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:
Other posts you might enjoy: