How to audit topic tag pages
How to handle topic tag pages on news publisher sites and best practices for redirecting or deleting unnecessary tag pages.
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Hello, and welcome back. Shelby here, still recovering from both a terrible summer cold and an emotional day at the ballpark celebrating José Bautista joining the Level of Excellence with the Toronto Blue Jays. My eyes are still puffy and I’m not sure what’s to blame.
This week: Topic tag pages 102. A few weeks ago, I covered what you need to know about topic tag pages and their importance for news sites. Today, we’ll dive deeper into tags including how to handle them on your site, some best practices and when to decide it’s time to delete one.
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In this issue:
The importance of topic tag pages.
General best practices.
Removing a tag page checklist.
A quick reminder: The importance of topic tag pages
Topic tag pages are individual pages about a keyword, person, event or entity. These are 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 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.
Topic tags help establish your site’s topic authority. Google recently confirmed that topic authority was a ranking system. Topic tag pages demonstrate your expertise and, in turn, why someone should trust your reporting.
Google considers 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, including how notable a source is for a topic or location, influence and original reporting and source reputation.
The more ways you can demonstrate your authority to search engines and readers, the more likely your publication will be surfaced for respective queries and results. Topic tags are a great tool to achieve this.
THE HOW TO
General best practices for topic tag pages
As with anything in SEO, best practices will vary depending on several factors. Here are general guidelines to follow to develop a strategy.
General guidelines for topic tag pages
Number of tags on a site: It depends. There is no minimum or maximum number of tags, but all pages should serve a purpose. Small publications covering a single niche, for example, need fewer topic pages.
Number of stories tagged to a page: There is no definitive number, but you want the page to be robust enough to signal expertise on the topic at hand.
My personal rule of thumb is at least five to seven pieces of content written within the last year need to be tagged to a page for it to be considered a useful tag.
If there are less than five pieces of content tagged to a page, it must be because more will be written on this topic in the near future.
Ensure your tags are used consistently. A tag should not be used for very small batches of stories. If only one or two stories are being tagged to a page a year, there’s a better solution.
Avoid having separate tag pages for the same topic. Use keyword research to determine the best keyword to target, and use that as your tag. Creating multiple tag pages for the same topic — “Bank of Canada,” “BoC,” “Bank of Canada rates” — will dilute your authority and doesn’t warrant the extra URL.
Make your tag pages crawlable. It's essential that Google crawl your topic pages. These pages are meant to convey topical authority, and it's unlikely that crawling topic pages will eat up a significant portion of your crawl budget.
Ensure proper pagination on the topic tag pages. Most topic pages will have 10+ stories tagged to mean, often requiring pagination (with a button that's clicked to show more stories). Proper pagination ensures Google sees the breadth of your coverage — not just the 10 most recent stories.
🔗 Read more:explains why tagging and categorization are critical for news SEO and some other best practices to consider.
Yearly and tentpole events
Yearly or tentpole events can certainly cause a headache when it comes to the topic tag page. You will revisit the same event every year. The only thing that will change is the year or number of the event.
Regardless, I am a big proponent of a single tag on an event that is year agnostic. The main reason is because authority grows on that topic tag for the event you cover regularly, year-over-year. With minor SEO optimization efforts on a regular basis — for example, optimizing the title tag with the year, updating the meta description and any other relevant copy and linking all stories to it — this tag can grow authority faster than if you create a new tag every year.
Best practice: Create a single tag for a yearly or tentpole event and use this tag year after year. Set the URL as the event. Change the title tag and H1 to include the year or event number.
For example, The New York Times covers the Super Bowl every year. Instead of creating a new tag page every Super Bowl, there is a single page with just ‘
super-bowl’ in the URL. Every year, they update the title tag and Heading 1 (H1) on the page to reflect the year (and the on-page deck targets the second-most common keyword, Super Bowl LVII).
Almost all content management systems will allow you to change the title tag and the H1 of the tag page (if this is not a capability of your CMS, try to reach out to your product team to have it implemented). This way, stories are added to the tag page, and more internal links and backlinks point to the page.
What to do if you currently create yearly tags
That’s okay! There are a few different approaches you can take. First, decide if the current approach is working for you. If you like having separate yearly tags because it’s easier to promote or the year-by-year archive is advantageous, that’s fine. It will take you longer to build up authority, but the purpose of the tag is still achieved — to collect all of the relevant stories on that topic.
