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What are tag pages?
Tag pages are crucial for any news publisher. We explain how to use tag pages effectively to organize content and boost your topical authority. Plus: Examples of great tag pages from publishers.
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Hello, and welcome back. Shelby here, hot off finally spending a whole weekend in one place, complete with a mimosa tower at brunch, a fresh manicure and a 10-hour sleep. Gotta love weekends with no dependents.
This week: Tags 101! In this first installment, we explore the benefits and usage of tag pages in news SEO. We discuss why tag pages are crucial for establishing topical authority in your areas of expertise.
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In this issue:
What is a topic tag page?
Why is tagging important in news SEO?
Examples of good topic tag pages
What is a topic tag?
Tag pages are individual pages about a keyword, person, event or entity that is assigned to content on your site to describe what a story is about and how it connects to the site’s overall expertise.
Tag pages — pages like
yourwebsite.com/topics/covid — organize content on your website into topics to help readers and search engines alike understand what the content is about and communicate the publication’s breadth of expertise on that subject.
Tags are different from categories, but serve a very similar purpose. Categories are the sections or broad content areas covered by a site and are typically the starting point for organizing articles. For example, if your site has a sports section, "Sports" would be a category.
Categories are usually served in the menu navigation on a news site. Topic tags tend to be included in a secondary navigation or linked on relevant keywords in and/or at the end of a story.
Think of tags as your subtopics within those categories: You write about a specific subtopic within a section of coverage.
For example, you may write a ton about the senator of your state, or the prime minister of your country. But they don’t merit a whole section on your site; they’re part of your broader politics coverage. Therefore, that senator could be a tag page, where every story written about them is then assigned to that tag page.
A few other things to remember:
Categories organize your site structure. Tags organize your content.
Categories are required. Tags are optional.
Categories can also be used in your URL structure to help categorize stories. Tags — usually — are not.
Google’s John Mueller confirmed there is no difference between category and tag pages when it comes to how they are indexed and ranked on organic search. Both are ways Google “could [use] to pick up links to your articles.” As such, we want to ensure category and tag pages are used properly for your site’s hierarchy, authority and overall hygiene (for example, we want to avoid having too many tags, thin tags or tags that don’t provide any value but exist as an orphan page).
🔗 Read more: Longtime subscribers will remember we covered categories and tags in the WordPress environment, a lot of which translates to tag pages in general.
Why are tags important for news SEO?
Topic tags help establish your site’s topic authority. Google recently confirmed that topic authority was a ranking system. Topic tag pages — which house your extensive coverage by subject matter — demonstrate your expertise and why someone should trust your reporting.
Google is looking at the subject matter and the depth of the content the site publishes, and evaluates authority based on what it crawls. The search engine considers a variety of signals to establish topical authority. Here’s what Google’s documentation says:
How notable a source is for a topic or location: Our systems understand publications that seem especially relevant to topics or locations. For example, they can tell that people looking for news on Nashville high school football often turn to a publication like The Tennessean for local coverage.
Influence and original reporting: Our system looks at how original reporting (for example the publisher that first broke a story) is cited by other publishers to understand how a publication is influential and authoritative on a topic. In 2022, we added the Highly Cited label to give people an easier way to identify stories that have been frequently cited by other news organizations.
Source reputation: Our system also looks at a source’s history of high-quality reporting, or recommendations from expert sources, such as professional societies. For example, a publication’s history doing original reporting or their journalistic awards are strong evidence of positive reputation for news websites.
According to Barry Adams’ comprehensive piece on the importance of tagging in news SEO, topic authority seems to be one of the two main metrics Google uses to upgrade or downgrade a publisher’s visibility whenever a core algorithm update is released. The other, he says, is E.E.A.T (experience, expertise, authority and trustworthiness). This system’s metrics are closely aligned with topic authority, where prominently displaying the trust and legitimacy of a news site is important.
Linking relevant stories together, to establish topic relationships, is a foundational news SEO best practice.
The homepage is the most linked-to page on your site. If properly optimized, every page on your site should have some link back to the homepage. And since links help improve the overall authority of a page, the homepage gives you the biggest signal of authority. A link from the homepage, therefore, can help a page’s visibility — something beneficial for coverage areas.
Therefore, tags are also beneficial when something is trending, and you want to get additional exposure on that subtopic. Some content management systems will enable you to add and remove tag pages to your navigation.
