Using Meta Pages to Gain an Online Publishing Advantage

People.com and other online publishers have new ways to attract spiders and readers to their online content using good Information Architecture and Meta Pages

With People.com‘s online readership soaring to more than seven million UVs (unique visitors) in May, many big and small publishers have asked me, “What’s up at People?”

The short answer is lots of searched-for content, new Information Architecture and some very creative meta pages…

Part of successful online publishing is writing about popular topics, topics that people are interested in and searching for. Otherwise, who’s going to read what you write? It becomes problematic, however, when you need to balance a popular editorial approach with a competitive edge in attracting traffic via Google and other search engines.

For instance, people love reading about celebrities. When Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan does, well, anything, people want to know all about it. Magazines go flying off the racks and websites are overloaded with traffic.

Sounds like a great market to get into, right? But the online celebrity news niche is so saturated that penetration is difficult—to say the least. How is an online publisher supposed to find a niche in the celebrity market, or any market, for that matter? Even People.com (America’s #1 magazine brand), is struggling to beat out the blogs for a page one search ranking for the name of an individual celebrity.

People.com uses couples meta pages to win #1 rankings in Google

While People.com does not show up on page one in Google for a search of “Tom Cruise” or “Katie Holmes,” People.com does show up on page one in Google for users who search for “Tom and Katie” or several other variations of the couple. Users search for Tom and Katie more than 100 times per day, according to WordTracker, and People.com is the number one result for all those searches. Give it a try and click thru to the meta page on Tom & Katie.

The key is to publish about the topics that everyone in your market loves—like roses for gardening, or Mustangs for cars—while also publishing about more niche-oriented and related topics, like aphids and fuel additives.

Defining a strategic editorial approach is a bigger problem online than in print. Your online content must be both popular and findable by search engines and users.

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Meta pages are essential to effective Information Architecture

Meta pages are webpages about other webpages (aka: topic pages, index pages, category pages or directory pages) . They list all the content your website has on a topic (keyword). They also have relevant meta tags in their code designed for easy reading by the search engine’s spiders.

For another example, check out Steven Spencer’s site. A series of categories is listed about a page down on the right navigation bar. Click on one and it will take you to a page loaded with relevant information.

Now, back to your online editorial strategy:

You should define about 20 to 50 topics that you feel comprise your overall editorial topic, but in a very general sense. You want these 20 or so keywords to be the big name issues in your publication’s topic. For People.com, they might be the 50 most popular celebrities. For a gardening website, they could be the 20 most popular flowers. For an HR website, the 20 most searched for polices or laws could guide you. You get the idea.

Make them the topics that people get passionate about; the topics that keep people buying publications like yours over and over again.

To find these topics, think about what phrases people would type into a search engine to find online content like yours. Ask yourself what topics people interested in your books, magazine and newsletters would want an email newsletter or update about (like the one you are reading). Also, check out WordTracker, a fantastic program for analyzing keywords and their keyword clusters.

Now you’re organizing your content into big name topics, giving Google and other search engines the chance to soak up the juicy content and put it on their results pages.

But don’t stop there!

You’ve been recognized by the search engines, but you are definitely not on the first results page, especially if you’re competing in the celebrity news industry against big time publishers like TMZ and People.

The way you can compete, and even beat the big publishers onto the first page of a Google search, is to create meta pages for your subtopics, too. Tom & Katie is an example of a conjunctive meta page as it only lists articles that are about both Tom and Katie. A gardening site might create a meta page for roses and aphids using the same principle.

For another example, check out how many subtopics Steven Spencer has his content organized into. These are more pages that search engines will index.

Using Wordtracker to Establish Your Information Architecture

When creating the Information Architecture for a new website, I use WordTracker to help me find the top 20 to 50 primary topics (most popular) and I use the lateral search tool to find the secondary keywords that will be key to bringing in traffic from Google.

Once you find your secondary keywords, start creating their meta pages and cross-linking between your content. You definitely want your secondary meta pages pointing to content on your primary keyword meta pages, and visa versa.

Now that you have these dozens of cross-linked meta pages with good meta tags, you officially have your editorial and SEO edge.

If you’re running a gardening website, and someone searches “roses aphids” in Google, and you have meta pages for the two words together, there is a great chance that your website will appear on the first result page. The more words in a search, the fewer pages to compete with for that sought after page one listing.

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Converting Searchers into Buyers

Once users click to your website, see your meta page loaded with content, and read a few of the listed articles on the topic they searched for, they become intrigued, because what they want is an answer to the question they have asked.

Then the users notice that you also have loads of articles on their favorite gardening topics (your 20 primary keywords) and they sign up for email updates on 5 or 6 of those topics. Success! You now have a reader who is worth $5 to $25 over a 12-month period in product sales or advertising impressions or some mix of the two.

It all starts with good Information Architecture

To summarize, for a strong online editorial strategy, create lots of meta pages, both for your primary topics and subtopics.

The subtopics will allow users to find you even if you’re not dominating your market, and your primary topics will give them what they want to keep them returning.

Adam T. Sutton contributed to this article.

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