SEO for Journalists: How to Optimize for Your News Website?

SEO for Journalists: How to Optimize for Your News Website?

Information needs to reach the largest number of people. The more people get information from reliable sources, the more our society becomes stronger. 

That’s what every journalist or news portal wants — and that’s one of the main goals of SEO for journalists.

Especially now, in the era of fake news, expanding the reach of quality information is crucial. 

So, if one of the great sources of current information is Google, journalists and credible vehicles must dedicate themselves to gaining visibility in the most used search engine in the world.

That’s why SEO is no longer exclusive to Digital Marketing, also invading the newsrooms. 

Journalists need to be concerned with fact-finding and news writing, but now they must also know what SEO is, how to use keywords, and how to gain backlinks.

Okay, reaching the top positions on Google is no easy task. Journalists do not have this expertise, and the competition is huge! This article will help you understand how the search engine works and how to stand out on it. Keep on reading if you want to learn:

What is SEO and what does SEO for journalists mean?

SEO is a set of optimization strategies for websites, with the aim of improving their positioning among the search engine’s organic results

The focus is usually on Google, which dominates the market share for search engines worldwide.

 Google dominates the market share for search engines worldwide.
Source: StatCounter

Today, Google is used to find answers to any and every question we could ask, and the internet brings a multitude of information to users.

They could spend days reading all the pages that appear in the results. But of course that is not what happens: they remain on the first page, especially the first few positions. These are the most viewed and clicked positions that SEO strategies aim to achieve.

Therefore, SEO for journalists intends to conquer these coveted positions for the pages of journalism professionals. 

The goal is to appear among the very first search results for keywords related to the topics that your news pieces, articles, interviews, and columns address.

As we said before, people search for everything on Google — including news about current events, data you collected years ago, people you’ve interviewed, among other subjects you may have reported on your website.

Thus, SEO for journalists makes their pages appear in the first few results in response to these searches.

What are the advantages of SEO for journalists?

SEO for journalists is one of the solutions to adapt the information industry to the changes brought about by the digital age

If print journalism is losing space to digital media, you must look for readers and subscribers on the internet.

In the graph below, you can see how the circulation of printed newspapers in the United States has decreased in the last few decades:

Many vehicles migrated to the web, launching portals and news websites. However, the change doesn’t stop there: these vehicles also need to understand the strategies to excel in this environment.

SEO is one of them, resulting in a series of benefits to media survival and competitiveness. 

Let’s see what these advantages are!

Visibility

Google’s top positions gather more visibility. Estimates show that only 0.78% of users click links on the second page of Google results.

Therefore, SEO for journalists helps your website appear on the first page so people can easily find it.

Organic traffic

Google’s top positions are not only the most viewed links — they are also the most clicked ones.

When users click on your link, they join your organic traffic statistics. That means you did not have to pay for the digital ads or media that made these potential readers reach your website.

Monetizing

When migrating to the digital environment, the journalism segment adopted different ways to monetize its business, such as webpage advertising and paywalls.

Thus, increasing the number of readers you attract to your website by using SEO, you can also increase the number of users clicking on the ads on your website or becoming subscribers to your digital newspaper.

Authority

The links that appear in the first few Google results gain authority in the market.

It’s as if they received a seal of trust from the search engine, which placed those sites at the top because they have quality content, delivers the best responses, and offer the best user experience.

The basics of SEO for journalists: the main concepts you need to know

Let’s now go into the fundamental concepts about SEO you need to know in order to apply it to journalism.

First of all, you need to understand that Google’s mission is to organize all the information on the internet to provide users with the best answers to what they are looking for. 

In order to do this, Google uses bots and algorithms that crawl, index, and rank web content.

For bots to crawl and index your pages, they need to be able to find and understand what they say. This is the first step of SEO.

But the golden ticket is ranking. Since Google’s creation in 1998, the search engine has constantly been evolving its powerful search algorithm, which defines the ranking of websites on the search results page (called SERP).

In the beginning, the search engine did nothing more than evaluate if the searched keyword corresponded to the website content. Then, it started to consider links from other websites as a sign of the authority for a given webpage.

Today, the algorithm is already so intelligent, with a multitude of classification criteria, that it understands which pages offer the best user experience.

Therefore, this is the focus of an SEO strategyoffering the best user experience.

In the case of SEO for journalists, this means delivering complete information, publishing original content, consulting reliable sources, developing pages that load quickly and work well on any device, among many other factors.

It’s clear, then, that SEO is not just a matter of coding and programming. Although technical optimizations are essential, content is the main engine for SEO strategies.

On news websites and portals, the quality of the content is even more important. 

Google is very concerned about the reliability of content delivered by news websites, with the intention of protecting users and fighting the spread of fake news.

In addition, Google knows that many users search for recent news on the internet and, in those searches, prioritizes results from websites and news portals.

