Every blogger wants to find an audience. While we each have different ideas about the definition of great content, it’s clear that making informed, data-backed decisions can help us connect with our potential readers.
Today, we’ll conclude our Stats Wrangling series by focusing on a key ingredient in any blog’s success. We’ll show you how to look at your stats to determine if you’re using Tags and Categories to their maximum potential.
While tagging can make a difference on its own, be sure to check out earlier posts in the series to form your own, stats-inspired plan. If you haven’t looked at your numbers before, take the grand tour of your Stats tab. Then follow up with a closer look at the data you can glean from analyzing your stats through time, focusing on your best-performing content, and tracing the sites your visitors go to before and after coming to your blog. Along the way, you’ll find many tips on the ways you can use your stats to increase traffic to your blog.
Tags, categories, and why they matter
Once you’ve arrived at your Stats tab, look for the Tags and Categories panel. It looks like this:
This panel aggregates the number of views your most popular tags and categories have received in the previous seven days. How do we reach these numbers? We look at your top 50 posts and pages for the previous week, and add up all the views each tag received.
In the example above, the most popular topic on WordPress.com News is themes. That means that among our most popular posts and pages over the past week, “Themes” has been the tag or category that amassed the most views.
The skeptics among you might object: “Isn’t it obvious that the most popular posts will generate the most popular tags?” Well, the information the panel presents is relevant to the extent that you tag your posts, and that you tag them effectively.
You can use this panel, then, to determine if you can improve your tagging strategy. This is important. Tagging might be the easiest step you can take to make your content visible to those most likely to be interested in it.
Are you making it easy for visitors to find your posts?
What concrete things can your Tags and Categories panel tell you? Let’s examine some potential scenarios.
- Your Tags and Categories panel is empty.
Problem: Well, this one’s easy. You haven’t been tagging your posts! That means that even if you wrote the sharpest satire about the recent government shutdown, and thousands of people have looked up the “Shutdown” tag on their Reader, not one of them could find your post.
Solution: Adding that tag alone could have meant a significant bump to your traffic. Make a habit of tagging your posts.
- Multiple tags have the same (or a very similar) number of views.
Problem: This means your posts aren’t differentiated enough, and that you might be losing entire communities of potential visitors. Even if you run a one-topic, niche blog, your posts are not all the same. Consider a parenting blog: some posts may include advice, some might feature product reviews, and others might be long, funny vents. Yet if you tagged them all with “Parenting,” “Babies,” and “Mommy Blog,” you’d be losing readers who might be looking for more specific content.
Solution: Introduce a number of more specific tags to accompany the generic ones. If you’re into sports, include a team or an athlete’s name. If you write about education, add the author you’re discussing, or the school district where you teach.
- There’s a disconnect between the popular topics and your blog’s core topic.
Problem: What might it mean if you thought you had a baseball blog, but your most popular topics are related to the economy, or if you’re a fashion blogger whose most popular topic is poetry?
Solution: The Popular Posts and Pages panel lets you know what specific content resonated with your audience. By contrast, the Tags and Categories panel — especially if you monitor it over time — tells you what your blog’s about. One possibility is that you haven’t published enough recently about the things your readers expect from you. If that’s the case, go back to the topic that first won you those followers. Another option — especially if your overall stats are the same or even better than usual — is that you might want to consider expanding your horizons, since your readers seem to like your more versatile persona.
- A couple of topics dominate your blog views, leaving crumbs to the rest.
Problem: You might be tagging inconsistently, or using too many obscure tags.
Solution: Consider spreading the love: as long as the more popular topic still relates to the post in question, it might be a good idea to test out adding it on top of more specific tags.If that doesn’t make sense because of a given post’s content, it might just mean you’ve picked tags that are too specific to attract a larger audience. Many physics buffs might look up “Einstein;” fewer might feel the need to search for posts tagged with “Theory of Relativity.” Try to strike a balance between the too-general and the esoteric.
