Integrating SEO into the Newsroom
This is a special guest edition of SEO for Google News, where Jessie and Shelby from WTF is SEO? write about integrating SEO into newsrooms.
This edition of SEO for Google News is a special one. You may have seen that I wrote a guest newsletter for WTF is SEO?, the friendly rival newsletter dedicated to SEO for journalists. I wrote about crawl optimisation for news publishers for them, and I will be writing a much more technical follow-up to that one soon right here on SEO for Google News.
Since I was a guest on Jessie and Shelby’s newsletter, it’s only fair they get to write a guest piece for me. As both Jessie and Shelby have a wealth of experience in journalism and newsrooms, I asked them to write about how to best integrate SEO in news environments.
Here is their article - it’s full of details and links to resources, so grab a cuppa and settle in for this one.
Hello! We’re Jessie and Shelby, the co-founders and writers of WTF is SEO?, a newsletter about search for publishers. We’re so thrilled to be taking over SEO for Google News this week with our top tips for incorporating SEO into newsrooms.
Currently editors at The Globe and Mail (Jessie) and The Athletic (Shelby), we have both worked in a variety of newsrooms – small indies, niche outlets and national news publications – and are excited to talk strategy. Here's what we know about content, tech, and training for SEO after a decade in daily news.
Every newsroom is different. They are all chaotic in new and novel ways. And every newsroom approaches news, tentpole events, and evergreen coverage with a unique matrix of priorities, resources, and ambitions. Working in SEO for a newsroom – with your own set of goals – can be as challenging as it is rewarding.
Here are the different ways to integrate news SEO at your publication, from content to technical SEO, internal training and newsroom visibility, and what to do if you’re the only one thinking about search.
Dedicated SEO editors
As the go-to news SEO resource in the newsroom, the focus is to devise and communicate best practices, advise on daily news files, perform keyword research, and provide internal reporting.
SEO editors are also responsible for monitoring search engine results pages (SERPs) and tracking visibility in Top Stories and other news features. Editors employ SEO tools like Trisolute or NewzDash to monitor which stories are ranking for what keywords. They also review and edit on-page SEO factors like headlines, meta descriptions, article text, and internal links to improve ranking.
During breaking news, there are three key efforts for news SEO editors:
What do readers need to know: When a story breaks, look at Google Trends and other keyword research tools to see what people need to know. Your role is identifying the most relevant/used search terms to use for headlines, URLs, topic pages, meta descriptions, subheads, and the body copy. Also look at the breakout and rising queries that can be addressed in additional reporting.
How do readers need that information presented: Consider what search intent (the why of a query) signals: Searches that include “live” or “updates” indicate that a live blog could be useful.
How your coverage shows up in search: Check that your stories are being indexed quickly by Google. Consider making a tag/topic page to collect all of your content on the event. Do you need to add FAQ structured data to your Q&A files or implement LiveBlogPosting schema on your live blog? Part of the news SEO job is quality control and checking adherence to best practices.
As the story evolves, return to keyword research to see what readers are looking for and how, and use that data to inform the sked going forward.
Planning is the most important piece SEO editors can provide for tentpole events. Search is a long term effort – and the earlier your SEO priorities are established and communicated, the more likely you will perform well during the event. That means:
Getting content plans from editors then identifying any gaps. Editors and writers have an unmatched depth of expertise on their beats – but sometimes, they’re so deep in the weeds, explaining why something matters is missed.
Readers care about what they understand, so give them the tools to value your coverage. Develop content plans that both reflect the depth of your existing enterprise and provide context to new or potential audiences.
Content gap analysis isn't the only role for news SEOs for tentpole events. Also consider how to communicate SEO trends/best practices before and during planned news. Leave space for the breaking news side of tentpole events, and monitor search trends to ensure you’re on top of any trending/breakout searches.
New vertical SEO
When establishing a new vertical on your publishing site, use keyword research to identify key topic pages and on-page text (across the entire pillar) that are key coverage areas for your newsroom. Use these tips to ensure SEO is a priority in planning a new vertical:
Establish a clear mission statement and determine the appropriate search/SEO metrics of success. SEO metrics are almost infinite – identify and track the KPIs that best overlap with your mission statement and overall newsroom priorities.
Do keyword research: Considering branded keywords (how your current projects are found on search), and data for competitors (where do they rank, but you do not?)
Create a hub or section page: Keyword research should inform the hub’s page title (title tag and headline), the meta description and the URL. Consider tag or topic pages for entities and subtopics. Execute a consistent internal linking strategy (in every story on X topic, link back to X topic page and out to related coverage) to build E.E.A.T and topical authority.
