September 2022 was one of the most turbulent months in recent times for news publishers.
The month began with a useful content update, which targeted low-quality and unhelpful content.
This was quickly followed by the September 2022 Core Algorithm Update: one of Google’s broader updates, which overlapped with the September 2022 Product Reviews update, targets low-quality affiliate content (among other things).
For some of the game’s biggest publishers, this has caused significant disruption, with publications such as The metro sees a 40% drop in visibility..
In an industry that often relies on somewhat turbulent traffic sources like breaking news and Google Discover, proper content tags can provide a safety net in which traffic consistency can be somewhat more reliable.
It has worked with many big news publishers in entertainment, football, gaming, music and healthcare this year, some of which attract tens of millions of users each month. They all seem to be lacking in one particular area: content tagging.
Why is content differentiation important to news publishers?
When used appropriately, content tags can help greatly boost your post’s organic performance. However, many publishers make mistakes. Three of the main drivers for improving content tagging are as follows.
The strongest local authority
We know that with the various Google updates, there is a lot of focus on ensuring that websites that are true authority for a user’s search query are ranked higher. For news publications, becoming an authority depends on a number of factors, such as the author’s specialties, relevant backlinks, and expert content.
With content tagging, you can pull all of your expert content on a particular topic into one place, making it easier for Google to crawl and find links between different articles and understand how authoritative a post is in that field.
This means that each article is supported directly by a tag page and many other related articles, which gives Google more confidence in its thematic authority.
Static organic traffic safety net
Tag pages can do a lot more than just group all of your articles together. They can actually become powerful landing pages that rank as high volume general keywords.
Due to the nature of tag pages as a central hub that can answer various questions on a given topic, Google is more likely to rank a tag page within regular organic listings (instead of Top News, etc.) to get a high general search volume query.
For example, when someone searches for “Love Island,” there isn’t a great deal of context behind what the searcher is searching about Love Island. By offering a tag page, Google gives the user a variety of content to consume, thus increasing the likelihood that their search objective will be met.
Using Metro as an example, a quick look at smrash It shows tag pages that potentially attract hundreds of thousands (and in many cases millions) of organic users each month.
Screenshot from Smash, September 2022
Unsurprisingly, most of this tag page’s traffic comes from general high-volume keywords like “love island”:
Screenshot from Smash, September 2022
When Metro also ranks in the top stories for “Love Island,” they double the chances of catching clicks.
If they happen to see a decrease in the organic performance of their Love Island articles, their site still has a tag page safety net to attract traffic from high volume generic keywords.
That is, if the tag page maintains ratings, of course.
What would happen without a labeling policy?
Having started working with a few large publications that didn’t implement a tagging policy properly, I’ve seen firsthand how messy it can be when a tagging policy isn’t in place.
When not properly trained in the ins and outs of content tagging and how it relates to SEO, writers have added countless random tags to articles, creating stacks of tag pages that offer no real benefit to a website.
From an SEO perspective, these are the issues this causes:
- Wasted crawl budget: When large amounts of articles are generated daily, along with large numbers of new tag pages, this results in Googlebot (and other bots) wasting resources by crawling low-quality tag pages instead of the articles themselves.
- Attenuated positional authority signals: When you overdo it with tags, you can end up with multiple tag pages that focus primarily on the same topic but spread articles and topical authority across multiple tags. An example would be to write an article about Cristiano Ronaldo’s broken nose, and then create a featured page for “Cristiano Ronaldo”, “Cristiano Ronaldo’s nose”, “Cristiano Ronaldo’s broken nose”, and “Cristiano Ronaldo’s nose injury”. Really, we just need the “Cristiano Ronaldo” tag here, as the article itself will target “nose” related keywords. So, not only does the main “Cristiano Ronaldo” tag page have to compete with three other related tag pages, but the article itself does as well.
- Cursor bloat: When niche tag pages are created (such as “Cristiano Ronaldo’s nose” and “Cristiano Ronaldo’s nose injury”), they end up tagged only one article, which leads to indexing of thin, low-quality tag pages, which end up being almost exact duplicates of each other some.
- Hardly any traffic or ranking for the tags pages: When writers don’t know how to effectively tag content and improve tag page performance, tag pages end up with a missed opportunity, as they likely won’t rank or drive traffic.
When incorrect flags have been placed for too long, the task of cleaning up is time consuming and requires detailed analysis to ensure that nothing of value is removed. Prevention is definitely better than cure!
Therefore, tag pages can act as the glue that holds related content together and as a steady, consistent traffic driver when article performance drops.