For example, if you created a tag page for coverage on the Titan submersible catastrophe, add a link to the page on your main navigation that is shown across your site. This will boost the visibility of your coverage. The presence of the tag on your homepage means crawlers can find it easier and evaluate your depth of coverage.
Should topic tag pages bring in traffic?
Tag pages won’t necessarily bring in a ton of traffic. While category and tag pages are critical for establishing topical authority, they don’t tend to see a lot of clicks.
While looking through Google Search Console, you may notice a topic tag page experienced a spike in impressions. This is likely because people searched that topic and your tag page showed up in the organic 10 blue links, signaling an impression. However, the likelihood that these are clicked on is not very high.
Tags are used for topical authority more than traffic drivers. While tag pages signal expertise around a specific topic, it’s not likely the user wants to click the page and explore all of your content right away. It’s more likely the reader is looking for something specific, and will click on an article in the Top Stories carousel or one of the first links that fulfills their intent.
However, that tag page ranking well means that Google does see your publication as an authority on this topic, and your strategy is working. To get a full picture of the impact, look at your visibility metrics for articles in the Top Stories carousel, as well as if any individual articles — linked to that tag page — garnered traffic. As you continue to report on the topic and link to the tag page with high-quality, 10x content, the more likely your stories will rank in Top Stories or higher in search. Continue your efforts, but don’t rely on tag pages to drive traffic.
What are factors to consider in tagging?
There are many different ways of doing tagging effectively. My main piece of advice: Use tagging to communicate to Google and readers what you cover.
To effectively communicate your subject matter expertise, your site’s structure needs to be clearly defined. Tag pages are a part of that effort.
When auditing your tags, consider the following:
How many stories do you have for this tag page — and will that coverage continue consistently in the future?
Is this a once-in-a-lifetime event that readers need to know about? Is your publication covering it extensively?
Is this tag showcasing a subject your site is an expert in?
Is the name of the tag something people would search for? Or is the tag an editorially-branded series you are putting marketing dollars behind?
There is no minimum or maximum number of tags you should have on your site. Instead, ensure they serve a purpose.
In a future newsletter, we’ll cover topic tag page best practices more in depth. For now, let’s review some great examples in the wild, wild news ecosystem.
Good tagging examples
The Globe and Mail includes a “trending topics” bar that links to tag pages for important topics. Additionally, their top three stories on the homepage have subheads that are linked to their respective tag pages. This allows Google’s crawlers to explore additional coverage on these topics — and potentially rank the stories — while making it easy for readers to explore a topic in more depth.
The Narwhal, an excellent niche environmental site in Canada, has a great structure to their tag pages. The “climate change” topic page, for example, includes a short description followed by a list of links to the latest news.
The Narwhal's primary navigation also includes a list of topics, ensuring they’re linked to on every page.
The description on the COVID-19 tag page for The New York Times reflects the current state of the pandemic: Instead of highlighting basic information, the prominent stories displayed above the fold delve into the long-term effects of the virus. This approach ensures that readers can easily access the most relevant information, and search engines can prioritize crawling it. After that, the sections are broken down by subtopics within the COVID-19 topic — ones that may not warrant their own tag pages — followed by a list called “Latest,” which links to all articles written on the virus in reverse-chronological order.
Another example from The Globe and Mail is their Bank of Canada interest rate decisions tag page. This page clearly targets readers looking up the central bank’s key policy rate and related news stories.
This short description also ranks in rich snippets when people search, “what is the bank of canada’s key interest rate?” like below.
It is included as the description on the page. The Globe also included a chart of the bank’s policy rate trendline.
Finally, a great example comes from my own publication, The Athletic (I’m sorry, I had to), where player and team pages serve as topic tag pages. The pages provide basic player information, and links to stories about them, along with links to their teammates’ player pages.
Player pages are cross-linked effectively; every story includes a link to the player page, and the player pages link to every story about them.
For example, the Aaron Rodgers tag page includes a player overview (including stats) and links to related reporting on the quarterback. Within those stories, the page is always linked on the first reference of “Aaron Rodgers.” This creates a 1-to-1 relationship between the topic tag page and content written about the subject.
And this is how it is linked to in a story…
The above are all great, effective examples of tag pages. Each demonstrates how these pages can enhance the reader’s experience, build topic authority and, ultimately, rank higher in search for a given subject.
The bottom line: Tag pages are an effective way to signal topic authority and subject matter expertise to readers and Google alike, but don’t expect major traffic gains from the pages themselves. Instead, use tag pages to enhance your authority on a subject and showcase the breadth of coverage.
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