5 Tips on How to Use WordPress Tags, Categories, and the Reader

WordPress has a lot in common with other social media outlets in that you use things like tags, but there’s also categories, which seem so similar!  If you’re new to WP, it becomes pretty obvious that the help pages don’t really give you much to work with.  That’s why I decided to write this, even though many people will think these tips old hat.

In this series on how to get the most out of your WordPress writing blog (for beginners!), I’ve already shown you some ways to get yourself motivated and find communities.  In this post, I’m getting a little more nitty-gritty with a few technical details concerning how WordPress works.  So strap in and put your thinking caps on!

5. Use The BEST Tags First

Take a gander at your WordPress reader.  (If you’re super new, you can find your reader by scrolling to the top of almost any WordPress site and clicking ‘Reader’ or the newspaper icon.) Here’s a pretty typical Reader entry with the tags circled:

tags

This person may have used more than three tags, but three is what will show up on the reader.  Because these are the ones that will show up, you should choose the best ones first.

If you’re into writing, here’s some hints:

  1. Choose a wide-reaching tag: Writing, #amwriting, creative writing, poetry, poem, and fiction are good ones to include.
  2. Show  your reader a little more about specifics: Get down into genre!  Use things like science fiction, memoir, fantasy, literary, tanka, or haiku to show a more detailed description of your post.
  3. Link to Others’ Blogs: If you are participating in a prompt or tag game, it can often be good to look at what people use to denote that.  For instance, I often participate in the Carrot Ranch prompt and so put the tag “Carrot Ranch” on those posts.  Look at your prompt and some of the other responses to the prompt to see if there’s a way to connect with that tag.
  4. Get Really Specific: If you aren’t participating in a prompt, your third tag should be something very specific so your story can look unique.  For instance, this post has ‘how to’ as its third tag, which lets you know that this is intended to help.  I’ve used things like ‘Steampunk’ before or ‘#CountVlad,’ which includes the hashtag for the rare and unlikely case that I can start a Twitter fad.

To get an idea which tags you might want to use, click on some of the tags from posts you’ve liked.  The point of tags, in WordPress’s viewpoint, is to help show useful blogs and posts to other people. It’s like hashtags on Twitter that help organize and collate similar information.

4. Use Categories for Self-Organization

Categories are shown on your post, but they’re not the same thing as tags.  Whereas tags help WordPress show your blog post to others, categories help you build pages.  You can link to your categories, like this one to my Flash Science Fiction in category:

Science Fiction

You can also add your categories to a menu using the ‘menus’ option in your dashboard (yourblog.wordpress.com/wp-admin/).  Here’s a picture of how you do this in January 2019:

menus

If you decide to use a category as a part of your menu, that part of your blog will automatically update when you add a new blog entry with that category.  So, if you want to have a category ‘short stories,’ the category will add to that page, like a blogroll, anything that includes the category.  It’s super handy if you don’t want to be always updating a page.

3. Decide on Categories Early!

When you first start out, decide well what categories you want.  It gets really hard to perform this organization after the fact – adding categories to 300 posts isn’t fun!  Keep up with it from the beginning and it’ll be so much easier.

While it’s true that you can always add new categories, you’ll have to go through and manually add categories later.  For instance, it would have helped me a lot to have the categories ‘Short Story,’ ‘Flash Fiction,’ and ‘Poetry’ a lot earlier.  As it stands, I’d have to do a lot of work to go back and organize some of those into my posts (soon I’ll be announcing that the work is done… mwahaha).

So think well about your categories.  Make more than you think you’ll need – it’s easier to just ignore a category than it is to make one and implement it retroactively!

2. Use More Tags Than Three

So, we said above to put your best tags first.  But what about those other tags?

tenor

Those other tags can be super useful, too.  Let’s say you choose ‘writing’ for one of your first 3 tags, but you think ‘creative writing’ is also good.  Put ‘creative writing’ in your fourth or later slot – whenever people do searches in the reader, your post will come up in ‘creative writing.’

So if you use more tags, your post becomes more accessible in the search function.

1. Follow Yourself

I know what you’re thinking:

giphy-4

It seems like cheating because you’re artificially inflating your follower numbers.  It seems weird because it’s not entirely easy to get to the page where you can follow yourself (the easiest way to find it the first time is to go to the bell in the upper right hand corner, find a link to one of your posts – like when it announces ‘Post is Live!’ – and click that.  You can then find the follow button under your site info on the left side of the page).  But trust me, it’s clutch.

If you follow yourself, the big benefit is you get to see what your post looks like to other people on the reader.  If you turn email-alerts on for your site, you get to see how your emails look (and, if you’re on the free plan, how bad that is).  If you made a mistake – like forgetting to name a post – it becomes obvious quickly and you can fix it.

Not only that, you’ll get to see your stuff right next to the things you read.  You’ll get to see if your categories are making sense, and you’ll be able to wonder, “Would I click on that if I didn’t write it?”

I did this simply because I wanted to know if it could be done.  Since then, though, I’ve definitely decided it was an awesome mistake.

***

Do you have any hints for how to make your experience with the reader better?  Tips for how to choose which blogs to follow? Got some tags you think are pretty legit? Tell us in the comments!

18 thoughts on “5 Tips on How to Use WordPress Tags, Categories, and the Reader

  1. Tom Darby says:

    H.R.R.! You’ve done it again. This is so simple even a Doctor of Theology can do it — meaning me. I’m going to get to work on this right away, beginning at January 1, 2019. Thank you so much!

  2. Miriam Hurdle says:

    Excellent tips, H.R.R., I do most of them. Following myself is so cool, I want to see what other readers see. I also use categories to organize the posts so it’s easier to find my older posts. Very useful post.

  3. joanne the geek says:

    Thanks for this. Someone once told me that I needed to have a link to all my poetry on my blog, but I had no idea how to do this. I do categories for all my posts but I’ve never known how to organise them all on my blogsite.

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      I’m trying to reorganize myself so I can better have a way to present my short stories. The way I do it now (by hand-curating a list) is getting out of hand. I also don’t think it’s very helpful for people who want to peruse it.

      • joanne the geek says:

        On the Customize – Homepage Settings it gives the options of displaying the blog posts (which is what I have the setting on currently) or to create a static page. If I created a static page which would become the home page for the blog would I then be able to create links to the various categories of my posts? Do you think it’s worth doing?

      • H.R.R. Gorman says:

        I put mine to a static page, but that’s because I wanted it to feel more like a website. My idea was that someone who wasn’t into blogging could see some of my bigger projects immediately.

        However, a blog feels more cozy and intimate. A reader doesn’t have to make decisions about what to read or perform an extra click on a blogroll.

        Unless you have a good idea what you want it to feel like, go with a blogroll. You can always toy with it by making unpublished, fake home pages and considering if you like them.

  4. Marnie says:

    I didn’t know about the first 3 tag concept at all. Thanks for teaching me that!

    Also, my categories and tags are such hot messes lol. I agree that organizing that stuff up front helps out a ton in the long run. If only I’d had a solid plan for my blog from the start!

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      I thought I had a plan, but organizing by genre didn’t end up working. I’m trying to re-organize by type (poetry, flash, short story, etc) now, but it’s slow and I’m not sure how well it will work.

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