It’s no coincidence that Google created Google News (as seen in the image below) and the Main News section, highlighting the journalistic coverage of several media outlets.

Google trusts in journalism. So, show them that they can also trust in your vehicle.

google news

On-page SEO and Off-page SEO

The criteria used by Google to classify pages in order are called ranking factors. They can be divided into on-page and off-page factors.

On-page SEO optimizes elements related to the pages of the website itself. This includes the page title, URL, images, page speed, and the content itself.

Google uses these factors to better understand what’s on the page and what the experience it offers visitors is like.

On the other hand, Off-page SEO looks outside the page — that is, to the links it receives from other sites, called backlinks. The search engine understands that this reveals the level of authority and reliability of the page.

Thus, Off-page SEO optimization focuses on receiving more links from sites with authority on the web and that Google trusts.

Basic SEO tips for news websites and portals

Let’s now see some basic SEO tips and elements that should always be optimized if you want to move up on Google.

Ensure the quality of technical SEO

Technical SEO is the basis of optimization. If you don’t have a website that can be crawled, understood, and indexed by Google’s bots, it will never appear on the SERP, even if you do an outstanding job on other optimizations.

Google Search Console is the technical SEO’s best friend. This tool helps to identify crawl problems, blocked URLs, server errors, redirect errors, and pages with a 404 error.

URL structure is another important factor. They should be descriptive, rather than including codes and numbers that say nothing. Thus, the user and the bot can understand the page’s main subject by the URL alone.

Technical SEO is also responsible for improving page speed and optimizing the site for mobile devices, with responsive web design or AMPs (Accelerated Mobile Pages). These points are crucial for user experience and ranking.

Usually, technical SEO is more up to developers than journalists because it deals with website coding and architecture. 

However, it is important that you know the main technical optimization points to solve problems that might affect the pages.

Stay focused on content

Although technical optimizations and browsing experience are important, it’s the content that engages, retains visitors, and turns visitors into business opportunities. 

They will only become readers and subscribers if they like the journalism you do.

Google understands that too. This is clear from Google’s search quality assessment guidelines

In that document, the search engine says that a page can only be considered of high quality when it has a high level of EAT:

  • Expertise (what the content author specializes in);
  • Authoritativeness (the authority of the content author, of the content itself, and of the website);
  • Trustworthiness (again, of the content author, of the content itself, and of the website).

Therefore, these magic words should guide your website. According to the guidelines, journalistic articles with a high level of EAT are written with journalistic rigor and factually accurate content to help understand events (instead of confusing or misinforming the reader).

The content quality of a journalistic website can also be attested to by the presence of editorial policies.

editorial piece by bbc

Another important point is to follow Google News’ content policies, which comply with the guidelines. They reinforce the importance of having transparent data on when the content was published and who wrote it, on the need to not hide or disguise sponsored content, and of only publishing original content.

Google may reduce the ranking of pages that have duplicate or plagiarized content. 

Even if it’s not plagiarism, the literal reproduction of texts and images from press releases and news agencies can be considered duplicate content by Google and thus damage your SEO strategies.

Research keywords

Keywords are pillars of content and SEO strategies. Google looks at the keywords in your content to understand whether or not they match the terms the user searched for. If this happens, your page can be activated in the search results.

Therefore, it’s important to know which words should be used to increase your content’s chances of appearing on the SERP. 

In order to do this, try to understand how users search about the subjects you address and what they aim to find with these searches. Keyword research helps you identify those terms.

This research also helps you notice search trends. If you are researching terms related to “municipal elections”, for example, you may find that many people are searching for “municipal elections date” or “municipal elections postponement”.

Therefore, it may be worth writing about these subjects to appear in these searches.

For keyword research, you can use tools such as:

However, the keywords you find should not be repeated several times as you write, as a way to try and force ranking. Google could understand it as keyword stuffing (a black hat practice).

The search engine gets increasingly more intelligent when it comes to recognizing human language and understanding how the words relate to each other. 

So, just write naturally and explore the semantic field in the content, with related terms, variations, and co-occurrences.

This improves the reading experience and helps Google better understand your content.

Optimize on-page factors

Keyword research identifies the terms that should be used in the content. 

However, it’s not just in the main text that they should appear — there are several other on-page elements that should be optimized with your keywords. They are:

  • page title;
  • subheadings;
  • images.

Page Title

The page title is the main element that Google looks at to understand the subject of a page. In journalism, the title corresponds to the news headline.

However, it is important to know that there are two types of title (and they can have different texts): the Title Tag and the H1. 

The Title Tag appears in the SERP, in the browser tab, and when the article is shared on social media. H1, on the other hand, is the title that appears on the page itself.

So when coming up with headlines from now on, use informative phrases, but also include the keyword and consider the context in which it appears.

Subheading

Subheading must also include keywords (and their variations) and should be marked with heading tags in the code, according to the text’s hierarchy (H1, H2, H3…). 

