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REVIEW: How to Clean Up Your Topic Pages

The arrival of the new year means it’s clean-up time–for your house, your garden, and for your topic pages! With legislative sessions around the corner in most of our states,  we want our tag buildouts and topic pages ready and clear so that our audience can find your content easily.

StateImpact Pennsylvania

So let’s review what our founding parents said about topic pages, or tag buildouts:

1. New tag buildouts/topic pages

To get started, read Elise’s post “What, Why and How on Tag Buildouts“. The post includes a video that tells you how to build a new topic page.

2. Managing your tags

Use Matt Thompson’s post “How to classify your posts & manage your tags” as a reference to manage your tags. Here’re some highlights.

The best tags are the dis­crete enti­ties (i.e. spe­cific indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions) named in your posts. In gen­eral, it’s best to use full names rather than abbre­vi­a­tions. Instead of tag­ging posts with “Obama,” use “Barack Obama.” It’ll look bet­ter as the title to a topic page, and it will aid search engine optimization.

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How to merge and delete tags

  1. Select “Post Tags” from the “Posts” menu in your WordPress admin.
  2. On the “Post Tags” screen, make sure the boxes next to the tags you’d like to merge are checked.
  3. At the top or bottom of the table, select “Merge” from the “Bulk Actions” dropdown.
  4. Type the name of the new merged tag, and hit “Apply.”

To delete tags, use steps 1 and 2 above, then select “Delete” instead of “Merge” from the “Bulk Actions” dropdown on step 3.

Corrections Page Buildout

We expect our journalists to be accountable to their audiences. One of the most effective ways to do that is to admit mistakes and promptly correct them. Digital reporters, as you build out your tags, I ask that you please build out a page called “Corrections and Clarifications” and include the following text:

Our ultimate goal is to be both accountable for our coverage and transparent with our audience. To that end, any StateImpact story that requires a factual correction will be updated to reflect the change, and include an “editor’s note” to say what the nature of the correction or clarification was. For example:

We reported that a student at the for-profit Kaplan University had been seeking a law degree and had not been told that participation in the program would not allow him to take the bar exam in Iowa. We should have made clear that the student was enrolled in a B.A. program in paralegal studies, not in a law degree program.

In addition, all online errors that get corrected will be tagged and aggregated on this page. Email [enter primary digital reporter email here] with your requests for corrections or clarifications.

How to classify your posts & manage your tags

Classifying your posts

Properly classifying your posts – assigning categories, tags, prominence and content types – is key to maintaining a search-friendly site. Be disciplined about your classification, and you’ll reap the rewards in Google. Once you finish writing a post, there are four types of categorization we’d like you to think about. Here they are, in order of importance:

1. Which categories does this post fall under?

Every one of your posts should fall under one or more categories. (Although if you’re finding that all of your posts are falling under too many categories, that’s a sign we should adjust the categories.) This should be an easy question for you to answer. Just don’t leave your post uncategorized.

2. Which tags apply to the post?

First, look through the post and apply the names of any specific individuals, organizations, places or products that are involved, and that you might conceivably write about again. (If someone or something is named in the post that you’re unlikely to ever write about again, or is not really related to the topic of your site, omit them from the list of tags.) If you know you’ve written about that tag before, be sure to use the same tag you used previously. Whenever you use a tag, it’s best to use the full name of the entity or organization you’re referring to.

You should have a list of concepts – i.e. things that are not people, organizations, places or specific products – defined in advance. Apply any relevant concepts to the post.

Most importantly, be consistent and disciplined in your tagging. For more guidelines on this, skip down to “Managing your tags,” below.

3. How prominently should this post be featured?

Right now, there are two tiers of prominence – “Featured” and “National” – and we will likely add a third – “Best Of.” Marking a post as “Featured” and setting a featured image will send it into the skybox at the top of the site (and into the site’s footer once it rotates out of that top position). Marking it as “National” will send it into that skybox as well, but will also allow the post to appear in the “Argo Network Highlights” widgets visible from individual post pages on other Argo sites.

Managing your tags

For the Argo sites, every time you create a tag, you create a topic page. As much as possible, we’d like the topic pages to be robust and authoritative on their subjects – both for user clarity and for search engine optimization. We also want to avoid making you have to consider which of hundreds of tags to attach to your posts. So we recommend being fairly disciplined about the use of tags. Here are some recommendations:

1. The best tags are the discrete entities (i.e. specific individuals and organizations) named in your posts.

Entities are the easiest topics to identify in your posts (you know if you wrote about the US Department of Education). They’re also the easiest for us to automatically aggregate links for in the Latest Links widget. If the entity is one you’re unlikely to write about again, or if its relation to the topic is only ancillary, you can skip it. Not every name that appears in your posts is worthy of its own tag.

Also, in general, it’s best to use full names rather than abbreviations. Instead of tagging posts with “Obama,” use “Barack Obama.” It’ll look better as the title to a topic page, and it will aid search engine optimization.

2. Begin with a list of tags in mind.

Tagging frees us from having to think in rigid hierarchies. But it definitely helps to start off by creating a set of tags you know will be salient to your beat, and thinking through which types of posts each tag would apply to. For every site, we’ve asked the editors to do this work in advance, so you should have a good list to start from.

3. Avoid overlap or redundancy in your tags.

If you’re producing a site about organized labor, you want to avoid having a tag for “bargaining” and another for “negotiations.” Having two overlapping tags dilutes your search engine optimization and increases the likelihood that neither topic page will represent an authoritative view of the topic in question.

4. Use WordPress’ “auto-suggest” and “most used tags” features.

After you start to type a few letters into the “Add New Tags” input box, WordPress will suggest options from your existing tags that match what you’ve typed. (See image at right.) If you don’t remember exactly which version of a term you’ve used as the tag (<em>Have I been using “television” or “tv”?</em>), type the first few letters, wait a moment, and see which words pop up. Or click on the link below the input box to view the most used tags, and select your options from there.

5. Keep your audience’s needs front-and-center.

Only create a tag if you think there’s a plausible chance it will be useful to your community. If you’re producing a site about organized labor and you write a post that mentions Scrabble, consider the minute likelihood that your audience will find much use in a Scrabble topic page, and avoid using it as a tag.