Why Tagging Matters For Online Writers

I was recently reading some Yu-Gi-Oh fan fiction (as I do periodically) when I came across an unfamiliar situation. Someone new to writing for the fandom, rather than look up established names for various ships, tagged their story with their own names for the ship they were writing. Three different names for the ship, plus a tag admitting they didn’t know how to identify the well-established ship in question.

I tend to surf this repository by tag because the fandom is usually flooded and I have narrow reading interests within the fandom. Because I know the proper name for the ship, I would have completely missed this story. I just happened to surf the general catalog that day and stumble across it. Anyone who surfs by tags would miss this story because it doesn’t use the long-agreed upon name for the ship.

The Perc’ahlia ship in the Critical Role fandom has a similar problem. When people first started writing fan fiction and creating fan art for this ship, there were at least half a dozen stabs at giving the ship a meaningful name that didn’t necessarily rely on a portmanteau. Again, those searching for fan work in this ship have to know not only Perc’ahlia, but also those other early contenders, or miss out on some potential gems.

In this day of social repositories and search engines, tags matter. To some degree, we all know this. We work with them enough on blogs and in these catalogs. We tag to identify fandom, genre, characters, topics, any potential triggers. The list goes on. We understand that it’s useful to label our work with these tags to help potential readers understand at a glance what’s in the story.

But we don’t always think about what it really means to tag. We forget that tagging in archive situations like these repositories is really setting up a way to help people interested in that tag find our contribution to the tag. This becomes evident when you see a tag that reads, “ireallyjustlovethishipandnobodyiswritingitsoidid” (yes, I have actually seen this tag), or something equally ludicrous. (I once saw a tag that was literally the writer rambling to see how long she could make the tag before she was cut off. It failed because it split between lines and caused anything after the break to form its own link.)

I think this practice comes from the sarcastic hashtag trend favored on Twitter, but it does nothing but clutter your tags list (and therefore your findability) on search engines and repositories. And the point of the game is to be found, or else you wouldn’t be tagging at all…or posting publicly online, if you want to be completely honest about it.

So, the next time you’re posting a story, be it original or fan fiction, by all means, think about the fandom, characters, genre, and potential triggers. But also take a moment to think about how readers might search for your story, and make sure your tags reflect how you want to be found.

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