But how do you ensure that your writers are united in an approach to tagging that benefits the site as a whole? By tagging, of course!
How to implement labeling policies for writers
Every news publication that publishes content on multiple topics should have an appropriate tagging policy, but what should be included? How does he write? Here are the ones I recommend publishers focus on.
Create an introduction to the policy
Start with a one-paragraph explanation of why the policy is needed and what it aims to achieve. If labeling is a historical problem for the site, this is an opportunity to give examples of where things went wrong and why. This book helps you understand the purpose of politics.
Rule 1: Make tags general but relevant
As mentioned earlier, tags have real potential to rank for general keywords with high search volume, so you should aim for just that!
You also prevent the risk of diluting topical authority signals with multiple niche tag pages, all of which are competing for similar keywords.
Rule 2: Use a maximum of one X for each article
A good tagging goal is to get one or two marks per article (although this varies per post).
This way, writers will be less likely to create multiple, similar tags, which helps control index bloat and budget efficiency creep.
Rule 3: Use existing tags wherever possible
Hopefully, the publication will create more than one story per topic, so make sure writers look for a suitable existing tag before they start creating a new one.
Rule 4: Use small text and don’t use special characters
Depending on the system used, tags entered by writers can end up being applied in uppercase or special characters to the tag page URL, which isn’t ideal – and could, again, create duplicate tag pages (eg /Cristiano-Ronaldo / and /cristiano-ronaldo/) or just generally unoptimized and messy URLs.
Rule 5: Add internal links to tag pages of articles
This one is important. While all the other points are about creating tagging pages, the internal link from the articles is how to start building the authority of the tagging page itself.
Writers should link to the article’s main tag page within the first paragraph if applicable, and to other secondary tag pages within the rest of the article where possible.
Make sure you provide context
One of the main reasons writers don’t stick to the general rules about tagging content is that they simply aren’t given the context behind why they do things a certain way.
A post’s SEO strategy depends on the writers understanding how their efforts will support that strategy, so be sure to conduct training to help them understand why tagging needs to be done a certain way (feel free to point them towards this article!).
The policies themselves should be simple documents outlining the ground rules for labeling, almost like a checklist. Training should be provided as these policies are introduced to provide context, which can be done in video format to ensure everyone receives the exact same training.
Generic tag page setup
In addition to writer responsibilities, publication owners need to ensure they have the correct technical setup to support tag page growth as well. The following areas should be adequately addressed to support the writer’s efforts.
Convert bookmark pages into landing pages
Simple things like indexability should be considered when setting up tag pages, as well as basic improvements like meta titles, descriptions, headings, and intro text.
Providing more detail on your competitors’ tag pages (bio information, introductory text with internal links to relevant tag pages, etc.)
Divide the content over multiple pages
Pagination is an important consideration, and while Googlebot can crawl and index pages using infinite scrolling, my preference is to split content across multiple pages, using pagination to make things simpler for Googlebot and avoid any potential rendering issues, etc.
Add bread crumbs to the tags page to articles
Although writers and editors are responsible for ensuring that internal links to tag pages are included in the body of the article, the technical setup of the page must ensure that the main tag page is linked by default.
Add breadcrumbs at the top of each article that link to the main tag of that particular article. Article pages often include a breadcrumb link to the main category (for example, “Music”), but breadcrumbs also offer a great opportunity to promote tag pages.
Add breadcrumbs for the tags page to the article outline
Along with the actual breadcrumb link on the page itself, a breadcrumb diagram within the article or NewsArticle outline on the page can be used to link to the tag page, giving Google another indication of the connection between the two pages.
Create an XML sitemap for a tag page
Large news publications inevitably end up using multiple XML sitemaps, including the Google News sitemap and several other sitemaps for audiences of older articles, all stored in the sitemap index.
There is also a great opportunity to group tag pages together within their own sitemaps, which can be divided according to their category.
For example, “Artist” sitemaps for music publications, “Team” sitemaps for sports publications, etc. give Googlebot quick and easy access to these important pages.
Create HTML sitemaps for priority tags
To make tag pages more accessible to both crawlers and users, creating HTML sitemaps is a great way to ensure that all priority tag pages have accessible internal links, which essentially become topic indexes.
Again, this may come in the form of an Artists or Bands page.
Publication owners need to lead by example when it comes to tags, so by creating a tech setup that prioritizes tag page visibility and sharing a tagging policy that helps writers understand what they should do — and why they should do it — everyone can work together toward the same goal.
- Tag Pages and Content Tags for SEO: A Complete Guide
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Featured image: Zerbor/Shutterstock