Make authorship a part of the strategy: Individual author pages for every staff reporter, contributing opinion writer, and freelancer to signal their credibility.
On-page SEO best practices: Use our guidance to develop a set of standards for your outlet.
With any new project, monitoring and reporting is also key. Just after launch and at regular intervals, review your KPIs. Report back on your progress and advise strategic changes as needed.
We're team little effort, big impact. And while evergreen isn't necessarily little effort – it requires sustained attention – it is less overall work than always assigning fresh content, and relying on that for all of your traffic. Here’s how SEO editors can work with the broader newsroom on evergreen:
Make identifying and researching evergreen the task of SEO editors, and the updating, refreshing or rewriting a responsibility for reporters.
SEO editors can review Google Search Console or another tool to pull a spreadsheet of evergreen candidates, extracting – at minimum – the current headline, meta description, URL, time last updated, the keywords it is currently ranking for, and average position in search.
Editors can review that data along with providing additional keyword research, and give a content brief for reporters or writers. Refreshing the story is work that can readily be done by reporters at any time. Review their work, update and recirculate that evergreen content.
Teamwork makes the (evergreen) dream work. Share updated evergreen stories with social and distribution teams to ensure it’s recirculated across all platforms.
Trending stories and pitching ideas
Every day, stories trend on social media or search. When you look at the Daily Search Trends on Google Trends, you know it’s important to be part of the conversation, but aren’t sure how to move the story forward beyond the main news.
When pitching a story to a desk, there are a few things to consider:
Bandwidth. What are the available resources of the vertical you’re pitching? Can they take on the idea, or will they need help?
Lead with the audience – not search. Editors (and reporters) don’t want to hear, “This is trending with 20,000 searches” in a pitch. They want to know why it’s important for their readers/subscribers and how it helps the overall mission of the publication. Approach the pitch from the understanding that the idea will help people, not the robot.
What makes this unique? Is there a specific niche angle only your publication can provide? Always consider the branches of the story and what people will be looking for even hours after news breaks.
Include competitor stories on the same topic. This will do one of two things: Provide research to build a story off, or ignite a competitive spark. Only time will tell.
Pitching is a 360-degree concept. If you pitch an idea, be open to feedback or other ways the story can be crafted. A successful pitch is one that gets at the crux of the newsroom’s mission while providing a new piece of 10x content for readers.
Working on technical SEO in-house at a publication often falls on either the newsroom SEO editor or the engineer and development team. Very few outlets have a dedicated SEO editor, let alone a team. For this reason, we’ll discuss how to think about and prioritise technical SEO – with or without dedicated staff.
Having a dedicated technical SEO individual
A dedicated technical SEO person/team, is responsible for monitoring the search hygiene, site infrastructure and making gradual improvements over time. Depending on your publication’s organisational structure, this person could sit in the newsroom or with the development team.
Benefit of newsroom-based technical SEO: Humanizes technical SEO and identifies the priorities of the editorial team, with a major focus on the journalism.
Benefit of development team-based technical SEO: Likely to push through development changes and SEO improvements faster as they are part of the team.
The technical SEO team should also be responsible for ensuring that a site successfully migrates to a new platform, CMS, or domain. If not done properly, this can wreak havoc on your traffic, so having your technical SEO team involved will help catch any glaring concerns.
Product-led SEO is the practice of making product improvements from a search engine perspective. This person/team is responsible for thinking about product-specific improvements to the site that prioritise ranking in search and the performance of the site on search engines. This can also just be part of the technical SEO team, or part of an individual’s bigger SEO role in the newsroom.
They will look for opportunities such as:
Are there technical improvements to a component of the site (stock listings, calculators, games) to improve ranking?
Can we create a new vertical/section that is informed by reader feedback?
Are there improvements to the subscriber experience we can make to help branded search traffic?
Not having a dedicated technical SEO person (aka, it’s just a part of your job!)
If technical SEO is another part of your endless duties, don’t panic – you’re not alone! But you’re likely wondering where to start. The owner of this newsletter has a great breadth of resources, including the most common SEO issues for news publishers.
But if you’re working for a news publication and wondering, “Where do I start with the tech side?,” here are three things to remember:
Prioritise the critical issues. Your most important job is to make sure the site is getting traffic from search. Identify what are critical changes on your site and move down the list as you go. To see immediate improvement to your search strategy, do these five things:
Make sure your site is indexed;
Revise your title tag(s);
Fix any (important) 404 errors;
Create a robot (and human)-friendly navigational structure;
Improve your page and site speed.
