The standout tag for Google News has been around for a couple years now but many news publishers are still uncertain about it. The questions I’m asked most often are how and when to use it, how well it works and if it is worth putting in the time and resources to support it.
Does the standout tag actually work? Yes it does, but only so often.
The primary way that it manifests within Google News is when an article in a lead story cluster is labeled “Featured.”
Here’s an example from today:
If you check the source code of that Los Angeles Times article you’ll see the standout tag:
Wouldn’t it be cool if I’d monitored how often the “Featured” label appeared on the Google News home page over a 6-12 month period and captured which publications were most often cited? Or put together a case study with several news sites to come up with a percentage on how often the using the standout tag generated a “Featured” label, and what kind of traffic it drove?
Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to do either of those things, which would certainly have made this a more interesting and data-driven post! Sounds like a good idea for a follow-up though, or if someone has already done something similar let me know and I’ll reference it here.
UPDATE: Check out my follow-up post: Success with the Google News Standout Tag: A 90-Day Study.
But I can share anecdotally that “Featured” articles from a variety of news sites do appear on the Google News home page with some frequency. And that sites I’m familiar with that use the standout tag do manage to get a “Featured” link from time to time.
How and When to Use the Standout Tag
The standout tag does work, and with Google News being a competitive space it is worth taking advantage of every available option to increase visibility.
So I do encourage news publishers to experiment with it; the key is to use it conservatively and have realistic expectations on what the return will be.
The purpose of the standout tag is to highlight limited instances of extraordinary work. To quote the Google News help page:
If your news organization breaks a big story, or publishes an extraordinary work of journalism, you can indicate this by using the standout tag. When determining whether to use this tag for your own article, consider whether that article meets the following criteria.
-Your article is an original source for the story.
-Your organization invested significant resources in reporting or producing the article.
-The article deserves special recognition.
-You haven’t used standout on your own articles more than seven times in the past calendar week.
Using the standout tag once in a while to attempt to give an extra boost to exceptional or high-priority articles is a good approach. Using it all the time or on articles that aren’t really all that extraordinary isn’t going to work.
That said, “big story” and “extraordinary” are subjective terms and it is not difficult to find examples of “Featured” articles for which those descriptions are debatable.
The LA Times article above is an interesting example in that the royal baby is certainly a big story, but what makes their article extraordinary compared to the others? I don’t know the answer to that, but they added the standout tag to their article while many others did not, and this got them in the Top Stories cluster.
So if you have multiple articles each week that roughly fit the Google News guidelines, by all means give the standout tag a shot on a regular basis. Just understand that you are not going to get a “Featured” article every day, week or even month.
At the end of the day the standout tag is a suggestion, not a directive. You are essentially nominating yourself for extra consideration, and there is no guarantee that you’ll get it. Other Google News ranking factors like what is happening in the news cycle, how many articles exist on a particular topic, which ones are most cited, etc. are still more important.
Be mindful of the seven articles (of your own) per week maximum too. The standout tag will likely be disregarded on sites that routinely overuse it.
Cite Articles on Other Sites Too
Using the standout tag to highlight coverage on other sites is a good idea too.
Google News is trying to encourage publishers to utilize it when they write an article that references the work of other news organizations. In practice this isn’t going to happen often as publishers aren’t usually willing to do it, even if it has to potential to be a win-win over time.
But for publishers with multiple titles, there are opportunities to employ the standout tag to support cross-network editorial coverage when appropriate. That is something that is worth testing out.
Will the Standout Tag Stick Around?
Another concern is that Google News has a tendency to promote new tags or features for a while and then discontinue them due to lack of adoption.
This has led some publishers to be leery of any new tag, for fear that they’ll apply valuable internal resources and staff training to something that doesn’t help that much and eventually just goes away.
The standout tag and the news_keywords tag have both raised such concerns from news organizations.
The fact is there is no way to know how long Google News will support the standout tag. If not many sites use it or too many abuse it, or if Google comes up with something else, it could certainly be discontinued at any time.
But the standout tag has just about made it to the two year mark, which is a good sign. And we know it works on a limited scale.
In addition the barrier to entry is relatively low. You need to create an option in the CMS to allow the standout tag to be added to an article (and preferably to prevent it from being used more than seven times per week). And you need to train the editorial team on how and when to use it, and as importantly manage their expectations on how frequently it will work.
Something that may generate a “Featured” link in one of every 10, 20 or even 50+ attempts (depending on how often you use it, and what you use it on) is hard to build a strong case for.
But it does offer a way to increase the likelihood of select pieces gaining prominent visibility in news search. That is something that nearly every publisher (that wants to be in Google News) wishes they had more of.
So I do think it is worth experimenting with.
Looking for more help with Google News?
Check out my post on The Most Common Google News Errors and How to Avoid Them.