The Art and Science of Tags

Tags are an important part of the Medium experience. Whether publishing an original piece or replying to another writer, tags are a key way to help new readers discover your work.

To unlock the full potential of tags, one must balance both their art and science.

Every story has at least five phrases that are excellent descriptors of the writing within. Don’t squander this opportunity to get your work in front of as many people as possible. Remember that people are on Medium because they want to read what people are writing, and people follow tags in order to discover new voices and stories within topics that matter to them. Your work is wanted. Put it on display so it can be enjoyed.

Tags are great for describing the essence of your story in a single word or phrase, but stories are rarely about a single thing. If I pen a story about moving across the country to start a new job in a car with my husband, two cats, a dog, and a tarantula, I wouldn’t only tag the piece with “moving”. I’d also use the tags “pets”, “marriage”, “career change”, and “travel tips”.

All of these tags describe key elements of my story and attract very different audiences, surfacing my story to a larger group of unique people who will enjoy what I’ve written and giving more people more opportunity to recommend and respond to the piece as well as follow me for future stories.

Keep your tags relevant to what you’ve written. Readers trust that the stories they dive into are categorized truthfully: Don’t betray that trust. It might be tempting to use a popular tag in hopes of getting your story in front of an active audience, but if that tag doesn’t accurately describe your story, you might be doing yourself a disservice in the long run for a short-term gain in readership.

When typing a phrase to use as a tag, a suggestion list is populated below with tags that are currently being used on the platform. Next to the tag word or phase is the number of stories currently published using that tag.

Writing within a tag that has a lot of stories is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, popular tags that house many stories generally have a large readership. On the other, many more stories are published each day in that tag — and all those stories are vying for the same attention within a defined set of readers with a finite amount of time.

This doesn’t mean you should avoid popular tags, however, you might want to combine that tag with another similar but tangential phrase that helps surface your story to the group of people most likely to read and enjoy your work and help you stand out in a busy tag.

While we often know one or two tags that definitely fit perfectly with our story, sometimes the next three are a stretch to think up.

You don’t have to go it alone. Tag research is your friend.

My personal favorite way to find relevant tags is to search the tag I think is most relevant to my story, look at other stories within that tag that feel similar to my own, and see what other tags that author has used. Rinse and repeat this process with as many different tags as you need.

For example, for my cross-country story, the “Moving” tag works well with “Travel” and “Life Lessons” as well as “Adventure”. “Pets” and “Marriage” also work very nicely with “Relationships”.

Spending a few minutes finding stories that would feel at home beside your own will reap huge rewards in terms of audience and viewership.

As they sometimes say, a rising tide lifts all boats. Respond below and tell us about what tag strategies have worked (or not worked!) for you.

East coaster with a secret SF love affair. I enjoy juxtaposing things. Also: Cheese and tiny dachshunds.