Quick Tip: Tagging for Shelf Life

Keep your posts visible in the Reader for a longer time with smart tag choices.

Image by Marcus Hansson from Göteborg, Sweden (The best days are not planned) [CC-BY-2.0].

Tagging? Again?!”

Well, yes — because nothing makes me sadder than finding a well-crafted post, only to scroll down to the bottom of the page and find that it’s badly tagged or — shudders! — untagged. (Ok, a few things make me sadder. But still.)

The reason for my sadness? I know that while I may have found the post and enjoyed it, many others — especially bloggers who rely on the WordPress.com Reader — won’t.

Tagging is so important not only because it brings your site traffic (though that’s important for many, of course), but also because it can bring you the right kind of traffic. It connects you to people who are passionate about the same topics as you, and who might belong to online communities you want to tap into.

Sweet fifteen

You may have already heard the cardinal rule of tagging on WordPress.com, but it’s always worth repeating it: you should never add more than a total of 15 tags and categories to your post, otherwise it won’t show up in others’ Reader feeds.

Fifteen is still a lot. We’ve often given bloggers the (solid) advice to mix a few general terms with more specific ones, to appeal to multiple constituencies of potential readers. But let’s think about this more strategically and consider when your readers might find your post through a particular tag.

Tags for immediate consumption

Here’s a number: 82,026,916. That’s the number of posts published on WordPress.com in September, 2021. Tagging helps you break through the incredible din of millions of “Publish” buttons being clicked at once.

Note: I’m relying on inside information for these numbers, but you can get a good estimate of the number of posts under each tag. Simply search the tag in your Reader, and see how far back in time you can get in the first batch of results.

If it’s still the same day by the time you reach the bottom of the screen, it’s a red-hot tag. Have you reached two-week-old posts? Clearly a less-used tag.

Say you have a movie blog, and you tag your movie reviews with “entertainment” and “movies” — great! But you’re still competing with 5,528,720 and 849,512 posts published under each tag, respectively, over the past 30 days.

Does this mean you shouldn’t use broader, popular tags? Not at all — but it’s crucial to bear in mind that they serve a very specific purpose: to get noticed soon after your post is published by the many people who care about these topics. It’s a tradeoff: their shelf life is very limited, but they attract lots of eyeballs.

Tagging for the long tail

Try testing the shelf life of the tags you use for your own published posts. Just run a tag search in the Reader for a term you’ve used in the past few weeks and scroll down until you find your post. If you gave up after a while, you can assume your readers would, too.

Let’s assume that post you just tagged is a review of the 2021 Disney feature, Cruella. Now you can get more specific. Using the “Disney” tag means you’re only competing with 661 posts over the past month. “Cruella?” Now we’re talking: 18 posts used this tag in the last 30 days.

Tagging your posts with these specific tags might mean that fewer people will look them up. It’s almost certain, however, that those who do will find your post at least somewhat relevant: it’s the long tail model applied to tagging. For you, it’s a double win: your post finds the right audience, and, because the tag is less popular, it stays easily accessible in the Reader for a much longer time.

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  1. Thanks for this! I just moved over to WordPress from Tumblr and have been trying to figure out how to get more readers. The proof really is in the pudding on this.

    Liked by 20 people

    1. Categories help to organize your content on-site (meaning your own site). You can, for instance, use category pages to filter your blog posts, especially if you have a general blog instead of a niche one. Or you can add a category widget, which means that, once on your site, a reader can find something suited to their fancy more easily.

      Tags (although not entirely) are more useful at allowing you to be found off-site, either on the Reader, or by search engines.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Thank you! I do have a category widget, where I have named my categories in keeping with the overall theme of my blog. Thus, they are very specific.
        I have been thinking of making category pages as they might help readers visiting my blog find the content better. But, I will need to give it a proper think!
        I will have to work on making my tags search engine friendly though. That seems to be the most difficult. For example, I frequently write on social media, but even if I tag it as such, it does not appear as search engine result that brought people to my blog.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. I’m confused about this, the difference between tags and categories. Sometimes I tag a post with a word and also put that word in a category. Is this wasting a word? Will a word in a category also be used as a tag in the Reader?
        PS: Adel, I’ve found your helpfulness on your site…er…very helpful in the past.

