Blog Traffic and Engagement: More on WordPress Tags

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.

Search Engines 1,825
Facebook 1,081 Reader 1,071
StumbleUpon 942
Twitter 843

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.

Search Engines 957
StumbleUpon 334
Twitter 177
Facebook 51 38 30 Reader 28

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.


35 thoughts on “Blog Traffic and Engagement: More on WordPress Tags

    • Nope not a stupid question at all. StumbleUpon is a social bookmarking service. It’s for sharing links. It’s not something you can connect your blog directly to. You set up an account and it allows you to share links to category lists and tag them. It’s one of the best services on the web for driving traffic to websites, but it’s harder to crack than Twitter.

      We’ve been experimenting with it for almost seven months, and didn’t have our first real breakthough with it until April. It has policies and etiquette that we do not fully understand. We have no idea why we get the referrals we get from it, nor any way to predict whether sharing a link there will do one bit of good.

      When they hit, though, they’re the most efficient way trading time for views. It takes two minutes to Stumble a link, once you’re set up.


    • yep. And I never would have seen it if I hadn’t:

      1. Written that post last Sunday; and
      2. Finally gotten enough referrals from other sources to look at the WordPress referrals and see just how paltry they’ve been. (That’s not me whining for more traffic. Just look at them. Paltry. There must be a structural problem there).

      And January is a huge outlier and skews my average, because I got tons of hits from the Reader during the first two weeks of Zero to Hero. So, it’s a lot worse for S. than it looks just from this cursory analysis.

      We’re doing a lot of things right, obviously. Not so sure we’re doing this one thing right anymore, though. Time will tell.


    • Cuz I know your busy and might miss the updates. Two people have now told me they routinely use 15 tags/categories, check every topic, and see their posts in all of them. So no need to use fewer tags.

      Thinking the difference in what I’ve gotten from the reader this month compared to what I’ve been getting is because I realized I was only displaying the post summaries about 6 weeks ago, and changed that to display the full post. So, possibly traded a few page views per day since then for some number of actual reads since then. No way of knowing how many, since wordpress doesn’t tell us how many people browsed us in their readers.

      Anyway, I’ve changed that setting back, just to see if the referrals from the reader go back to their previous level. I’m not inclined to make that change permanent – just trying to account for the change. I think it’s best to make it as easy as possible for people to read the whole post. 4 or 5 views per day, long-term, are not worth losing two readers who you never see but are reading every single word from their readers. And that could actually be a couple of dozen, click-through rates being what they are.

      This might also account for some of the difference in our followings. Thinking, based on nothing but amateur psychology, that people might be more inclined to follow if you give them the entire post in the reader every time you publish. I started picking up followers again at approximately the same time I changed that setting. So, if I see 3-5 referrals from the reader every day this week, I’ll probably go on and change it back next Saturday.


      • Hm. Maybe? I’m still contemplating what I’m going to do concerning summaries and such to see if I can stop the auto-blogging scrapers. That’s the damndest thing I’ve seen in a while.


  1. That’s an interesting read and information. I’ll see about cutting down some of my tags, but to me it’s important to include authors I discuss/link to in my tags. At the same time, I am used to have a smaller number of views than all the blogs you’re discussing (my most views for a day must have been 141 I think since I started).


    • I’m not concerned so much with the overall numbers as the relationships between them. Something we’re doing is causing us to underperform on WordPress, specifically. (and you’re doing way better for views than my writing blog – I’m lucky to get 40 per day there).

      I think as long as every tag is truly related, it’s ok to go all the way up to 15 sometimes. My example of the authors’ name was really about cases where I just mention famous authors once in passing, but tag the post with their names. And I like tagging with other blogger’s names or blog titles when I link to them. I don’t think that particular thing matters so much.


      • I tend to be around 20-35 views per day, I had above 50 views maybe 20% of the days I think. I’m glad that I am able to forge relationships with other bloggers so I tend to be a bit worried about numbers, but it’s true it’s not the only element.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I look at them often and worry about them a bit. Just not about the total views on any given day or week unless they are very low.

          What I’m looking for is a stable, consistent increase week-over-week and month-over-month. I don’t care if it’s a 0.1 percent increase, as long as it’s trending the right way. What I don’t want to see is wild swings either way. A +100% increase is great, and I certainly will never complain about it. But it’s not worth much unless only if you can hang onto a few readers. Doesn’t do much good if your traffic crashes the next week, is my way of thinking. That’s why I’m so keen about engagement. Positive engagement keeps people coming back, and encourages readers to comment.