- You see a nice spread of views across topics that make sense. Congratulations! You’re using tags to increase your readership and to make your blog more visible.
Tagging and SEO: a reality check
Effective tagging helps you entice those who are already hunting for content on the WordPress.com Reader. Does it also influence your blog’s visibility on search engines like Google? How does it affect your Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
The short answer, confirmed by a Google manager, is that search engines don’t rely on self-tagging to find your content. If you wrote a post about baking pumpkin pie, Google wouldn’t need the tag ‘Pumpkin Pie’ to figure it out.
Up until recently, you could compare your popular topics with the search engine terms that brought readers to your site. You could then test whether your tagging echoed the search habits of your readers. You’d do it by looking at the Search Engine Terms panel:
These days, as you can see at the bottom of the panel, the majority of search terms that brought readers to our blog belong in the ‘Unknown search terms’ category. This isn’t a bug: Google has been encrypting more and more searches, and intends to encrypt them all eventually. As a result, we can no longer deliver this information to our users.
While the loss of data can be significant for some, the reasoning behind it — making it harder to abuse search data — is a positive one. Online and off, safety should always trump convenience. Moreover, unless your blog receives a significant chunk of its readers via search engines, the difference, if any, should be minor.
The data you receive about traffic originating in your social networks and in the WordPress.com community stay the same. Which is all the more reason to focus on those stats you can affect directly through better tagging and better use of social media.
Passion before numbers
In this series, we showed how analyzing your blog’s performance can help you expand your audience and engage it more effectively. It’s always a great idea to be well-informed about the factors that might contribute to your blog’s success.
It’s always worth repeating, though, that no number-crunching can ever replace the love and passion you invest in the contents of your blog. It’s the quality of the latter that keeps your readers coming. In other words: if you find yourself spending more time poring over your stats than in the Editor, writing a new post, it might be time to give your stats a break. They’ll always be there when you need them.
Earlier installments in this series:
- Stats Wrangling I: Digging into Your Data
- Stats Wrangling II: Days, Weeks, and Months
- Stats Wrangling III: Top Posts and Pages
- Stats Wrangling IV: Referrers and Clicks
Other posts you might enjoy:
- Your Statistics: More than Just an Ego Boost
- All about SEO on WordPress.com
- Traffic Dos and Don’ts: A Checklist
Oct 29th at 4:35 pm
It will help me a lot to improve my blog.
Oct 29th at 4:42 pm
I consider myself a newbie and am still finding it difficult to tag my posts properly. I still need to learn a lot, like reading these informative articles. Thanks!
Oct 29th at 4:44 pm
This is exactly what I needed to read for a newbie @ WordPress – Thanks for the help!
Oct 29th at 4:46 pm
Thanks for taking the time to post this. It was very informative.
Oct 29th at 4:48 pm
Insightful post. I usually write posts that resonate with me. When numbers rise,I’m fulfilled. But that’s not my mandate. I’m a writer.My mandate is to write regardless of the figures .
Oct 29th at 5:01 pm
IMO there are certain popular tags that bring traffic like Art, Photography and Travel while most of the rest are either a desert or flooded with garbage. It would be very helpful if wordpress.com developed a list of supported categories/tags and with a definition of what should be in them. For example, “black and white” ought to be limited to posts with black and white photographs in them. In reality there are numerous color photos with people wearing black and white clothing or black pencil drawings on white paper. Should we use singular or plural? For example ‘tattoo” or “tattoos”. A supported topic list would solve that problem. How about spiritual or spirituality? It would not take a lot of work for this to get organized, and some community input could be used to establish the definitions.
Worpress.com has been very useful to me, it is very good, it keeps getting better, and it can get better still.
Oct 29th at 5:14 pm
Thank you for this series on stats. I have been re-reading the previous posts in this series over again to remind myself. Blogging for app. 7 months and have recently learned the usefulness — no, the power of tagging and categorizing. Put it down to blogging 101.