        Liked by 6 people

      3. @Badfish,

        I sometimes also commit the sin of using the same word as a category and a tag. I do try to keep it to a minimum though.

        From what I can see with a little investigation, both categories and tags appear to be meta tags (tech speak for things Google uses to find you).
        This means that it should not really matter whether you add the term as a category or as a tag, it should have the same effect.

        In which event, yes, we would be wasting words by repeating terms in both the category and the tag.

        My advice would be to use a similar, but slightly different term for the tag than you do for the category.
        I’d choose the categories first, because they are useful for on-site navigation.

        The same would hold true for the Reader, since you are limited to a maximum of fifteen tags AND categories.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. That is because larger sites tend to rank on search engines for more general search terms 🙂
      e.g. social media is a very general search term.
      e.g. The 2k International Writers Blog Tour is a much more specific search term.
      Chances are higher that you will be found on the Reader via general search terms, but to be found on search engines, you need to tag for longer shelf-life.
      If you are looking at SEO, the (Matt Cutts) key is to find a niche and to dominate it. Then build from there.

      Hope this helps!

      Liked by 8 people

  2. Thanks, Ben. This is actually a really useful article.
    I did a post about stats analysis and traffic a while ago when I reached a personal milestone: https://paddastoel.wordpress.com/2015/02/01/blogging-for-business-organically-building-your-audience/
    My issue is that bloggers (myself included) sometimes get a little obsessive over stats, especially when you are close to some milestone or another.
    They start asking questions like, “What is the best time of day to post?”
    My answer? Well, are you actually getting a significant percentage of your traffic from the Reader and using very popular tags with limited shelf-life? Because that is the only time it really matters!
    Interpreting statistics for a blog that is still organically growing, is very different from interpreting stats for the Daily Post.
    For a growing blog like mine, my statistics show a very strong and direct correlation to my community interaction.
    Day of the week? Doesn’t matter. People read my newest post when they show up. Time of day? I get only about two percent of my traffic from the Reader. Doesn’t matter. Even the topics I write about (although, I do acknowledge some have larger audiences than others), seem to matter less than whether I made someone’s day just a little easier or not (my value proposition: being useful).
    I have to say that I disagree a little (purely personal experience) on whether or not self-tagging assists in SEO. I have found some correlation when I tested my ranking for certain phrases I target. (Google doesn’t want you to “game” their search results – they are not going to tell you the whole story!)
    I try to strike a balance between more general, short-shelf-life terms and niche terms with a longer shelf-life.
    May I add one caveat? I hate it when people use more “general” tags that are not really related to their post. Just because you are a PR agency, does not give you the right to tag every single post as “business”.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. For a growing blog like mine, my statistics show a very strong and direct correlation to my community interaction.

      I couldn’t agree more — like so many other things on the web (reading recommendations, restaurant recommendations, etc.) adding a social aspect to the information makes it that much more appealing and convincing.

      I also completely agree on using unrelated tags for some supposed traffic advantage. You don’t need to be a very savvy user to immediately recognize it for what it is, which is spamming.

      Thanks for sharing the link to your analysis on your own blog’s performance — fascinating stuff!

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Our custom theme doesn’t display them. But I also used a similar mix to the one I describe in the post — some very broad/mass-appeal ones (blogging, traffic), along with a few that are significantly more precise (tagging, blogging tips, etc.).