          And I look at things like this, where we’re obviously not getting what we could out of a specific network. Six weeks ago, I was having this same problem with the search traffic.


  2. I could be wrong, but maybe WordPress reader is a bigger source than you think. If someone reads your post completely within the reader, it never counts as a page view. I suspected this when I checked my stats shortly after posting, and found I had four likes and only one page view. Later, I read a post by another blogger (name has slipped my mind) who queried WordPress support and verified that views within reader do not count as page views.

    Concerning the 15 cat/tag limit, I routinely check all my cats/tags right after a post, and find my post on each one. I check just in case I accidentally use 16, but I also am curious to see what other people are posting under the tags. I usually end up reading 3 or 4 posts from each tag; it helps that I only post once per week. So, my opinion is that 15 or below is OK. I don’t try to spam the tags but sometimes I have one with alternates (Second World War, World War 2, World War II, World War Two, WWII, WW2) that runs up my tag count.

    I hadn’t considered whether too many tags could take you out of the general reader screen for some users, rather than the tag-specific lists. The easiest way to test this might be to have a few followers standing by, then make an experimental post with 40 or 50 tags.


    • I have seen posts with 18-20 tags not appear in my personal reader.

      And yes, you’re right. There’s some number of people who read but don’t click through. So the question you have to ask when you decide whether to display a whole post in the reader or not is, do you care more about reads, or more about views?

      So maybe the problem I’m running into isn’t a problem with the number of tags. Maybe I’m not doing a good enough job making sure my tags are related to the content.

      I am wondering, now, what might happen if I change some settings so my blogs only display the summary. Also, I just don’t get that many referrals from tags/topics. I’ve seen them before, so I know they are a thing.


  3. Great post! I think there’s a bug in the reader referrer stats, there has to be. We sit on 9,483 Search, 5,459 Twitter, 1,538 FB, 212 and then 179 read (oh, and 3 StumbleUpon… what’s that one all about?). Considering our posts get between 100 to 200 likes they aint coming from the ether so something is amiss. Maybe it’s a technical definition and most WP bloggers don’t get classed as being referred if they already follow you… just a guess.

    By the way, our own category and tagging strategy is to use 15 or less categories that will show up in wordpress readers, like “wine”, “photography” “writing” “humor” etc then to go back several days later and replace all categories except wine with relevant wine tags like brans, vintages etc. Works a treat for us as it means a few extra WP reader hits (although those stats have me wondering but we do always seem to get new bloggers liking our posts) then ongoing wine related searches into the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, and just to add, our total referrer count, which at a glance would add up to less than 20k, is a fraction of our total reads at 80k so there’s a lot of reads not accounted for in the referrers. Must go back to the definition thing I mentioned. I’m pretty sure that 60k gap are mostly wordpress bloggers. We get 100-600 reads per day.

      Liked by 1 person

      • And your referral to total view ratio is about the same as mine. My numbers are smaller, but I have a similar percentage of views that I cannot account for.


        • I am thinking that wordpress reader referrer is some special case like maybe a non-follower coming through a reblog even. Who knows, but I’m pretty sure your normal wordpress blogger followers aren’t part of that figure.

          And on the category vs tag thing, I’ve done a fair bit of work on that to get it right for us. The categories I’ve set up are general popular wordpress categories and I use whatever ones are relevant, but almost always “wine” “blogging” “story” “humor” “food” “photography” and several others. Then I check the reader and search on those categories and see that we appear. I know it works for us because I see new bloggers pop up after each post and I’m sure it’s because they’ve searched these popular categories. Then some time later, after the reader has almost become irrelevant due to elapsed time, I remove them and add things like “Jacobs creek reserve” for example then find that people hit the post later down the track on those wine specific tags. I may have it wrong but it does seem work for us.


    • Why categories, first, then tags? My inclination is just the opposite, because I understand that tags are what gets you in the topic indexes at the moment you publish.

      Thanks for sharing the data.

      I’m inclined to think you’re right about the definitional thing with the reader. I think now, after thinking about this for a bit and reading some responses, that perhaps I am valuing it too highly as a referrer.

      The 3 StumbleUpons might have been me stumbling 3 of your posts at some point. I did a lot of that back during the winter.


    • Conrad, I must say, it is very convenient to have a way to send you a WordPress notification by commenting on my own blog so I don’t have to clutter up your page with it or break it into tweets. 😉 I have a serious twitter question for you, and can’t think of anyone who is more qualified to answer it.