If you want to adjust your approach and implement year-agnostic pages, audit all associated topic tag pages. Identify the URLs to keep, to redirect (301) to the newly determined main one or to delete (404 or 410).
A major breaking news or life-altering event
News and life happen — fast. And major events are usually written about over the course of a few days to a few weeks, but sometimes longer. As quick as they come, they will be over and likely only revisited on major anniversaries.
As such, the relevance of the tag may come and go very quickly. You won’t ever need to return to the tag, but in the moment it would be beneficial to have somewhere that collects all of the stories written on this event.
When deciding whether or not to create a tag for these, once again consider the purpose of topic tag pages on your site.
Best practice: This may be an instance where you need to determine the level of coverage your newsroom will produce and if it editorially makes sense to have a tag.
Use your news judgment. If it’s something like the Pulse Orlando nightclub shooting or Hurricane Katrina, a tag page is warranted. But if it’s an event that will pass quickly or may not impact history, like insignificant presidential meetings, just linking those stories together is enough.
Checklist for cleaning up/removing topic tags
Topic tag cleanups are one of my favourite efforts. It’s a low-effort (albeit, arduous) task that can have a great effect on your overall authority — when done correctly.
Remember: A tag page should serve a purpose. If the tag page does not serve a purpose, it should not exist.
Extract a list of all topic tag pages on your site into a Google Spreadsheet. This should include tag pages with no content attached to them. You can pull the URLs through WordPress by going to the “Tag” section or, if you know the tag URL convention pattern, you can use an SEO tool such as Screaming Frog or Botify to extract the list from a crawl of your site.
In the list, include the following information:
Number of posts currently tagged;
Number of internal links;
Backlinks to page;
Search traffic to the page (or any other referrers you are concerned about) over the past 12 months;
Optional: If the tag is associated with a certain category or section on the site (e.g., federal election is associated with the Politics section);
A column where you can distinguish whether you are keeping, removing or redirecting the tag page.
Audit the number of backlinks to the tag page. If a page has little to no backlinks, it means it doesn’t provide a high authority in search or not an “important” page by Google’s standards, and shouldn’t impact your overall topic authority.
Check the number of internal links to this page. This metric determines how much it is currently used in your site’s ecosystem. If the number is high, it is linked to throughout your site often and probably is highly associated with some form of editorial purpose or topic authority.
Checking this and backlinks is important. Even if, by your standards, a topic page isn’t important, Google may recognize a high linking profile and understand there is a level of topic authority that needs to be considered in SERPs.
If there is little to no traffic to this tag page, it has little authority and could have minimal value on your site.
Finally, check the number of posts currently tagged to this topic page. As mentioned above, if that’s less than five, delete it. If the tag is new or is a future opportunity, keep it.
Seasonality comes into play when considering the lifespan of a tag. For example, you may notice a tag sees a lot of activity for a month, but otherwise sees no traffic. This is to be expected, and can help with keyword longevity. When a topic is newsworthy, there are likely more Top Stories carousels and recent news on that topic’s SERPs. However, when interest drops, Google’s algorithm will change the keyword to be more results that contain the basic information or as many references as possible (aka topic tag pages).
Pro tip: Once you’ve gone through your list of tags, consider the volume of URLs you want to remove or redirect. If it’s a large number (above 1,000), break up the list so as to not cause a spike in crawl volume to your site. When Google notices a change in a site, it will likely re-crawl other elements to ensure those pages are accurate in its index.
If you decide to delete a page, consider the following:
Use the appropriate 404 or 410 HTTP status code. Google’s John Mueller has confirmed that Google treats 404s and 410s slightly differently. A 404 status code means the page is not found, but crawlers may return to confirm the page is really deleted. A 410 status code means “gone,” so Google will register immediately if the page is to be removed from the index.
Ensure the internal links for the tag are redirected or deleted. If you delete a previously active tag that was linked to a lot, it will now render an error page. This is no bueno. Try to remove the links.
The bottom line: Tags are a great way to signal topical authority to search engines and readers, and can really display the level of expertise your publication has on a topic. Create a clear strategy around optimizing your stories and linking your stories to relevant sections and topics, but don’t spend too much time optimizing the topic tag pages themselves — they will only drive so much traffic.
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