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  • What SEOs can learn from online journalists

    Journalists have been frantically learning SEO and social media techniques over recent years, so they can stay ahead online. But now some of them are so skilled that SEO teams could learn a few things from them too. From writing clickable headlines, to using Twitter to network, here are all the journo skills that I’ve learnt by following (no, not stalking!) some of the best in the business…

    Monitoring and Targeting

    Like most blogs, news sites tend to cover a number of different subjects. For the main newspapers, these tend to be major topics such as politics, finance, property, jobs and so on. However, within those ‘channels’, similar stories often come up again and again – interest rates, house prices, unemployment figures, that kind of thing.

    Journalists and editors use analytics programs to check how many readers are visiting each section and which stories are grabbing their interest. That means that they can give more coverage to the stories that really interest their readers, and move other stories further down the hierarchy. This also allows them to maximise click-throughs from their front pages because they know what stories get readers excited.

    You can replicate this on your own blog or corporate site. Work out what content works best for pageviews, CTRs and purchases. Then ensure these most successful topic areas are well optimised, often updated and well positioned on your website.

    Massively successful news resources like the Mail Online and the Huffington Post only reached where they are by endlessly testing and never being entirely satisfied with their websites’ click-through figures. You should do the same.

    Using Twitter and Facebook to Research and Network

    Anyone who’s used Twitter to any extent knows its power and reach. You can contact almost any other user, anywhere in the world, with a message of just 140 characters (or fewer) this is genuinely revolutionary. For journalists, it’s a whole new way of researching articles, and the #journorequest hashtag has become a first port of call for many when they’re looking for case studies or quotes from members of the public.

    Most online news sites now tweet links to their major stories too. A single headline-worthy article can get a significant number of retweets, helping it to reach readers who might otherwise not have seen it. Add to this the Twitter conversations journalists and press representatives hold with each other on a daily basis. For journalists it’s a quick, easy but powerful way to network with other writers and to engage with their readers.

    The lessons to be learnt for other webmasters and SEO teams are simple but worth spelling out – ignore Twitter, and your voice is missing from a global conversation. Make sure your best content is being tweeted, use hashtags to help get the message to people who don’t follow you, and aim to widen that audience still further. And don’t allow your Twitter feed to become mundane and overly-corporate. Stay fun and stay engaged. You’ll learn a lot about your customers and it could even help you generate ideas for blog posts and other content.

    Although I hear a lot of negativity from SEOs about Facebook (some of them have already disabled their Facebook accounts), journalists use Facebook to engage with their audience and to reach out to a wider audience beyond the niche they operate within. Mia Aquino, The Huffington Post’s social media editor has set up an ‘interest list’ on Facebook of all their journalists so people could keep up-to-date with what their journalists write. Journalists such as Craig Kanalley, Jahnabi Barooah and Rosa Golijan engage with their Facebook subscribers almost at a personal level on a daily basis, thereby increasing visibility to their posts on user’s Facebook feeds.

    Engagement and Relevancy

    A good news site will pick out the most headline-worthy articles of the day, and give them pride of place on the front page (or main blog/magazine page). Think about this when updating your site – what belongs on your homepage (or main blog page)? And what can be moved deeper within your site?

    It’s a rule of thumb that’s worth applying throughout your content – if a page is irrelevant to what you’ve got to offer, it’d be best to retire it, or update it so that it’s relevant to your audience and your business. By keeping a tight focus on the topics you cover, you can demonstrate expertise and relevancy throughout your site to search engines, helping them better understand what your website is about and the industry you operate within.

    Make sure all your authors and bloggers have verified authorship on Google Plus. This will help Google’s algorithm distinguish the quality and relevancy of the content. If the blogger or author already possesses a high reputational score with Google, you will increase your site’s visibility and ranking ability for a greater number of keywords.

    Opinion and Controversy

    Not everyone can court controversy on their website, but blogs are a good place to express opinion and welcome conflicting comments from your readers. Again, take your inspiration from news sites – while many news outlets have a political agenda to push, they typically don’t do so (well, not too obviously…) in their main articles.

    Legitimate news providers distinguish between their journalistic reporting and their editorial columns – and on any website, you can create a similar distinction between static content, opinion-based blogs and self-promotional press releases. It helps your reader to understand where you’re coming from, and why some pages might be more opinionated than others – and a little controversy can help to get some commenting going on your blog posts, too.

    There is an important distinction to make between news site comments and those on a less formal blog, however. When somebody comments on your personal blog, it’s common practice to reply to them, to keep the conversation going. In contrast, news sites usually rely on interaction between their readers, rather than with the article’s original author – something worth aiming for on your blog, if you can get your readers’ activity levels high enough.

    Catering for Fickle Readers

    Online readers are impatient – they won’t wade through lengthy prose, even if they’re happy reading War and Peace in real life. The internet isn’t the place people settle down to enjoy some timeless literature – in fact, they’re more likely to take ‘timeless’ to the other extreme and spend as little time as possible on your page.

    Journalists understand this and are trained to use the ‘inverted pyramid’ model in their articles, with the most important information up top for those who don’t read to the end. For SEO it’s a particularly good approach, as the words and phrases you use up top will be given greater significance in choosing your page’s position in the search results.

    The headline is a particularly important part of any page – whether it’s a news article or a static web page – as it highlights the main theme of your content. Make sure you’re picking out the key points in your headline, particularly if it doubles as your page’s HTML title and/or URL, as together these can all contribute towards the words and phrases the search engines associate with your page. Like in a news article, sub-headings also help to signpost readers to the sections of the page that include the information they’re looking for.

    Remember, print came first, and while SEO has evolved over time much of it is still inspired by the early, print-like days of the internet. Classic page structures like news articles have left a permanent impression on the things search engines and people value.

    Always on the Job

    Finally, when you step away from your computer, it doesn’t mean your website ceases to exist. A good journalist will often carry around a notepad and jot down ideas for future articles, or make notes if he or she sees anything that might be worth investigating. You should do the same if you come across a timely and relevant issue that might earn you some extra search traffic if you blog about it or mention it on your website.

    Many such ideas ultimately get forgotten by website owners, internet marketers and SEO teams, even if they seem unforgettable when you dream them up. By keeping a notepad – or even a note in your phone – handy, you make sure you remember your ideas. And it’s worth it. If you manage to build your online brand successfully enough, you might one day be making a few headlines of your own.

    Image credit: Yan Arief


    11 Responses to “What SEOs can learn from online journalists”

    1. Jason Dowell says:

      As a journalist working in the SEO field, I can definitely relate to what you say. My training and expertise has helped SEO in incredible ways, more than I thought possible and it’s all because of strong writing and networking through several facets. Journalists are good to have around if you are doing SEO work–just a tip.

    2. Shaad Hamid says:

      Thanks for the tip Jason! I completely agree! When embarking on an aggressive link building campaign, the velocity of links built will undeniably be quite high. One method Google distinguishes between spam from genuine marketing activities is by checking for mentions on the news. So it’s become imperative for link builders to forge strong relationships with journalists in order to get those mentions and citations.

    3. Earl says:

      Love the controversy part, but one should tread with care, though. A little too much controversy might draw heat to your blog. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it may backfire.

    4. I have just started my company online. SEO has been one of the toughest to deal with. Thanks a bunch Shaad for this article. I’m always looking to figure out this SEO madness. Your article clears up a few questions about how google and others base their rankings on sites. I need to start blogging a bit more I believe. