about Topics here.”

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        • I’m actually writing a post about this conversation right this minute. Will run this afternoon and include some screenshots of my referrals numbers. As much as I hate to burn a second post on a Sunday, I could be steering people wrong here, and don’t ever want to do that.

          This is another reason I post this stuff. Not just to help people, but because conversations like this are very useful to me.

          Liked by 1 person

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  5. Perhaps I’m getting a little off-topic, but here’s the reason I end up with so many tags on some of my posts: alternate tags for the same concept. For instance, I’ve reviewed a book about the Second World War, which I also felt I needed to tag as World War II, World War Two, World War 2, WW2, WWII, etc…. Similarly, on my photo blog, I end up tagging everything Photo, Photograph, Photographs, Photography, and Photos in addition to tags about the Photo subject. I never seem to run up against the limit on my science fiction blog, though.

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    • Not off topic at all. I have the same problem with my Tolkien blogging sometimes, and, to a lesser extent, with my photoblogs.

      I never use the singular “photograph,” but I do use “images” and “visual art”

      Like

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