Is tagging necessary for SEO? Many SEO professionals will respond with a hesitation, “It depends.”
Make no mistake: tagging can harm your SEO efforts if done incorrectly.
In this article, we will look at some of the many ways that tag pages can help with SEO. We’ll also discuss technical SEO considerations and automation.
We’ll look at some examples of SEO tagging and how it’s used for more than just search optimization. Tagging can also help with personalization, advertising, automation, analytics, and user experience.
What Exactly Is Tagging?
A tag is a keyword or term that is assigned to a piece of information to help describe it and make it easier to find.
Tagging is not a revolutionary internet innovation, but it is an important concept in today’s web.
Tagging became important at the start of Web 2.0, when social bookmarking, image sharing, and social media sites exploded onto the scene.
As time passed, more and more people began to upload massive amounts of data to the internet. To keep it organized, a solution was required.
People could simply use keywords to create “tags” to categorize their content. As a result, using these tags, databases could be quickly searched for content.
Take, for example, Twitter hashtags, which use a “hash” symbol to quickly categorize content for discovery by new audiences.
What Are Some SEO Tagging Examples?
Some SEO experts argue that tagging can be beneficial to UX but detrimental to SEO.
It’s worth noting that some of the most popular websites on the internet make use of tagging. Consider Tiktok’s “Discover” tag block on their homepage.
Pins on Pinterest are another example. Pinterest users can use hashtags in the description to categorize their pins.
Pinterest pins rank on Google for 340k keywords. ie alone, let alone the entire global keyword footprint for their curated user-generated tag pages.
And, despite being referred to as pins, they are unique URLs with content on them. They are treated in the same way by search engines.
According to Google’s John Mueller, there is no distinction between category and tag pages. Both are “…another page that we could index or use to gather links to your articles.”
Is There a Distinction Between Tagging and Topics?
Twitter is probably the best example of the distinction between tagging and topics.
In 2019, Twitter introduced “topics” as another way to help people discover content.
Simply put, topics are groups of tags that are related to one another.
As an example, consider the hashtag “Friends.”
Friends are the TV show that comes to mind when we think of the name. And this is exactly how Twitter has grouped it, as shown below.
Twitter has also grouped sitcoms under the Entertainment category.
And, as demonstrated by Twitter’s topic picker below, these can be highly personalized in the For You block.
The primary distinction between tagging and topics is that tagging is the process of assigning a term to a piece of information.
Topics, on the other hand, are organizing those terms into their associated family, either directly or indirectly.
What About Subtopics and Topics?
Subtopics can exist within topics.
Subtopics are a broader way of organizing groups of tags.
As an example, consider the LinkedIn homepage.
As you can see from the image above, there is an Arts and Entertainment topic.
We also see TV and radio as subtopics of entertainment:
Consider content tagging optimization to be the category and sub-category optimization SEO tactic that is commonly discussed in Ecommerce SEO.
To further explain this concept, consider Netflix genre tagging, which is one of the best examples on the internet.
We will explain their movie genre set up for SEO using familiar e-commerce SEO terminology.
The main category is movies, and children’s movies are a subcategory of movies. Please excuse the pun, but this is a parent-child relationship.
These are all forms of tagging, whether they are defined as categories, content hubs, genres, pins, or hashtags.
Tagging can also help with SEO if done correctly.
What Are the Advantages of SEO Tagging?
The advantage of tagging for SEO is increased search engine visibility. However, tagging isn’t just for SEO.
It can be used to feed personalization, provide advertising intelligence, and guide more granular analytics insights.
Visibility in Search Engines
Using the Netflix genre as an example, and running it through a popular keyword visibility tool, we can see that tagging benefits their keyword visibility on Google.
Their genre tagging, as shown above, allows them to rank in the top three on Google for generic terms like movies, comedy movies, and psychological thrillers.
When we think of product-led SEO, we think of Netflix genre tag pages ranking on search. This creates a lot of awareness for their products.
However, driving conversions from the search for their products is even better.
As shown below, there is a call to action on each of Netflix’s genre tag pages.
Tag detail pages, or even a tagging infrastructure for a website, don’t have to be just another page for Google to index and rank.
They can also be an excellent way to direct more customers away from search and toward your product.
Personalization can be aided by tagging. YouTube is an excellent example.
The tags beneath YouTube’s homepage search bar are shown below, which are personalized based on the user’s searches and video history.
Another excellent example of tagging for feed personalization is Google Discover.
The topic layer is used by Google Discover to understand relationships between people, places, and things, as well as facts about them.
“The Topic Layer is built by analyzing all the content that exists on the web for a given topic and develops hundreds and thousands of subtopics.
For these subtopics, we can identify the most relevant articles and videos—the ones that have shown themselves to be evergreen and continually useful, as well as fresh content on the topic.
We then look at patterns to understand how these subtopics relate to each other, so we can more intelligently surface the type of content you might want to explore next.”
Tagging can help contextual advertising systems display ads related to a specific topic.
It can also help in the form of “hidden tags,” which prevent the system from showing ads to a user who is interested in a sensitive topic.
Tagging can also help you understand patterns in a data set. Consider the practice of tagging news articles. Audience analytics tools like Chartbeat, Parse.ly, and Google’s News Consumer Insights can help you find the most engaging articles.
But what’s the point? What did we discover?
“What should we do more of?” for example. and “What should we do less of?” can be better answered by improving the DNA of articles.
Tagging article types by long reads, or news updates by topic or subtopic, for example, can provide deeper insights into content performance.
This can improve the intelligence of your analytics data, allowing you to make better business and editorial decisions.
Tagging And SEO For Publishers
Publishers have some of the most extensive content libraries available on the internet. Online, some publishers’ content dates back to 1851.
Optimisation of Website Architecture
The challenge for most publishers is that there is a massive amount of content published every day.
In general, most news organizations are not equipped to handle this volume of content with their standard taxonomy of a homepage and content categories.
Take, for example, Independent.
I work with a national Irish news publisher, for example.
A pie chart comparing the total crawled pages (254,439) versus the total valid pages available at the time in the website’s article XML sitemaps is shown below (1,494,453).
Orphaned content was a major issue, as illustrated above. Because orphaned pages do not receive much attention from Googlebot, one of the first technical SEO issues that needed to be addressed was the website’s architecture.
Implementing HTML sitemaps, also known as content archives in this niche, is a quick fix solution to these issues.
These content archives aid in flattening the internal linking architecture of deeper pages, which is especially helpful on large websites.
In the Independent. the ie example shown above and detailed below, a user and search engine can discover 20 years of content from the root in three clicks.
Click 1 – /html-sitemap-article-index/ (Article archive overview)
Click 2 – https://www.independent.ie/html-sitemap-article-index/2000-01/ (Article archive by year and month)
Click 3 – https://www.independent.ie/html-sitemap-article-index/2000-01/1/ (Article archive by year, month and day of publishing)
Longevity is a keyword
The majority of the search traffic for most publishers will come from both top stories and regular organic listings.
When a topic is considered newsworthy, Google’s Query Deserves Freshness (QDF) algorithm will activate the top stories carousel and display the most recent news on the topic in its organic results.
Among the newsworthy inquiries are:
- Queries about recurring news events (e.g., elections, sports events, TV shows, conferences, etc.).
- Queries for current information about people, places, or things.
- However, once the query is no longer trending, Google’s SERPs return mostly informational results for these queries.
This is when news site tag pages can rank very well after the fact and improve keyword longevity.
Kate Middleton is an example.
And in November 2021, when the keyword Kate Middleton on Google receives approximately 318,000 average monthly searches in the United Kingdom alone, Hellomagazine’s tag page ranks first.
Is Tagging Effective for Publisher SEO?
Independent. ie recently experimented with tagging as an SEO strategy and almost immediately saw an increase in total search impressions for its tag overview pages.
The graph above depicts the increase from 0 to 16,000 additional passive clicks from the search for a very limited set of tag pages configured under the tag overview page.
From a business standpoint, the experiment was motivated by increased pageviews from search.
However, from the standpoint of technical SEO, keyword cannibalization was high on the priority list.
To combat keyword cannibalization, use topic clusters to consolidate competing URLs into a single URL for that topic. This strategy, however, can be problematic for news websites.
Keywords in a news article’s headline are one of the most important ranking factors for Google News and top stories.
On any given day, several stories on a single topic may be published in editorial production, particularly on a large news site.
This can cause multiple stories to compete with one another; this is not noticeable on the day, as freshness plays a big role in top stories ranking positions. However, the issue for publishers here is after the fact.
When a topic’s news is no longer “trending,” Google’s SERP shifts from ranking news article detail pages to ranking publisher tag detail pages.
When publishers create tag pages for SEO purposes, these pages can serve as topic clusters.
And, as demonstrated above with the Kate Middleton example, tag pages can help publishers rank for topics in the organic listings rather than multiple articles competing against each other, with the older article generally being demoted in SERPS.
Recirculation of Articles
For many news organizations, the homepage serves as a storefront for the day’s most recent, breaking, and best news. However, publishers rarely consider the article detail pages to be the primary shopfront.
This is unfortunate because most publishers get a large portion of their traffic from both search and social. For these channels, the reader consumes article detail pages as their first point of contact with the brand.
Tagging can help inform article recirculation widgets, which can help both pass internal link equity into other related or published articles and reduce bounce rate by giving readers the option to read more on a topic when they come from these channels.
Katie Taylor article detail page from Independent. ie:
Actually, for Independent. i.e., the greatest benefit to traffic was not derived solely from search. Tagging increased traffic to recirculated articles.
How does Google determine who is an authority on a particular subject?
Danny Sullivan addressed this question in a recent SEO webinar for publishers:
“If your site has a history of publishing authoritative content for a topic, we can see you as an authority in that area.”
Does Google use tag pages to determine whether or not you should rank among the top stories for a given topic?
Perhaps not. We do know, however, that Google uses links as a signal of authority.
Looking at the anchor text for the Kate Middleton page from Hello Magazine, there are 118 referring domains pointing to exact match keyword anchor text links to that page.
This could happen if a paragraph is copied into a WYSIWYG content editor in visual mode rather than text mode, and the link to the tag overview page is also copied.
In this regard, tagging can function as an automated link magnet for publishers.
Who wouldn’t want such a tool in their off-page SEO strategy?
What Is the Issue With SEO and Tagging?
The crawl budget is the most serious issue with tagging and SEO.
For example, in Google’s documentation on crawl budget for large websites, the first piece of advice is to “consolidate duplicate content.”
What Causes Duplicate Content in Tagging?
Duplicate content can occur with tag pages due to misspellings, such as “Google” instead of Google, resulting in two duplicate tag pages.
Another common example is with synonyms, such as Joe Biden, Biden, US President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., 46th U.S. President.
The pages listed below would be created:
example.com/tag/joe-biden/ \sexample.com/tag/biden/ \sexample.com/tag/us-president-joe-biden/ \sexample.com/tag/us-president-joseph-robinette-biden-jr/ \sexample.com/tag/us-president-46/
All of these synonyms are valid in their own right, but they can lead to a chain reaction of duplicate tags.
And for each tag, every possible synonym was created and left to user interpretation as to what the tag should be called.
This could lead to crawl budget and keyword cannibalization issues on large websites.
Tagging Is Also Concerned With Thin Content
A user can sometimes create tags that have only one result.
However, if the competition is low enough, as it is with this made-up word, these single-result pages will still index and rank.
It might not be anything to be concerned about.
However, if the crawl budget is an issue and the more important articles are not being indexed quickly enough because Google is spending too much time on thin, low-value pages, then this is something to look into.
Tagging Technical SEO Best Practices
There is little difference between technical SEO best practices for tagging and what is generally considered best practice.
“Google Search does not specifically differentiate and treat differently category pages or filter pages or search pages or tag pages from other pages. “
Technically, each of the following URL structures could be used for tag pages, assuming each tag has only one URL variation:
Automation of Internal Linking
Tag pages can be used to automate internal linking. To accomplish this, have the system automatically link to the tag overview page when that word appears for the first time in the copy.
For more information, see the following snippet from a Guardian article about Liverpool.
It links to its Liverpool tag overview page on the first mention, but not on subsequent mentions.
In my opinion, having every mention of the word linked, as seen in the following snippet from a fantasy football article, is excessive.
The use of topic HTML sitemaps is another important factor in terms of internal linking.
These sitemaps will provide an additional link to each topic created on the website, reducing the likelihood of tag pages becoming orphaned.
For scalability, as shown in all of the preceding examples, using an organizational method of alphanumerical pages can help reduce the reliance on pagination.
HTML sitemaps can also be used to improve the internal linking architecture of a website.
Take, for example, the Guardian’s tag organization for content related to various football teams and leagues, https://www.theguardian.com/football/teams.
