Google News has changed dramatically since the “beta” version was launched back in September 2002. And many of the best practices for optimizing your news content have changed significantly, too.
But, some of the fundamentals of Google News optimization haven’t changed at all over the past 17 years.
The key to optimizing your news content for visibility and traffic is figuring out what has changed and what hasn’t.
For example, Google News is still a news search engine despite the fact that Google announced “the all-new Google News” on May 8.
In the announcement on Google new official blog, The Keyword, Trystan Upstill, a Distinguished Engineer and the Google News Engineering and Product Lead, wrote:
“The reimagined Google News uses a new set of AI techniques to take a constant flow of information as it hits the web, analyze it in real time and organize it into storylines. This approach means Google News understands the people, places and things involved in a story as it evolves, and connects how they relate to one another. At its core, this technology lets us synthesize information and put it together in a way that helps you make sense of what’s happening, and what the impact or reaction has been.”
In other words, computer algorithms may have been updated, but they still determine which stories, images, and videos appear in Google News results, and in what order.
So, if you conduct a news search, you’ll still see “relevant” news, magazine, and video stories as well as press releases in the results.
Ironically, the information about ranking in the Google News Publisher Help Center doesn’t mention “relevance.” It says:
“Ranking in Google News is determined algorithmically based on a number of factors, including:
- Freshness of content
- Diversity of content
- Rich textual content
- Originality of content
- User preferences for topics or publishers…”
Does this mean that you don’t have to think about the words users would type to find your news content and no longer need to make sure that your news, magazine, and video story or press release actually includes those words within it?
Although the revamped Google News app uses machine learning to adapt to a user’s habits and routines over time, enabling it to recommend personalized content in the “For you” section, that doesn’t mean it now shows users irrelevant results when they conduct a news search.
In fact, if you conduct a news search for “machine learning,” you won’t see content about “influencer marketing” – even if that’s a topic that you’ve also used Google News to search for recently.
So, how do you optimize your news content for visibility and traffic today?
1. Conduct Keyword Research to Find News Search Terms People Are Likely to Use
Well, the first step in Google News optimization is conducting keyword research to find 85% of the news search terms that people are likely to use. How do you do that?
If you have the time to plan a feature article or press release on “back to school”, then use the Explore tool in Google Trends.
And although “Web Search” is the default setting, use the “News Search” option to discover that news search interest in “back to school” spikes in late July and early August in the U.S.
But, if you need to conduct keyword research on the fly, then use the Autocomplete feature in Google News.
Type in “back to school” and Autocomplete will make some predictions. These predictions are possible news search terms related to what you’re looking for and what other people have already searched for.
As I was writing this, Autocomplete showed me that other people had already searched for:
- “back to school shopping”
- “back to school supplies”
- “back to school sale 2019”
- “back to school Apple”
- “back to school allowance”
- “back to school bash”
- “back to school snacks”
- “back to school backpacks”
- “back to school tips”
Raise your hand if you’ve already guessed that these terms are listed in order of their relative popularity.
What about the other 15% of the news search terms that people are likely to use?
Well, in April 2017, Ben Gomes, Google’s VP of Engineering, wrote in The Keyword:
“15 percent of searches we see every day are new—which means there’s always more work for us to do to present people with the best answers to their queries from a wide variety of legitimate sources.”
So, if you’ve got a truly newsworthy story or you’re launching an exceptional new product, then you can coin your own news search term and discover if you get lucky.
2. Write a Clear, Concise Headline
Despite getting revamped, Google News continues to rely heavily on page titles to determine ranking.
Your news, magazine, and video story or press release’s headline is its page title.
For proper indexing by Google News, your headline should be between 2 and 22 words.
And avoid puns or plays on words.
They can confuse humans as well as news search engine algorithms.
3. Use Subheads & Text Formatting for Emphasis
What about subheads? Well, they’re a good place to incorporate additional keywords that aren’t in your headline.
They also provide early supplemental guidance to readers as they decide whether to continue reading longer news content.
In addition, bold, italic, underlined, and bulleted text help:
- Emphasize key points in your article.
- Break up your content into easily digestible sections.
- Provide visual cues for skimmers to quickly pick up the gist of your news.
So, use them – judiciously.
4. Question the Conventional Wisdom That Says: Keep It Short
Now, I’m often asked, “How long should optimized news content be?”
But, there is no simple formula for calculating how long your article or release should be in order to be optimized for Google News.
But, it’s time to question the conventional wisdom that says: Keep it short.
Unfortunately, short content provides the wrong answers to some of the questions that Google engineers use to assess the “quality” of an article, according to a post in Google’s Webmaster Central Blog by Amit Singhal, who was a Google Fellow back in May 2011:
- “Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?”
- “Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?”
- “Does the article describe both sides of a story?”
- “Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?”
- “Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?”
