The Technical Side of Putting Poetry on WordPress
Poetry and WordPress — it’s a match made in heaven. I struggle to think of a better spot on the internet where sharing poetry, receiving feedback, getting published, and growing a following is so neatly packaged together.
What makes this possible is WordPress’ embedded community and search engine feature (known as the Reader). It gives your poems a shot at being viewed immediately, which is much better than being buried beneath millions of Google results, waiting for someone to happen upon your website.
And it helps that there’s such a vibrant community of poets on here. Resources, publications, competitions, and writing prompts abound. But just because you press “publish” doesn’t mean that your poem will get as many views as it could. WordPress doesn’t treat all posts equally.
Every day I see great poetry dive headfirst into the void–if the poets are lucky, their posts will get a view or two, maybe even a “like”, before it’s gone forever. Some people do this for months and wonder why their site still has so little activity. Some for years — before they either give up or decide that that’s just how WordPress works.
And that’s why I’m writing this. Because that isn’t just how WordPress works. Your work doesn’t have to go unnoticed. It is worth reading. And there are many poets out there who would love to follow your site — but, in many cases, they haven’t been able to see it!
That’s why this week’s resource will cover a few simple but powerful tips about publishing poetry on WordPress. It’ll help you maintain a higher rank on the Reader, get more eyes on your work, increase your following, and share your poetry with a little bit more of the world.
1. Don’t Use More Than Five Tags on Your Post
This is one of the most common problems I see on the Reader — tags like “Rain”, “Sad”, “Free”, “Empowering”, or your name will not reach your target audience. In fact, they will make it much less likely that your poem will be found at all.
This goes for all poetry on WordPress: to play it safe, you don’t want to use any words, subjects, or themes from your poem as tags. No one types in “bird” on the Reader hoping that a poem about a bird will show up. They type in “Poem”, “Poet”, “Poetry”, or specifiers like “haiku” or “sonnet”.
Those are the only tags you want to use. Using too many (or irrelevant) tags will penalize your post’s ranking in the WordPress Reader. So use no more than five: “Poetry”, “Poem”, “Poet”, and one or two specifier like “Haibun”, “Haiku”, “Sonnet”, or something similar.
As a rule of thumb, the fewer tags you use, the more privileged your post will be. But the fewer you use, the fewer Reader “pages” you’ll show up on.
Here at Vita Brevis, I only use three or four, often: “Poem”, “Poetry”, and “Poetry Magazine”. Notice that these are all terms that people would type into the reader while looking for content similar to mine.
2. Titles, Likes, and Comments Have a Major Impact on You Poem’s Ranking
LIKES AND COMMENTS: Go to the Reader and type “Haiku”. It shouldn’t take too much scrolling on the front page until you come across a post I made a month ago. At the time of writing, it has 460 comments and 73 likes, and it’s titled “Comment-a-Haiku Poetry Contest”. If you scroll down further, you’ll come across a second one. You can find these same two posts by typing in “Poem” and “Poetry”.
Why is this on the front page while hundreds of Vita Brevis poems tagged identically aren’t? Because more people interacted with it. The point of the contest was to get poets as much feedback on their poems as possible–so they “commented” a haiku and gave feedback to another one that was posted. Within hours, the activity was astonishing.
Even though it’s an older post (and a closed competition), the likes and comments that it pulled in have kept it on the front page of the Reader for over a month now. It still pulls in many views a day and introduces my publication to new poets.
It goes to show that, though tags get your poems on the Reader, likes and comments ultimately keep them there.
TITLES: Then why is the same post ranked lower on the “Poem” page of Reader than the “Haiku” or “Poetry” page? There are two major reasons: first, it’s competing with different posts that use the same tags, and second, the title.
It’s called the “Comment-a-Haiku–Poetry Contest”. So, the WordPress algorithm privileges it in the “Haiku” and “Poetry” pages a second time (once for the tags, again for the title). For this reason, you should include the word “Poem” in the title of all of your poetry — this is why all of Vita Brevis’ posts are titled “X – A Poem by Y“. It will give your poem a double boost on the Reader’s Poem page, which is where most of your traffic will probably come in.
– Here’s our list of High-Acceptance-Rate Poetry Publications –
3. Make Your Website a Joy to Browse
DESIGN: When you’re designing your website, you ought to keep it simple. Veer away from distracting colors, unintuitive layouts, and repeating, stretched, or low-resolution pictures as your site’s background. In other words, don’t tamper with the pre-made WordPress themes too much–just enough to make it unique. Unattractive, cumbersome, or “dense” sites won’t keep readers coming back.
LINKS & MENUs: The fewer links you include, the more likely it is that people will click on them. That goes for the menu bar, too. In most cases, your menu bar should not include more than four or five items. (Sites of popular poets often include these pages: About, Poems, Articles, Publications, [Link to Newest Chapbook]).
WIDGETS: You don’t want to get excessive with the widgets. They’re distracting, and your readers will almost never look at more than two or three of them. Moreover, it makes your website much slower to load. This means most readers will give up before it’s finished loading–and once it does load, it will be so cumbersome to navigate that they won’t stay on it for long. Worse yet, your Google ranking will be penalized relative to how long it takes to load your website (Google can be a source of a lot of traffic once your blog takes off, so don’t ignore this).
ARCHIVES: If you post a lot, you’ll want to give your readers a way to find your old work. You could use the “Archive” widget, but few (if any) readers try to find an old post by the month they think it was published in. Much more useful (and minimal) is the search bar widget. You can also link to “categories” of posts in your menu bar so users can see only your poetry or only your blogs/articles. [Scroll up to see the “Articles” tab as an example; also, notice how I made a drop-down menu for the “Resources” tab to keep my menu clean]
FOOTERS: You can include copyright information here (I encourage this!), link to your poet social media accounts, or include a short bio about you. At Vita Brevis, I just include a “Support Good Poetry Here” section, linking to our Ko-fi donation site where my readers can support the publication.
A Bite-Sized Summary
- Give the post no more than five tags: “Poem”, “Poetry”, “Poet”, [Type of Poetry], [Optional Specifier]
- Include the word “Poem” in the title of all of your poems: “Vita – A Poem by Brian Geiger”.
- Tags get poems onto the reader, likes and comments keep them there.
- Clean up your website and take it easy on the widgets
About the Author
Brian Geiger is the founder and editor of Vita Brevis, a popular online poetry magazine, and Mental Life, a humanistic publication that merges psychology and philosophy. He’s currently studying to become a psychotherapist.