Oct 29th at 5:36 pm
As the owner of a struggling zombie apocalypse blog, I appreciate all the help I can get. I am new to the blogging scene but an old hand at writing just not in the digital format. I would love more readers. If I can better manage my tags which would increase my readership, it is something that I need to do. Despite the success of the Walking Dead, other zombie shows and movies, it appears that the zombie craze may be dying so perhaps I need to concentrate more on TEOTWAWKI fiction. Crunching my tag stats will let me know.
Oct 29th at 5:37 pm
Soooo, this was like a punch of useful information to the face. Dang. I needed that.
Oct 29th at 5:44 pm
Thanks, great tips again and plenty to think about.
Oct 29th at 6:03 pm
thanks for writing this. I needed some points on how to drive traffic to my blog. I still dont know what ‘categories’ are for.
Oct 29th at 6:17 pm
Thanks a lot. It’s not only about stats BUT also about enabling my content be found.
Oct 29th at 6:42 pm
Great post, and I really appreciate the entire series, as I rely heavily on stats on all my websites to help me with my content. The information you shared about Google search terms is very interesting. I use Google Analytics with all of my non-wordpress.com Word Press blogs (stand alone installations that I host on my own server). I use Google Analytics via a plugin with my other blog installations. However, I really like the ease and convenience of my WordPress.com blog. While Google might encrypt search term data in the future, (that is essential information for website and blog owners, so yikes!) I am certain that Google Analytics stats will still be able to decrypt that data and continue to provide this essential data. Therefore, I think it might be time to figure out a way where blog owners (perhaps through some kind of paid upgrade?) can integrate Analytics into their WordPress.com blogs. Just a suggestion.
Oct 29th at 6:45 pm
great post…. so, I think I have been using my categories incorrectly…. I think I get it now… are categories more for internal use i.e. searching within my blog and tags are drawing external traffic?? Thanks, Lisa
Oct 29th at 6:49 pm
Thank you, Ben. I will look up the stats that will enable my blog’s content to be found, and to find other enjoyable reading as well as learning experiences from other bloggers.
Oct 29th at 7:02 pm
Very informative! I know for me, I blog because I enjoy it and feel that I have something to share so in the big scheme of things I’ve met my goal. However, writing and not reaching an audience with which to share is sometimes a drag.
Thanks for the info!
Oct 29th at 7:52 pm
I’m not sure your assumption that all bloggers care about exposure or maximizing their number of readers is correct. I certainly don’t. This was helpful to me in possibly finding interesting blogs through tag searches, though. Thanks for posting! : )
Oct 29th at 7:55 pm
This was fantastic, thank you. I realise I’ve tagged every single post with ‘journal’ and ‘daily life’ as mine is a real and life blog. Yet, like you say, I couldn’t possibly have varied and real life, daily, does not always bring the same kind of “stuff”.
Really valuable, many thanks.
Oct 29th at 8:31 pm
Thank you for a very helpful series. I’m a few months into my blog and becoming more conscientious about SEO, so it has been especially timely series for me. Blogging is not like baseball. They will not come just because you build it. Thanks for the help.
Oct 29th at 8:42 pm
I do get a huge chunk of my traffic from search engines so thanks for the encryption information. I was wondering about the “unknown” increase!
Oct 29th at 10:46 pm
Very informative. It helps me improve my blog. Thanks a lot!.
Oct 29th at 11:18 pm
I like this post – reads like a good diet. Clear, makes sense and seems achievable in theory.
Oct 29th at 11:58 pm
I’m afraid that I still don’t understand how tags & categories ought to be deployed in relation to one another.
For some reason I began by tagging my posts in a very detailed way. Then my brother said that that was silly—Tags were meant to help order posts for more general interests. Then I read one of your articles that made me decide that I should, indeed, use categories to help people find the subjects they were looking for—So, because you said you would not list a post with too many combined tag & category terms, I deleted any of those general terms I’d used for categories from the tags list.
