A few weeks ago Sean Polay, Audience Development Director at Ottaway Local Media Group asked me to speak to his editors about writing headlines that are search engine-friendly. During these lean media days my assumption many smaller, local newspaper editors are not very well-versed in how search engines work, or how important keywords can play a role in headlines and tags. But editors, journalists and newsrooms everywhere can conquer SEO by keeping some simple tips in mind when developing and writing news stories.
1. First – what does your headline say?
I’m not here to shame my journalist friends, but exactly what are these headlines about?
Suspect Denies Killing Woman (Who? Where? Is this in my town? Do I know this person?)
Officials Vote to End Talks (Talks about what? Where?)
School District Wrestles with Financial Questions (Which school district?)
Victory and Ruins (This could be about anything)
Pix from My Weekend (Whose weekend? Do I even know you?)
Consider these headlines appearing without the context of the story. There isn’t a lot to engage me as a potential reader. Remember I may (but not likely) come across these headlines while conducting a related search. So even if it’s content that I wasn’t searching for in the first place, you still have an opportunity to grab my attention with a relevant headline.
2. Pay attention to title tags and meta descriptions.
Generally speaking (and this is a very general statement, so bear with me) most CMS platforms use the headline of the story as the title tag. The title tag is one of the most important factors when optimizing your pages, so be as literal and specific as you can be, without making it too long. The guideline for title tags is about 70 characters max, so use your meta description tag to summarize your story. Provide the “who”, “what”, “where” and “why” as concisely as you can.
3. Behold the power of anchor text.
Linked terms on your stories play a role in optimization, so resist the urge to use “Read more” or “See related story”. Use keywords from your headline or story and be specific when linking to other pages to your site.
4. Your URL structure plays a role.
Google provides technical requirements for articles to be considered as a news story but also consider appending a portion of your title tag or headline. Providing keywords in the URL are important from a search engine and usability perspective.
5. Not every one is looking for your newspaper brand.
Granted, a good chunk of your traffic is generated from your newspaper brand. I’ve seen up to 80% of traffic being driven by branded terms alone. But what about those long tail terms? How about those searches for a person’s name, or town or school? Good SEO is about page optimization, you don’t need to drive everyone through your home page to your story.
6. Stuck? Use keyword research tools to help you.
Not sure what word to use? There are many keyword tools available to help you identify how popular specific keywords are and get suggested alternatives, such as Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool. You also may have access to paid services like WordTracker.com or Keyword Discovery.com.And if you want to spend some time brainstorming that elusively perfect headline, check out SEO Smarty’s post 5 Tools for Keyword Brainstorming.
7. Maximize your evergreen content.
Special sections, guides, seasonal content all can generate ongoing search results and capture new audiences. This content is easily sustainable, and because the content does not expire, the longevity of the pages can help establish authority with search engines. Relevant evergreen content can also help earn search traffic with inbound links, also affecting the search result.
8. Personalization in search impacts the result.
A search result is not the same in Boston as it is in Maine. And it is definitely not around the world. Geography matters, which makes local news important. Other personal factors impacting a Google result include the following:
- iGoogle personalized home page content
- Google Reader content (RSS feeds)
- Google Bookmarks
- Search history (clicks)
- Web history (sites you’ve visited)
So although you may not see your article about a local superhero action figure collection come up in your search query, it very well may attract the right people.
9. Use Universal Search results to your advantage.
Increasing traffic (and therefore ad inventory) is paramount for most newspaper sites. But if you can go beyond driving traffic solely through your site, you can make the most of Universal Search and own a search result page by pushing out your content. Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Delicious, Digg, Mixx, StumbleUpon , you name it … all can come up a search result for your content. So optimize your assets. (And welcome to social media marketing.)
10. Don’t underestimate the competition.
When a person conducts a search, you are competing against nine other results on that first result page. Your title tag and description are your first impression to attract potential audience. You can capture new online readership by setting yourself apart with useful and engaging tags.
But above all – good writing still prevails. Quality, relevant, in-depth content will not only attract the bots, but will capture new audience as well.
Monica Wright, Organic Search Manager at HMG Search Marketing in Portland, Maine, is an experienced Internet marketer specializing SEO, search marketing, social media and analytics with 12 years of media marketing experience. You can also follow Monica on Twitter.