One of the biggest advances to search engines and search engine optimization has happened in the last few years in the area of Semantic Search. But specifically, search engines have focused on the understanding of Entities and their representation within computational models and link analysis. Advances in Schema, a language developed to improve semantic understanding of presented data, combined with this focus on entities often defined within the schema presentation layer, give the extra meaning and context that enable search engines to provide better results to end users.

“In some implementations, search results are retrieved from a data structure. In some implementations, the data structure also contains data regarding relationships between topics, links, contextual information, and other information related to the search results that the system may use to determine the ranking metrics. For example, the data structure may contain an unordered list of movies, along with the awards and reviews for each respective movie. The search system may use the awards and reviews to determine a ranking of the list, and may present the search results using that ranking.”

Lets move past this patent talk and instead discuss the visualization of data.

As most people are aware, creating standalone content without a link strategy is a good way of having your content not get discovered. You want to have links into your content so that it’s discovered, but also to pass along pagerank. At the same time, you want links from inside your content to other content within and outside your site so as to pass along page rank, but also for the user experience.

A biological neural network

This behavior generally falls within a “hub and spoke” model and/or a “pillar content” technique.

If you’re not familiar, the hub and spoke is predicated on the original patents of Google which gives weight to hubs (page rank) and disperses that ranking through its connections via links (spokes). Within this paradigm your web page is both the beginning and the end point of the equation, both providing value: it is the your authoritative web page that links to many resources, but it is also linked to heavily by others as a resource of note. Both sides of the equation create ranking value.

(scroll to the “Hubs” section of this article, “Why You Need To Understand Google’s Obsession With Time To Long Click“, by AJ Kohn)

The other common method is the development of pillar content, creating epic content “pillars” with lots of internal links to other content within your site, but a much larger top-down approach.

Both are valid strategies, but both could stand to have some improvement as it relates to Google’s movement towards understanding and rewarding Entity contributions (and possibly away from keywords).

The Tag Concept

A neural network

On a recent client project we were puzzling this and came up with what we believe to be a novel solution to the concept of Entity creation: we’ll utilize “tags” within our existing WordPress website.

Yes, tags. Those things that most people add to their blog posts and other content seemingly willy-nilly.

With small changes the tag functionality provided by WordPress presents an optimal approach to developing an entity structure within a website, but not within its normal usage. You see, most themes relegate tags to the footer of a blog post or hide them entirely, rarely if ever link to them within the body content, and while each tag creates a page that lists out each piece of content referencing it, there is rarely a field provided for contributing unique content to that page… generating a low-value page that most people turn around and de-index or don’t list in their sitemap.

But what if, instead, we use these tags as the “hidden layer” in a neural network, the extrapolation layer, enabling Entities to be extracted from the larger block of content. We develop them as a second level of content, trained by the larger “posts” of data from which we have contextual links to/from, as well as building them out as their own individual nodes of value.

Cleaning up the Tag list

For most websites the tag list is a dumping ground of failed SEO. Some people used them as a keyword list, in the hopes of having an affect on rankings, others had no idea what to do with them so they just made ever-growing keyword lists. Those lists then got so bad that, when presented by the common SEO plugin Yoast on whether or not to have a sitemap generated for the tags, often opted against it. These pages are often also recommended to be no-index from SEO people, mainly because most sites maintain them so poorly.

The first step needs to be cleaning up your tag list. Try to reduce the list to Entities that bind your content together, entities that (in theory) would function well as potential Landing Pages from organic search queries. Proper nouns are a great place to start, as are major concepts that are discussed. Don’t think of them as categories, which are instead used for navigational purposes, but instead of topics that represent content clusters.

Extending the Tag content

By default the tag management within WordPress includes three fields: Name, Slug, Description. However, most themes do not display the description field, and because of how most people create tags (while editing other content), it’s rare that website owners ever develop the tag content using the description field.

Once that content is developed it’s then necessary to add the description field to your theme (on pages such as the tag display page):

<?php if (is_tag()) { ?><div class=’tag-description’><?php echo tag_description(); ?></div><?php } ?>

Using this we’ve now transformed what was a simple listing page, a page showing a linklist of content using the tag, to a content page that includes links to related content. See the Atlantic Neptune as an example.

Internal links to the Tags

These tag pages are now set up, but you can do more: it’s time to strengthen the bonds of your Entities by creating an internal link structure from the pages discussing topics to the tag pages for those topics. While we could rely simply on the tag page being there and the tags being indexed due to the sitemap, increasing the internal contextual links can aid both the reader and the search engine by enabling that secondary navigation to the Entity while also passing along pagerank to a topical page. Using your website’s search capabilities, go back end edit pages that mention the Entity and add internal links within the body content to the Entity (tag) page.

Submitting the Sitemap

If you’re using WordPress you’re probably also using Yoast to take care of your basic SEO needs. Using Yoast you’ll want to configure your XML sitemaps for Media, but also now for Tags.

Once the sitemap is enabled head to Google Search Console and submit the new sitemap to the listing.

After a few days you’ll want to start looking for the results of your new tag pages within the Google index. Head into Google Search Console again, go to the Performance Report, and then filter by pages containing /tag/ in the URL. You’ll now see all clicks, impressions, rankings, etc. for all of your tag pages and be able to track their performance.

Incorporating Schema

Last but not least, don’t forget to incorporate Schema into your template/theme code! If you’re not familiar with schema and microformats please read our primer here. While it would be useful to be able to know the best possible schema format to use for your tag, as they’re likely a wide variety of types, it might be best to default to the “Thing” schema to cover all of your options.

You can test your implemented schema using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool.

Why this link strategy is different

Most link strategies are based on linking content pieces to each other, equals to equals – they don’t create this additional, secondary step of creating topical nodes (Entities). However, by coupling the typical approach of direct linking with the building of Entities within the website, we should be able to create a smarter content strategy that advances Google’s understanding of the website and the content within it.

And with it, hopefully be rewarded.