Your post above refers almost exclusively to tags—HOW TO DECIDE: WHICH is useful FOR WHAT?
Oct 30th at 2:11 am
I find this post very helpful as a blogger who has started writing recently on WordPress! It is a great feature and I believe the time will tell the best as the posts are constantly published! Thank you!
Oct 30th at 2:34 am
One of the most helpful posts so far – thanks for setting things out so clearly – sometimes these posts are so technical, they leave me scratching my head and feeling a little stupid! Cheers!
Oct 30th at 3:09 am
Great post. As a newbie, I sometimes feel like I don’t know much at all about what and how to go about attracting the masses. I like how you re-direct what the focus should be…The words.
Oct 30th at 5:43 am
Sometimes it’s not just about the statistics. Content is essential and you need to be able to connect with others and share your message.
Oct 30th at 7:17 am
This was very informative, and I always use tags, etc. but I still have no traffic. If anyone visits my blog, it’s for the weekly photo challenge. For example, my latest post is about Halloween songs for a party playlist, and not even ONE person has seen it. I know I should be patient but this is not the first post that others have not seen. I cannot seem to figure it out. I try to incorporate most of the tips you have talked about here. What can I do to persuade people to see my blog? Is it my tags that are the problem? They seem okay to me but maybe I just need a fresh pair of eyes to check it out.
Oct 30th at 8:42 am
As a new blogger and passionate writer, I appreciate your willingness to educate others on gaining viewers, thank-you!
Oct 30th at 9:06 am
I am a trans woman. I left a comment on a transphobic blog, and found I was getting several views from that, and my views per visitor went up. Phobic and fascinated, poor things. So, more traffic- but not the kind of traffic one would want, do you think? If they read, they might be educated, but if they are just there to feel horror, they won’t return.
Oct 30th at 9:57 am
Thanks for the enlightenment. I thought i had a good understanding of my stats but I’m not so sure now. I got one visitor and fourteen views (which are divided between 3 countries). Am I missing something or is there a mistake?
Oct 30th at 3:34 pm
Thank you for the tips. I have been blogging over a year on WP, there is still so much to learn.
Oct 31st at 12:49 am
Blog stats is one thing everyone is interested in but never get to totally understand the craft. This is a great post that gives you an insight into it & teaches you to sharpen your skills. Read a reader post in the past that said have no more than 15 tags per article posted so is that the limit for optimum SEO?
Oct 31st at 1:54 am
I completely agree it’s not about the statistics but these tips really help direct others who are interested in the same topics you are – then you can have meaningful and interesting conversations. Thank you for the post, super informative.
Oct 31st at 1:13 pm
Thank you for the tips. I have been blogging over a year on WP, there is still so much to learn. Very informative. It helps me improve my blog.
Oct 31st at 3:01 pm
Thank You! After reading this one…I will be back to collect more ‘learning’ for shuffling about with how my BLOG may be more suited to me. The weekly photo challenge offered a lot of little bits for understanding…Before that I was totally bumbling. Setting UP will take me a little while but everyone seems enthusiastic to show support in a myriad of ways. I am grateful.
Oct 31st at 5:16 pm
Great Post. Interesting and informative.
Nov 3rd at 8:10 pm
Thank You! This helps a lot!
Nov 5th at 4:00 am
Since I am just new to blogging…this is very helpful for me Ben! Thanks!
Nov 5th at 5:50 am
Very informative. I was wondering out categories. Sine my blog is all writing education I didn’t know what other categories I could use (or tags).
A better informed blogger.
Nov 7th at 5:08 am
I am just starting my blog-for-keeps and this is really handy. Thanks a lot!
Nov 7th at 7:46 am
Really helpful information here. Thanks
Nov 7th at 6:36 pm
wow! Is this due to the recent news on NSA’s intrusion on both Google and Yahoo’s network?
Nov 9th at 1:49 am
Before i can see what are the users’ terms using google search but now no more