Article tags are commonly used by news outlets to target search keywords and identify topics within a story.
However, tagging has no impact on audience size and does not necessarily generate more page views, according to the latest Authority Report from analytics platform Parse.ly.
So how can publishers make tags work harder for them?
Some publishers are now going beyond “keyword tags,” notes the report, and are instead using “knowledge tags” to classify stories by elements such as content type, paywall access or to flag up native advertising and sponsored content.
“There’s so much content being produced on various topics that publishers are realising tags are a good way to analyse engagement levels with different kinds of content, and get some insights out of those analyses,” explained Parse.ly’s chief technical officer Andrew Montalenti, speaking to TheMediaBriefing.
A recent Nieman Lab article highlighted how The New York Times’ R&D Lab is using article tags to “create new products and find inventive ways of collecting content”.
In fact, the Times believes tags as so important it has developed a “robot” to automate the tagging process, analysing text as it’s written and suggests tags along the way.
Tagging by type
At other outlets, publishers are using tags to identify different story formats such as video, longform and shortform.
Tagging articles in this way allows publishers can get better insights to see, for example, how attention time and social sharing differs between different content types.
Technology site Ars Technica uses tags in this way to identify its three main content types – briefs, reports and articles.
Briefs are – as the name suggests – shortform pieces, while reports are more in-depth, longform stories. Articles represent Ars Technica’s standard style of publishing.
According to Montalenti, Ars Technica were surprised to find attention time did not mirror what they anticipated based on the level of difference between the three content types.
“They found the longform reports were only getting about twice as much time on site as the briefs, but in many cases these long form reports were 10,000 or 15,000 words – so there’s no way people were completing the articles,” he explained.
“It led them to realise maybe they should experiment in the space between these two content types to get better action.”
Tagging for monetisation
Another popular use of tags is around the monetisation space, allowing publishers to better report back to advertisers on how sponsored content is performing – and also to justify their rate cards.
“By far one of our most popular use cases for tags is for tagging sponsored or native content,” said Montalenti.
However, tags are also being used to denote paywall access, particularly as publishers continue to experiment in the space between free content and blanket subscription models.
Increasingly, said Montalenti, sites with metered or ‘soft’ paywalls are using tags to indicate whether a story is behind a subscription or not, and to identify whether a particular story is a critical driver of paywall subscriptions.
The Globe and Mail in Canada, for example, uses tags to identify paywall access using a colour coding scheme. Red is for stories behind the paywall, yellow is part-paywall, with only the first few paragraphs visible, and green stories are freely available.
While the colour-code system is only visible from the back-end of the site, the use of tags allows Globe journalists to look at what people are reading in a specific category, explained editorial head of digital Kevin Siu in an email to TheMediaBriefing.
“For example, we could look at the most popular red articles over a given period,” he said.
“That would tell us whether our subscribers are reading the stories we’re publishing exclusively for them.”
Beyond topical tags, knowledge tags are often used to power product features such as content recommendations, as seen on the online current affairs magazine Slate.
For example, a sports news site could use knowledge tags to flag up stories around particular teams and players, while an entertainment site could tag all content around a certain celebrity.
When a reader clicks through to a story with one of these tags, it allows publishers to offer up other stories with common tags to provide more context and in-depth information.
In doing so, tags can also be used to surface stories from a publisher’s archives.
Tagging for social
Of the almost 400 media organisations in Parse.ly’s network, Facebook has now overtaken Google in terms of site referrals, according to the latest Authority Report.
Traffic from Facebook to the Parse.ly’s network has consistently climbed to reach almost 40 per cent in July, up from just 10 per cent in March 2012.
Google, on the other hand, made up around 35 per cent of total traffic referrals, showing not much of a change over the last three years, which referrals falling consistently since December 2012.
Effective article tagging can be a way for publishers to better understand “detailed and sometimes capricious” nature of Facebook’s algorithm, said Montalenti.
Tagging for content strategy
70 per cent of publishers in Parse.ly’s network – which includes Condé Nast, Upworthy, Mashable and The Telegraph – use tags.
The average number of tags per post is 5.2, according to Parse.ly data compiled from May to July, with publishers using an average of 450 tags per month.
However, publishers who don’t use article tags accumulate 1 million average daily page views – almost double that of publishers who are using tags (612,000 average daily page views).
Despite this, Montalenti believes article tagging offers big opportunities for publishers in terms of developing a content strategy, particularly to evaluate whether newsroom resources are being used efficiently.
“It would be interesting for publishers to look at pieces they invest a lot of effort in, like longform interactive pieces, video content… and to tag them appropriately with various kinds of effort levels and collaborative metrics, like how many authors went into the piece or how long it took to research,” he explained.
By doing so, newsrooms can then refer to their site analytics to see whether the time invested in such stories is paying off in terms of engagement time and social sharing.
However, while tagging can play a key role in informing content strategy, it is important not to forget that clicks and shares are not always an indicator of high-quality, valuable journalism.