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 Reader — won’t.

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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, 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.

15 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: 48,694,922. That’s the number of posts published on last month alone. 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 book blog, and you tag your book reviews with “books” and “reviews” — great! But you’re still competing with 36,254 and 20,573 posts published under each tag, respectively, over the past 30 days (my calculator tells me that’s 50 and 28 posts an hour, on average).

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 book review of Andrew Roberts’ biography of Napoleon. Now you can get more specific. Using the “biography” tag means you’re only competing with 1,461 posts over the past month. “Napoleon?” Now we’re talking: 137 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.

Whether you use our new Stats page, or prefer the old version, both have the same Tags and Categories module for you to explore.

How many specific vs. broad tags you should add is hardly exact science. Ultimately, you’ll have to use your instinct, your experience, and — hopefully — some data, too.

Over to you: what tags have worked for you in the past? Has your tagging strategy evolved over time? I hope you share your wisdom with us in the comments.

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    1. On what tags to use, I think the general strategy described here (and in some of the links inside the post), of mixing broad/general terms with very specific ones, is a good one to try. You can tweak the way you tag as you go and gain more experience.

      Regarding the number, you definitely don’t have to aim for 15 for every post (especially if that means using tags that don’t really relate to what you wrote about — that’s never a good idea). A handful of relevant tags is just fine.

      Tag clouds tend to polarize people. Some love them. Some hate them. It’s more a question of visual appeal and taste, really, since anyone who sees your tag cloud has already found and decided to visit your site.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Good article! I had already read on the Daily Post about tagging effectively but I didnt know about the long tail model. It’s good advice and I’ll try to adopt it.

    After years of blogging, tagging is still a bit of a mystery to me. I did read almost everything relevant on WordPress support and the Daily Post, and I do check my stats and tags that are popular daily to make sure I tag correctly. Still, sometimes when I have to create new tags I wonder about how best to summarize the content of my posts.

    The other difficulty I face is that I blog with other people on The Geek Anthropologist and despite the fact that I have created documents to explain the basics of tagging (and blogging) to our contributors, I generally have to correct their tagging. Once in a while, I have to clean up our tags and review past posts to make sure our content will reach the people who might find it interesting. I had selected a few tags I asked our contributors to use in each post, but that isn’t always respected either. Tagging effectively is so much work!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks! This really helps me a lot. How and what to tag are a real struggle for me, but this is just a perfect example of how to use the reader as a tool. I would never had thought of that. 😡

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Any chance for those of use not hosted by to actually show up on the WordPress tag Reader? bog show up on my “Blogs I Follow” Why not on the tags/categories?

    Just a hope, I suppose.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not an expert on this topic, but my understanding is that people on can subscribe to the RSS feed of a tag or a category from sites hosted elsewhere, just like they do to a blog’s feed, and that feed will show up in the Reader (you could supply the links on your site to encourage people to subscribe). What I don’t think is possible is for users who search for tags here to get results from other platforms — though that’s certainly an interesting idea (not just with blogs, but also Twitter and Instagram hashtags, for example).


  4. I really don’t think that I understand the difference between a catagory and a tag. I have just started puttling a few tags on my posts but have never filled in a catagory. Could you please help me understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Both tags and categories are used to help others find you in the Reader. They function differently on your own site, though.

      Categories are the broader topics or types of content you publish, and can be used for your site’s internal organization (for example, if you use them in your site’s custom menu, if you decide to create a category page, etc.). They can also have a hierarchy, i.e. a category can have multiple subcategories (for example, “Travel” as the main one, “Europe,” America,” and “Asia” as the subcategories).

      Tags are more about creating clusters of related content your users can find on your site and giving more specific details about what a given post is about.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Categories can be extremely helpful for your site’s internal organization — tags can be a tad too specific for, say, your site’s primary navigation menu, so categories help readers find larger groupings of content more easily.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure what they’re trying to accomplish, honestly, since anyone who’s ever visited a site because of a misleading tag will definitely not want to revisit it later. Considering that the Reader will make these posts invisible and that search engines are quite smart at penalizing sites that use irrelevant tags, this sounds like a strategy that’s sure to backfire sooner or later.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m always having trouble picking the right tags to use for my posts, this is helpful as I was afraid that I might be using too many, but as it turns out I could probably try including a few more if I wanted. Very helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great text about the importance of tagging your posts. I am still trying to figure out which tags are the right ones for me to use. But growing step by step 🙂 Happy Weekend you all…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Should start tagging! This is very first experience with blogging and was keen to post what I am passionate about. Unfortunately didnt focus on getting attention towards my blog. Thanks for making this clear.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They might still find it through channels other than the Reader — for example, if you connect your blog to your social networks people can find your posts there, as well as on search engines (though this often takes time for bloggers that are still in the process of establishing themselves).

      Liked by 1 person

  8. ben, if i used the tag ‘french food’ would my post show up in the reader under the tags: ‘french food’ ‘french’ and ‘food’ or just under the one tag i used?

    been wondering about this for awhile and think it shows up under the one tag i entered but want to be sure. late with this question so i’ll be scanning the comments if this has already been asked and answered. – thanks

    Liked by 1 person