Week 6 – Topic Pages

22 Feb

Staying on Point with Your Topics

Topic pages are the next step in online journalism. They represent a step up from a site’s search page: sets of articles and content directed around a who, what, when, why or how. Content managers are inspired to create topic pages by watching what users are searching for.

The simplest topic pages start out with searches of sites, either by curious users or outside search engines. From there, editors can refine the site to display the filtered content based on tags or certain recurring words, going from a jumbled flow of information to a more refined stream. The ultimate goal is to improve the results page to the point that the users and search engines make it their point of reference (bringing in more search traffic and advertisers); the best and easiest way to do this is by giving readers in-depth context on the story or topic.

Naturally, there’s a point where the topic page has to evolve past a “search results page” to maximize SEO. This is where the curation skills of editors and designers come into play. As with all good journalism, it’s important to try to be first on a topic, but if you take a little extra time and make sure you have the best-quality site, you’ll be rewarded.

Some of the best topic pages are those linked to one set of stories or a narrow topic. The tighter your focus, the easier it is to create a more in-depth topic page. Consider the Arizona Republic’s BCS page. By creating a page for the investigative series the paper did on the bowl games, the Republic is able to draw in traffic from everyone searching about the BCS controversy. And by includeing relevant links to pages describing certain aspects of the BCS, like BCS conferences and the details of the cashflows that the series gets, the Republic avoids overwhelming the reader with a flood of detailed content while accurately showing what the site is about. The mention of the Fiesta Bowl controversy on the page also ensure that the series will pop up in “related” lists on search engines across the nation.

The Chauncey Bailey Project is another great example of a topic page evolving. With so many journalists working on the smae case they realized they needed an effective way of oirganizing their contributions online, and the site was born. The important elements are all there, like a feed to relevant stories, a “feature spot” for the group’s latest work, and a prominent “about” section to give the reader background and eliminate any notions of bias.

The narrow focus serves topic pages well, which leads to “evergreening” – keeping the topic’s writing current and relevant outside the newscycle. Robert Niles writes that the best way to keep your topic evergreen is to have a tight focus on one particular issue at a time. The fewer elements you have kicking around on your topic page the better, because this gives the journalists more time and energy to pursue specific issues and ideas in their stories.

This “niche” idea runs into the idea of “new journalism” previously discussed. While it can be confusing for some journalists, the idea is that with enough work these ideas will be fleshed out and you’ll have a site that will stay relevant as a reference point and lead to increased traffic long after the topic has faded. The Knight Digital Media Center freely admits that its model for great topic pages is Wikipedia, because as a frequently updated reference site it has well-established pages to handle a wide range of topics. It’s up to the editor to check the site’s traffic and stay on top of current events to anticipate what is going to need a focus, and when. The biggest key to success with topic pages is adaptability.

The prospect of creating a topic page may seem daunting. Fortunately, Delicious here to help. Delicious is a feed-based site that’s very useful for content management . It allows us to compact lists of relevant articles and sources into small, easier-to-manage links. So instead of showing you

  • a
  • boring
  • list
  • of’
  • links
  • about
  • UF

I can display them in stack form. The stack is essentially its own topic page, which makes Delicious an extremely useful resource in the quest for aggregation. The feed form, aesthetically speaking, just looks better than a link or a set of links.

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