This helps Google understand the structure of the text and improves the reading experience, by providing scanability to the reader.

Images

Image optimization is another important on-page factor when it comes to SEO for journalists. 

Use alternative text (alt tag), file names, captions, and image URLs to describe what it contains, and to take advantage of using the keywords. Google doesn’t read images, so you need to use these features to describe them.

Insert internal links

Internal links — from one page to another within your website — are also part of on-page SEO. 

They help Google index your pages correctly and understand what content is most important, as well as making the user spend more time browsing your news.

Linking to the most recent news on the website home page, for example, lets Google know that new content is available — and, because it’s linked on the main page, the search engine understands that it is important.

Another way of using internal links is to link to pillar content in various secondary publications related to it. 

Thus, if several contents point to that same page, Google understands that it is highly important and raises its ranking.

In the example below, the first link in the text goes to the page that reunites all the Joe Biden content on the website:

Look for link building opportunities

Link building is the essence of off-page SEO. 

It consists of gaining backlinks from other sites of quality and authority, so that they transmit their confidence to your pages. It doesn’t just depend on you, but there are some strategies to be successful here.

First, try to focus on the quality of the content, which will naturally generate links to your pages.

You can also use different formats, such as videosinfographics, and podcasts, thus increasing the chances of your content being shared and linked to.

Check out, for example, how cool this interactive content about how the coronavirus spreads in a subway is:

You can also research the backlinks your competitors are getting. Thus, it is possible to identify opportunities for sites that can link to your pages as well.

You can speak directly to them, create a relationship, and suggest publications that may interest them. 

You will hardly see large media companies doing this, but it is a good strategy for small vehicles.

Another idea is to propose partnerships, such as producing news articles in a partnership or a guest publication.

You can identify blogs and influencers who have good content and who have already linked to your site or that are potential stakeholders. Then, propose that to them so you can gain quality links and reach new audiences.

Advanced SEO for journalists strategies

So far, we’ve seen some basic SEO optimizations that are important for journalism websites and portals. Now, what about we go a little deeper into SEO for journalists?

Below, you can see some advanced tips!

Featured snippets

Featured snippets are excerpts that Google selects from the pages to present the best answer directly on the SERP. 

They appear in Google’s “zero position”, above the first organic result, to optimize users’ search experience. 

Appearing in featured snippets is an opportunity to further increase page visibility and gain more clicks.

In order for this to happen, it’s ideal that you format the content according to the format used by Google in these highlighted sections (paragraph, table, or list). 

It’s also important to include your keywords. In the example above, notice that the keywords are bolded.

However, none of this guarantees that you will get featured snippets — this is a decision made entirely by Google’s algorithm.

In addition, they are usually created for consolidated topics, so it’s worth thinking about them for highly demanded evergreen content rather than for breaking news (although Google’s algorithms keep getting more and more agile!).

featured snippet

Google Discover

Google Discover is another valuable opportunity to gain visibility. This feature consists of a content feed on the Google mobile app, based on each user’s interests and suggested by Google, without them having to search for anything.

In general, Google Discover prioritizes recent news and content, although it also features perennial content. So, news portals already have the upper hand here.

To increase the chances of appearing on Google Discover, you must also have high-quality images (at least 1200px wide), use AMP pages (we’ll talk about that below), and follow Google’s content policies for news.

google discover

AMP

AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages. These are pages for mobile devices with accelerated loading, which provides the best browsing experience. They have simplified content and coding to make them lighter.

As we’ve already seen, using AMP pages increases the chances of appearing on Google Discover. 

They are also prioritized in organic SERP. However, when it comes to SEO for journalists, the main thing is that they are requirements to appear in the Main News section of Google’s mobile search.

These are the pages that appear with the lightning bolt icon on the SERP (see image below). To appear there, they need to be developed in AMP with structured data from news articles. Look for a developer to do this.

AMP pages

Paywalled content

There is a controversy regarding paywalls and SEO. When vehicles put up a “wall” to block paid content, user experience is impaired.

If they come across blocked content, they immediately close the window, no longer click on that site on the SERP and send signals to Google that they didn’t like the experience. With that, the page loses positions in the ranking.

Thus, some vehicles usually use intermediate paywall models, which allow the user to access a quota of free articles or a part of the content before having to pay. This is a way to combine UX with the need for monetization.

To reduce the impact of the paywall on user experience, Google makes some recommendations, such as using monthly samples instead of daily (usually 6-10 free articles per month).

In addition, vehicles need to indicate to bots, using structured data, which content is protected under a paywall. 

Otherwise, that can be confused with cloaking, which violates the searcher’s guidelines (displays one content to Googlebot and another to the user).

paywall nyt

So, now you already know the main SEO guidelines for journalists and how to optimize a journalism website to gain Google positions.

Now, know that you can count on Rock Content to optimize your digital strategy, from SEO to content experience. Don’t miss out on the chance of talking to one of our experts about it!

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