Media companies pay top dollar to big agencies to help them reorganise and restructure their websites in order to keep more readers engaged and motivated to browse through their pages.

Why? Well, website navigation directly affects user experience and the number of pages they visit, which – in turn – can influence the amount of revenue a publisher generates from ads and other digital revenue sources.

But you don't really need a fancy agency to achieve this. You can also solve issues by simply rethinking how you tag your content.

We learned this during a chat with one of our clients, Christopher Pramstaller, who is the Audience Editor at Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Improve engagement by rethinking how you tag your content

We wanted to talk about SZ’s refurbished tagging system, which they developed after introducing smartocto into their organisation. Our analytics app supported this reinvention and made content tags easier to manage. Since reorganising the tags, Christopher says, readers at Süddeutsche Zeitung have been able to navigate through the website and get where they want to be more quickly. As a result, readers stay engaged for longer.

In this article we'll share with you:

  1. Why properly tagging content is important (and how to make it work)
  2. Where most publishers go wrong
  3. How Christopher and Süddeutsche Zeitung replaced their bad content tagging habits with good ones that actually help their readers

What happens when publishers don’t pay attention to tags

Like many publishers out there, Süddeutsche Zeitung didn't pay much attention to how they tagged content for the simple reason that they didn't understand its importance. Before things changed and they adopted a smartocto approach, Süddeutsche Zeitung had only a semi-regulated tagging system in place. It was SEO focused (meaning it was focused on keywords) and the editors didn't realise how visitors could use tags to quickly surf the site and stay on the topic that interested them.

It was only a matter of time before this ad hoc approach to tagging content created clutter on the site, with some tags having quite a lot of articles under them.

With a distorted influx of new articles every day, certain tags changed over time as they overgrew the topic they were initially covering. Tags related to big subjects got polluted with random content and – like most publishers online – Süddeutsche Zeitung found out that they had a lot of unnecessary duplicate tags that were disrupting their user navigation.

To take just one example, “Chancellor Merkel”, “Chancellor Angela Merkel”, “German Chancellor Angela Merkel”, “A Merkel” were all tags being used on SZ. Every one of these variations had a number of articles in them, but none gave a complete overview.

So yes – problems started to emerge left and right.

Time to up the tagging game

There were two main reasons that pushed Süddeutsche Zeitung to rethink how they tag their content:

  • They experienced difficulties analysing their content. Süddeutsche Zeitung needed something that was bigger than articles, but smaller than sections. In order to successfully analyse similar content, articles had to be organised into clusters. But in many cases, these were too large due to the excessive amount of topics, making them impossible to work with.
  • It was important to cluster articles with similar variables into certain tags, because they weren't necessarily covering the same topic.

A clear tagging system helps to optimise your site and content for search engines

Audience editor Christopher Pramstaller also believed that a clear tagging system would be able to help his organisation better optimise their site and content for search engines as well. As he said:

“In a library, you need good organisation to actually be able to find the right books. If the shelves aren’t positioned in a certain way, people will just put books away at random and you will never find them again."

A system that makes tags actually work

This is the starting point: come up with a single strategy and stick to it. If you want your tagging system to make sense, you can’t do a bit of everything. Find a way to organise your content that will actually provide your readers with a better experience and easier navigation through your site.

When working out a new tagging system, you should:

  • Go granular: broader may work better for categories, but when it comes to tags, specific is better
  • Fill your content containers well: a tag with a plethora of information on a very specific topic is likely to keep a reader more engaged than a tag that has only one or two pieces of content behind it (think near-empty container). If you are creating a new tag, make sure you have content that fits it
  • Think about the right SEO angle: do readers search for the acronym or the spelled-out version? The singular or plural construction? Use Keyword Planner and check SERPs to find out
  • Keep it simple – no over-tagging allowed: a single post should only have two or three tags that fit the bill

Once you come up with a system, you will need to get everyone on board to make it a success. Really make an effort here, because getting people engaged with new ideas is never as easy as you might think.

Making the new tagging system a success

In Süddeutsche Zeitung’s case, Christopher needed to get the section editors on board with his idea first before he could take things any further. He sat down with them one by one and started looking at tags from different angles and perspectives to find a better way of re-organising them.

Tags are an invaluable tool to plan and organise content

Luckily, smartocto was able to offer support during this phase. The editorial staff identified tags through the app and could see which were being used and how they were performing. The editors now no longer consider tags to be something abstract that's used only for SEO, but appreciate it more and more as an invaluable tool to help plan and organise.

So, does this new system mean that there’s a limit in terms of the number of tags allowed? Not at all. Christopher:

“There’s no limit on how many tags a certain article can have, as long as the main tag is correctly assigned. Thanks to our new system, you can actually see in the smartocto tool whether you have chosen the right or wrong tag for your article. If you look at a certain tag, let’s say a month after you placed it, and the articles don’t show up at all – you have probably missed the mark.”

Tags are great tools to organise and analyse content. They are bigger than articles but smaller than sections. For a site like Süddeutsche Zeitung, which publishes a huge amount of content on a number of different subjects each day, tags are a useful feature for readers who are looking to go deeper into a topic and learn more about it or its theme.

Steps to successful tagging

To successfully introduce a new tagging system and actually make it work, you need to prepare yourself for organisational, technical, and cultural change. It requires the right tool (or set of tools), a structure or organisation that has the expertise and capacity to use these tools, and a culture that’s open to embracing the change you’re introducing.

Every organisation is unique, but the processes and usual hiccups tend to be universal. That said, it may surprise you to hear how long it took Christopher and his team to come up with a new tagging system.

An hour.

Yup, you read that right. Organising and clustering tags for better content visibility and discoverability is essentially about making logical rules that everyone should follow. The task of cleaning up the mess that occurred due to the absence of a unified tagging system might not be exciting, but it’s necessary in order to establish a good foundation for the future. To make tags work, you have to acknowledge it’s actually a collective responsibility.

Now that you know how to organise tags, discover how smartocto can help. Drop us a line to schedule an exploratory meeting!

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