HTML sitemaps for tags don’t have to be boring lists of links.
https://www.wellandgood.com/all-topics/ is an excellent example of using images to entice the end-user.
You could even try linking section pages to topics, as seen at https://www.sciencenews.org/topics.
Information architecture doesn’t have to be a snore, and the majority of publishers can do a lot better with their website’s taxonomy.
Tagging can be a publisher’s secret weapon for this challenge.
Tagging Page Structure for SEO
- H1 = Name of Tag.
- H2 = Article Headlines.
- Copy and internal links.
When it comes to page structure best practices, the Kate Middleton tag page on HelloMagazine.com is yet another excellent example.
It’s also a great resource for SEOs working for a news publisher who wants to do on-page optimization without relying on news articles that might have editorial red tape.
Is it necessary to index tag pages?
If a tag page offers a one-of-a-kind value, it should be indexed.
There are times when a specific tag page may be better served by not being indexed for the sake of the website’s health.
In those cases, it may be best to delete the tag page or instruct search engines not to crawl or canonicalize to another URL.
A tag content audit on existing tag pages is a very useful exercise to perform when determining whether a tag page should be indexed.
Assuming that work has been completed and that low-value tag pages have been addressed, tag pages should have their XML sitemap and be submitted to Google Search Console.
Both to track their performance in search results and index coverage.
Separating tag pages into their XML sitemap makes it easier for Google to discover and crawl all tag pages, as well as troubleshoot indexing issues.
Entity And Tagging SEO
The most significant advantage of tag pages for search engine visibility is in ranking for no longer trending news queries. The entities found within the stories are the subjects of the majority of news queries.
These should give you an idea of what you could tag from a story.
For example, we can extract these entities for this SEO news article Twitter cancels AMP using a semantic text analysis tool like Dandelion.
The tool listed below is free to use and will display all of the entities found in the text.
By default, it will display all entities discovered. It will also display the relevant Wikipedia data. When creating tag pages, all of the information is available to aid in the creation of the copy.
This can be a huge time saver when it comes to on-page optimization of tag pages.
The Keywords Are Entities
Another advantage of tagging entities is that they are frequently searched keywords.
Consider the following headline: Biden Meets with Trudeau of Canada and López Obrador of Mexico.
Typically, the full name of the person featured in the story will generate the most search volume.
We get the following results when we run this through the dandelion entity extractor:
Running all of this data through a keyword tool to check search volume reveals that famous people’s full names receive the most search traffic.
Based on that logic, it makes the most sense to create a tag page.
Text entity extraction data combined with search data can help inform tag creation recommendations. As a result, it makes sense to provide your editorial teams with information on the best tag name synonyms to use for SEO.
Automation of Tagging
One of the most important ranking factors for the top stories carousel is the SEO headline or (title tag).
Taking a cue from Axel Springer’s tech team’s work on generating SEO titles for news based on NLP modeling, tagging could aid in the automation of SEO titles.
To extract the entities, you could build internal editorial production tools based on semantic text analysis APIs using their suggested logic. Combine this with data from APIs for keyword search volume or the Google Search Console API.
You now have a tool to assist your editorial teams in making more informed SEO decisions about what to tag within an article and what keyword to use within a headline for SEO.
Is it better to tag manually or automatically?
Manual tagging of articles gives you more control over how many tags are published, as well as tag management features like naming and organizing tags.
The issue with manual tagging is that it is not scalable and adds extra editorial work. Tagging automation can be aided by text analysis tools.
There are even publisher tag management services, such as Open Callis, that will analyze the text and add tags to articles automatically.
This level of automation can provide great scale and help publishers reduce editorial workflow.
However, as we discussed above with crawl budget and content quality optimization, this approach can be problematic for SEO.
There is a happy medium for both SEO and users.
Text tagging software and search data APIs can aid in the automation of insights for tag discovery and selection. Tag management, on the other hand, should have editorial and SEO control for better optimization.
Tagging is an underlying mechanism of the modern web that is used by tech behemoths like Twitter and Google to aid their personalization algorithms.
Nonetheless, tagging can be a hindrance if it is not combined with technical SEO and content quality best practices.
Tagging for SEO, when done correctly, can improve organic optimization efforts with low effort high impact results for publisher sites.
Learn more from SEO and read How To Rank Content And Get Found In SEO For Tourism Brands.