- “Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?”
- “Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?”
To confirm that this advice still holds true, I conducted a news search on July 21 for “machine learning” and “What Is Machine Learning?” ranked higher than more recent articles.
Written by Ben Dickson of PCMag.com, this article is 1,528 words long.
I also conducted a news search for “back to school”, and “Missed Amazon Prime Day? You can still find the best back-to-school deals” ranked higher than more recent news stories.
Written by AJ Horch of CNBC, this story is 715 words long.
Finally, I conducted a news search for “GEICO”, and “Road Trip: GEICO Says Make It Memorable and Make It Safe” was ranked #1.
This press release was distributed by Business Wire and appeared on Yahoo! Finance. It included an infographic and was 507 words long.
So, conduct your own news searches for a couple of your target search terms and find out just how long your optimized news content should be.
It may vary, but I’d be shocked, shocked to find it was “short.”
5. Include Photos & Videos
Although rich textual content is important, so are photos and videos.
Google News displays images associated with articles included in its index, although it sometimes pairs relevant images with articles from different sources.
Here are some tips to increase the likelihood that your images are included in Google News:
- Use images that are relevant to the story rather than logos or captions.
- Use Schema.org or og:image tags to make it clear to the image crawl which image you’d like to be the thumbnail image next to your article.
- Use standard filename extensions, like .jpg, .jpeg, or .png.
- Size your images to at least 60 x 90 pixels.
- Use images that have reasonable aspect ratios.
- Format your images as inline.
- Place your images near their respective article titles.
- Label your images with well-written captions.
Google News also recognizes the importance of video content.
If you have a news site, then Google News can crawl your YouTube channel and MP4 videos embedded within articles on your site.
Google News has a number of guidelines for video content to provide the best user experience as well as to maintain fairness and consistency when determining what content is included.
Before submitting your YouTube channel to their team for consideration, you should review these guidelines from Google:
- Video channels included in Google News should primarily consist of content that reports on recent events. It rarely includes channels that mainly contain how-to videos, advertisements, trailers, video blogs, or music videos.
- All the content included in your videos, such as music, images, and text, should be your own or used with permission. Google News respects copyrights and follows the DMCA guidelines for handling disputed copyrighted material.
- A little bit of context for videos can be extremely useful for viewers. Make sure your channel’s videos include relevant descriptions, useful titles, and basic information about your website or organization.
- Videos should be easy to understand with clear audio and images that are in focus. Google News is also more likely to include channels that are updated regularly.
6. Add Meaningful Links
It’s okay to use links in your story or release to direct your audiences to relevant additional content.
- Sidebars and photo galleries for readers.
- Campaign-specific landing pages and product purchase pages for customers.
By placing relevant, context-appropriate links, you’ll drive measurable traffic to this related content and improve the user’s experience.
Editorial placed links, which Google calls “natural links”, can provide you with an earned media SEO benefit.
But, links that aren’t editorially placed, also known as “unnatural links”, can be considered a violation of Google’s guidelines.
That’s why links in press releases in Google News employ “no follow” tags. While these links may not enhance your SEO, they can still drive traffic to your website – and that isn’t chopped liver.
7. Measure the Impact of Google News
If you’re a publisher, there are two ways to track how your content is performing according to Google News.
If Google News crawls the content on your site, then you can look for HTTP referrer values to separate traffic from Google News from the rest of your traffic.
Incoming readers with referrers of “news.google.com” or “news.url.google.com” are from Google News.
You can use your Google Analytics to conduct further analysis of both your standard HTML and Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) articles.
If you provide licensed content via RSS feeds or AMP via Google News Producer, then you can track direct traffic to your site using the news.google.com and news.url.google.com referrers.
In addition, you can set up tracking in Google News Producer that provides more detail and track content that is rendered natively within the Google News Android and iOS apps.
If you’re optimizing a press release, then you can use Google’s free Campaign URL Builder tool, which enables you to easily add campaign parameters to URLs so you can track Custom Campaigns in Google Analytics.
I did this recently for a public research university that launched a new online program.
We used Google Analytics to get a picture of our users’ Acquisition-Behavior-Conversion (ABC) cycle:
- How we acquired users.
- Their behavior on our site after acquisition.
- Their conversion patterns.
I was able to report that the release had driven 301 users to their site, who visited a total of 558 sessions.
These users looked at an average of 4 pages per session, which had an average duration of 3-and-a-half minutes. And 100 users converted into soft leads (clicked on an Apply Now link), while 30 converted into hard leads (filled out a form).
To Sum Up
In closing, I should remind you that Google News is constantly changing.
So, I should probably add a “Best if used by (or before)” date to some of the tips in this article.
But, I should also note that other advice hasn’t changed in years.
This means the trick to Google News optimization is continuing to figure out what’s really new under the sun and what’s old as dirt.