      1. I’ve stopped actively growing my twitter following. Still checking the account, giving followbacks, answering notifications, etc. . But not following new people first. Not even from high-percentage sources, and I know quite a few of those 😉 Here’s why I’ve done that. I’ve learned all I can learn about the growth for now, and my attention is required elsewhere.

      2. I see the advantage of having 20K twitter followers, but not ready to manage a following that big yet. I feel like I have a lot of good tweeps and I am not interacting with them enough.

      3. What I don’t see is what a Twitter account with 5K followers gets me that I’m not already getting with 2,300. Especially considering the fact that I’m not ready to go big yet, and I am confident that I understand the growth so well that the only limits are the ones imposed by Twitter. As long as I hold what I’ve got and never lose ground once all the unfollowers get gone, I can double what’s left anytime I feel like it.

      So, my question is. If I’m not working toward 20K, or 250K, is there any reason whatsoever, strategically, that I should be trying to double a following I can barely manage as it is?


      • Possibly no reason at all for you. All it will get you is slightly more readership but that’s it. For us there has been a reason and that came about as our following grew and we had to think about what we wanted to do with it.

        We started out just for fun, writing about our wine experiences (and it’s still fun). Then it was “hey, maybe we can get free wine to sample out of this” and a growing following meant wineries would want us to sample their wine because of the exposure. We’ve pretty-well accomplished that one and could claim a life-time supply of free wine now if we wanted to, just as long as we write about it.

        So, for us, the next stage is potential commercialization and the larger the following the better. We have no idea how to achieve this aspect yet and how to do it in a way that does not compromise everything we’ve created. We’d love to be able to quit our day jobs and earn something from our passion so we’re working on it.

        So, again, the larger the following of actively engaged people the better for us. But I wouldn’t be bothered with all this just for the fun of it, it’s too much work.

        I hope that helps.

        Liked by 1 person

        • That link you sent me was perfect. I saw the second comment before the first one.

          If you don’t mind me asking, how long has this process taken? Did it start in July of last year? That’s the earliest post I can find in your archives, using the sidebar. Or were there antecedants?

          I’m really curious about that part of it. And thanks for the straight-up answer on the Twitter question. It’s about what I figured, but confirmation is good.


          • Stu and I were texting each other about the wines we had picked up at auction late last July. I said something like “Geez we are deadest wine wankers” and he replied with “We should start a blog” and the next day he sent me the link. There was no purpose, it was just a bit of a laugh and only went out to friends on Facebook. Then it snowballed.


            • I’m glad it snowballed for you 🙂

              Even if it never snowballs for me, I will always be glad for you.

              And happy to know it started with a blog that was created on a lark. You have no idea how happy that makes me.

              Thanks for the chat, and cheers!


      • The little trumpet blowing piece we send the wineries… This is why our follows and count are important. Again, if we didn’t have a serious reason we wouldn’t be bothered and we’d just go back to writing a fun blog post every now and then and that’s all. Oh, the reason why Stu left was because it was too much work and he had other more important things to do in his life, and that’s is fair enough.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Once again, thank you for tackling the mysteries and machinations of traffic and reach.
    Can I add a story from Vinyl Connection?

    In May, around my first anniversary, I published a review piece entitled (not unreasonably, I thought) “The Vinyl Connection Annual Report”. The stats went through the roof. Hooray! I thought. The long hoped for breakthrough. But almost NONE of that weeks’ 280+ visitors became followers. That post is still by far the most viewed (but only arising from that first week).
    My hypothesis is that the terms ‘vinyl’ and ‘annual report’ appeared in search results where the user was seeking global (or country) stats on the growth in sales of vinyl records (or something similar).

    Any thoughts or comments, Sir Sourcerer?


    • That sounds about right. We’ve had tons of traffic spikes that didn’t turn into regular viewers.

      When I search “vinyl records annual report” I see you on the second page of my Google search. When I add “australia” to the search, it bumps you up to page one for me. And most of the ones I see ahead of you are all to the same site, so if someone decided to pass on that first site, you’d be the next in line.

      So yes, probably search hits.


    • Happy to help even in that small way.:-)

      Lots of it is a mystery to me. I can’t account for most of my views. Only about 1/3 can ever be nailed down with the stats you get from WP, I think.

      The search engine hits are pretty easy, though. If you get 10 search engine views in your referrals, and you have two month-old posts with 5 views each pop up all of a sudden, it’s a safe bet. Most people are looking at your front page, or what you posted in the last 1-3 days, depending on the tags you used.


  5. Pingback: TwitterBlog: How Many Followers Do You Need? | Sourcerer

  6. Pingback: Posts I loved this week | Taylor Grace

Chatter Away!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s