      Liked by 5 people

  3. Yup. My tags are a crapshoot. I’m never close to 15 but I do a mix of about 6. Some are very general and some are specific. It also seems to depend on the time of day I’m posting, and the actual day.
    But maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about, which is most definitely possible:)

    Liked by 5 people

  4. I don’t know if it’s with it but sometimes I tag with a very short sentence, maybe something that could be googled, “how to entertain toddlers” is something I have used more than once, I doubt they work in my favour but I find it difficult to know what to use as a tag anyway really

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I’d say that unless it’s a very popular/well-known catch phrase, it doesn’t really help, since the probability that someone else will look up that exact phrase is very low, whereas search engines will be able to determine the topic of your post anyway by scanning your text, the tags you’ve specified, and other relevant factors.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. That’s always handy to know, I wrote a blog post about a toy that looked a bit funny and Google sent a few views my way with that one, I think it was a popular search term, I might go back through my archives ad see how I tagged that one

        Liked by 3 people

  5. It’s hard sometimes finding the right balance, for example, I write about MS as in Multiple Sclerosis in Ireland. Both terms are used a lot online. Ireland is a great tag as many people are interested it. If I don’t spell out MS though, I could end up with someone looking for Microsoft products. I read somewhere though that Google etc already knows what your blog posts are about, and that it’s not usually necessary to specify tags to the ninth. Again, kind of is a balancing act so.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. You’re right when it comes to Google being able to determine a post’s subject matter — though in the context of the WordPress.com Reader, the more specific tags can still help quite a lot in the sense that when someone else is looking for tag X, and yours uses it, they will see it (again, depending on how recently you published, and how popular the tag is).

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Always a good reminder. My latest was probably posted “snow” or “weather” or something ridiculously vague, but also what EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN NEW ENGLAND is writing about. Because there’s no other topic except the weather. We’ve all become my Uncle Herb.

    Tagging has brought hundreds of truly wonderful people my way… people who want to say the right thing to someone who has cancer or beat cancer or is dealing with cancer. And then those lovely people often skulk around and leave comments and become virtual friends. WordPress can be a warm little place… but it becomes that way when we tag ourselves into familiar corners to find each other. I’m a big fan of the whole shebang. 5/5 stars.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. I always tag but I still appreciate your helpful advice and how to mix and match. Makes perfect sense, thanks for posting this! And schooling me on the finer points of why I even tag in the first place! Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. How do you decide on tags that you use? I try to think of key words and use those, but I’m never sure if I’m using the right ones.
    Most often I’m using #Durango, #BeLocalCoupon and… hum can’t think of the other one right now.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. With tags, it’s a good idea to try to reverse-engineer the process: if you were a reader interested in the topic(s) your post covers, what would you look for? Whatever you answer should at the very least put you on the right direction to finding a few relevant tags.

      Liked by 3 people

  9. I get very few views from the Reader- 189 in ninety days as opposed to 2935 from search engines and 149 from facebook. I have also found recently that I am getting fewer views from posts I commented on. I still use tags, mostly to organise my own posts- I have posted about lots of things and used 1391 tags in total, never more than ten in a post. My tag Vernon Scannell brought me other fans, and stayed at the top of the reader for ages.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. One of the mysteries in my tagging experience is the popularity of ‘cardinal red polish and reckitts blue’. honestly you couldn’t make it up but that post has been popping up regularly and it is such an odd phrase. They are the sort of household cleaning items my long gone mum used so why are people still searching for them? I’m glad they are though because they find my blog!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Today I tweeted my Monthly Masterpiece Challenge adding the tags #blogging and #challenge in addition to #art and #spiritual and I’ve received quite a bit of favoriting and followers on Twitter for the first time ever! (I’m not much of a tweeter.) BUT my stats aren’t showing any referrals from twitter unless there’s a lag before things show up in stats?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Many Twitter clients process links in a way that track them as referrers in your Stats page, though they still show as views. This might explain any discrepancy you’re seeing. Unfortunately, since it’s an issue with a third party, rather than with your site’s Stats, there’s not much we can do about it.

      Liked by 1 person