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.


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.




You can have your own tag!!

goodwriter meme

I am supposed to be putting things together for tomorrow, but I just discovered this and it is information that demands to be shared. I have my own wordpress tag. Seriously. Go to your reader and follow “Gene’O.” The reader will take out the caps and the apostrophe, but allow you to see everything I’ve written that’s either tagged with my name or filed in the “By Gene’O” categories at PTM and Sourcerer.

It was Taylor Grace who helped me figure this out. I read this post over there, which was kind of inspired by one I wrote earlier, and if you want to learn something about how to deal with frustration in a healthy way, you should go and read it. I noticed that post was tagged with my first name, so I had to go and take a look.

Continue reading