Identify the level of impact: Effort needs to be worth the impact. If you’re asking the team to fix 4,000 301-redirected pages when the level of impact isn’t that great, it will be harder to push the fix. Make sure the request is worth the effort.
Focus on what you can control. There are so many components to technical SEO that it can be very daunting to prioritise it among all of the editorial concerns. If there are issues that you know exist but you have no way of changing, let it go for now.
Hire a consultant.
We promise, Barry did not pay us to add this in! But if technical SEO isn't a priority in your newsroom, or you don't have bandwidth, consider hiring a consultant. This person is beneficial for two main reasons:
The consultant will have an objective, third-party view of the site;
The consultant can identify the priorities for your team instead of you spending the time you could put toward editorial endeavours.
Consultants offer an outside perspective and can uncover opportunities you might not have considered.
Training for SEO
Search knowledge is a resource that is best shared. Train your newsroom on SEO best practices consistently. Here are four things to consider when developing training plans.
Train everyone: Whenever a reporter or editor joins the newsroom, what SEO training is being provided? At minimum, include a session on how the newsroom approaches search and SEO best practices.
Headlines: The single most important text on any given story is the headline. Without an effective, engaging headline, readers will not read your content. Communicate the guidelines for SEO headlines (i.e., character count, keyword-focus, search intent) and work directly with editors that handle the headlines.
Trend spotting: Build search instinct across the newsroom so more editors can spot search opportunities. Search instinct means knowing when a trending search term translates into a story that does well for your site. Short internal reports – highlighting search-informed stories that did well and why – can be useful in building this skill.
Research and writing: SEO editors can’t do all the keyword research for every story. Share the knowledge and access to relevant tools with editors and writers. Google Trends and Glimpse are great tools for universal access, whereas tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs are great for folks looking to dig a little deeper.
Training should be a recurring feature: Monthly or quarterly sessions remind colleagues that search continues to be a priority. The greater visibility you and other search editors have in the newsroom, the more likely they will reach out with questions, ideas or requests to collaborate.
Building SEO visibility in the newsroom
Building visibility in the newsroom helps you reach your goals. If there is editorial buy-in to the importance of prioritising search – both content and technical – you will be more likely to achieve success.
Editorial buy-in takes time and is an ongoing process. Some days, you may have astounding success on a breaking news file. The next day, you may get stuck pushing through a technical change. This happens.
There are a few things you can do to help build visibility over time and gain recognition from the most important stakeholders.
Put the journalism first. Your efforts are to help the journalism reach as many people as possible. Do this and the newsroom will respect you and your approach.
Be proactive and get involved with each desk. Ask what stories are coming and how you can help, whether that’s advising on a headline/URL combo or linking to older stories.
Get involved in news meetings. It’s a lot harder to help editors if you don’t know their skedlines. If there’s a meeting discussing a story idea, provide analysis on what the search audience is looking for and how you can help.
Give the recommendation. Get rejected. And then do it again. No, seriously. This job is all about customer service. Provide the recommendations you want for the SEO strategy, but expect to be rejected – a lot. Be nice, but keep pushing. Focus on providing value and you will break through.
Be available on Slack. If you have a headline-checking channel, be in it often. If you can, tag those who need to know you’re around. Check in with desks if there’s anything you can help them with that day.
Many thanks to Jessie and Shelby for writing this superbly detailed and useful guide to integrating SEO into newsrooms. If you’re not yet subscribed to their WTF is SEO? newsletter, you should do so right now.
It’s been an interesting time for online publishers, with the rise of generative AI making many people very nervous indeed. Here are some worthwhile thoughts and insights on this topic, and other happenings in the SEO industry:
Tech guru Jarod Lanier’s thoughts on the current and future state of AI are both less and more alarmist. He thinks what we currently fear about AI is the wrong thing to be afraid of.
Meanwhile, here’s some insight into how GPT-4 is being upgraded to be better and, possibly, less harmful.
There was another Google core algorithm update in March. Lily Ray from Amsive has all the details on winners and losers.
Publishers have been strongly affected by many of Google’s algorithm updates over the years, resulting in an overall loss of visibility and traffic.
Google’s dominance in the ad market is being challenged by a number of lawsuits, on both sides of the Atlantic.
A new SEO tool: Colin McDermott is now beta-testing his Google Indexing API for publishers, which is pretty damn awesome.
More SEO goodies: Stephan Czych developed a browser plugin (available for Chrome and Firefox) that copies all relevant on-page SEO data for articles in Google News and Top Stories, which you can then paste as CSV and see all info at a glance.
That’s it for this edition. As always, thanks so much for reading and subscribing, and I’ll see you at the next one.