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