As journalists, we are expected to adapt to many different and rapidly changing technologies and techniques in order to increase views, shares, clicks, etc. which attract users to our online articles and websites. At the same time, journalists don’t want to fall into the ‘clickbait trap.’ Still, journalists need to prove that their articles are engaging readers, and that’s where search engine optimization (SEO) can help.
What is SEO?
Think of SEO as free visibility for your site if you do it right. Many people assume SEO is purely marketing or ‘robotic’ writing and doesn’t relate to what they’re trying to accomplish with their online presence; however, that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.
According to Internet Live Stats, “Google now processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average (visualize them here), which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide.”
Knowing that people are increasingly searching for practically everything on search engines, how can you become more involved and benefit from these searches? How can you dive into this technical world of optimizing your content while keeping your journalistic ethics in check?
Here are the main areas of SEO in which every journalist should have a basic knowledge so they can implement in their online stories:
One of the most important areas of SEO involve keywords and queries—basically what people are searching for and how popular those searches are in search engines. Let’s say you live close to Pueblo, CO, and wrote a news article about a developing wildfire. Obviously, you want people to read your article especially since other local outlets will be ‘competing’ to break the story first. To increase your chances of visibility and higher ranking in search results, you’ll want to conduct keyword research.
Not so long ago, Google had a really awesome, free tool called Keyword Planner that gave you the average monthly searches of keywords; however, instead of an exact number, such as an 170 average monthly search volume, it now gives you a range, such as between 100–10,000—that are ultimately useless for our purposes here. Because of this, I would recommend using limited, free tools or biting the bullet and purchasing an account with Moz or other sites that include keyword research capabilities.
The goal of keyword research is to understand how many people are searching for keywords that are related to your article’s topic. The higher the searches and lower the competition, the more likely your article will receive better visibility and visits. Other tools involve typing in queries in Google and seeing what Google suggests under your search as well as related searches near the bottom of the first page of the search engine results page.
You can find more specific queries people are searching for—called longtail keywords—through Ubersuggest and Answer the Public; sites that are really helpful in determining what people are searching for.
After choosing a keyword or two that people are researching, then you can move forward to the next section.
After writing a great article and conducting keyword research, you want to make sure all of your hard work doesn’t go to waste. By inserting those keywords into certain areas on the back-end of the page, you are following the main ‘rules’ of SEO. Here are the seven areas of a page you should focus your SEO efforts on:
First and foremost, the page title of a news article is very important. Not only must you engage users to click on your article, but you must make sure it accurately represents the presented information. It should also include keywords that will increase its ranking in search engine results. But it’s easier than you think.After determining your keywords you can simply plop them as close to the beginning of the headline as possible. For example, let’s say ‘Pueblo Wildfire’ is a trending and breaking news story. People around the area and in the state are searching for ‘Pueblo wildfire’ to stay up-to-date with developments. One way you could approach this is by including ‘Pueblo Wildfire’ into the forefront of your engaging title: Pueblo Wildfire Consumes X Acreage in Less Than a Day.
Not only should the URL be short and concise, but you should place your main keyword into the URL, as well. For example, using the keyword from above, you could create a custom URL such as: domain.com/pueblo-wildfire-acreage. Mind you, your site may default to adding category names, tags, and/or dates in front of the customization; however, Google has dropped the requirement for news articles to contain numbers in their URLs.
Meta-title (aka page title) and headline are sometimes interchanged with one another. The meta-title refers to the title that a user will see if he or she hovers the mouse over the page’s tab, as we can see in the example below:
Like the page title, you’ll want to include your keyword near the beginning of the meta-title. Also, you’ll want to include branding in it, such as the example above (usually found at the end of your meta-title): “KRDO.com | …”This is what your meta-title will show up in a Google search results page, using the same example from above:
There are character limits you should follow. According to Moz, “Google typically displays the first 50–60 characters of a title tag, or as many characters as will fit into a 512-pixel display. If you keep your titles under 55 characters, you can expect at least 95% of your titles to display properly.”
Another item to focus on is the meta-description, or the brief description that shows up underneath URLs in search results:
Include keywords in the description but acknowledge these are most useful for click-through rates, so you’ll want to include between 150–160 characters and make it as unique and descriptive of the page as possible, see Moz for more details.
In addition to correctly sized images for social-media purposes and showcasing an interesting visual, you’ll want to make sure two elements behind the image are included: the title and alternative tags:
- Title Tag
The title tag isn’t important for SEO purposes, but if a user Pins the image then the title tag will—most of the time—fill the description text area. Also, including a title tag ensures your page is Section 508 compliant for those that use screen readers, or if the image doesn’t load correctly, then that text will still show up to describe the image.
- Alt Tag
The part of the image that IS crawled by search engine bots is the alternative tag (alt tag). You’ll want to ensure your keywords are included in this tag along with an accurate, natural-sounding description of the image—write as a human, not as a bot. Your images will stand a better chance of showing up in image search results, as well.
- Title Tag
- Body Text
Ensure your researched keywords are included within the body text of your article, as well. You’ll want to write as you normally do, but include the keywords a few times throughout your content, which is necessary to increase visibility to your article.
- Tagging and Categories
If the site you’re contributing to is a large site or has lots of past articles, then it’ll probably have a variety of tags or categories to help with organization and search. The tags and categories you choose to better describe your article will help define the URL at times as well as where it is within the site. This also helps with SEO as it gives a better idea of the covered topics in your article.
After completing your research, refining your article with keywords, adding engaging images and titles, and publishing it, you’re ready to share it on your site’s social media accounts! Ideally, users will click on the article, engage with others—and not try to bite each other’s’ heads off, and, most importantly, share it on their walls for others to interact with. You’re increasing the visibility of the article and the company’s brand, which is a great indicator that people are visiting your article to read about that certain topic.
- External Linking (link building)
Google will see your site as reliable and trustworthy if other equally trustworthy sites link to you. Think of it as a vote of confidence … one that will increase your site’s rank and visibility.Using the Pueblo wildfire as an example, you write an article with great stats, interviews with locals and professionals, and included great visuals. You use highly searched for keywords, include an engaging title, and share it on social media. Now let’s say another reporter who works at a media outlet farther away from the wildfire wants to write about it, as well, and loves your article. The reporter decides to link to your article from his/her article to give a more localized feel for his/her article.
With more external sites linking to pages on your site, Google will see you as a trustworthy source and move your page up in rankings for certain queries.
- Internal Linking
Another way to increase visibility to the pages on your site—and to make it easier for Google to crawl your site—is to link to other, already published pages within your site that are relevant to the page you are working on.Let’s say there was a past wildfire in your community that you reported on a while back, and you want to reference it in your story about the current wildfire, so you bring up the past wildfire and link to it. This allows users to not only learn more about wildfires in the area, but allows Google to crawl your site better and give ‘SEO juice’ to both your current and past wildfire articles.
The number one factor in ranking and visibility is the quality of your content. Make sure your content is accurate, sounds natural, and doesn’t lead your audience on.
You don’t have to be a SEO expert to implement these strategies into your online content, and the more you practice these tactics, the easier and more natural they’ll become. At the same time, as technology and online methods continue to evolve so will SEO. It’s a good idea to stay up-to-date with where SEO is going to ensure your efforts are paying off (see my earlier post about the best sites to follow for SEO and other technical updates).
Learn everything you need to know to get started with SEO in Moz’s beginner’s guide to SEO.
About the Author:
Katie-Leigh Corder is a SEO & Audience Development Specialist at F+W Media in Fort Collins, CO. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2011 with dual bachelor’s degrees from the School of Journalism and Media and the Department of History and is originally from Oak Island, NC. She’s been a member of SPJ since 2014 and loves the Society’s JournCamp trainings! Follow Katie on Twitter @kvcorder or her website at katieleighcorder.com.
Attribution of top image: By Periodicoelcolombiano (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons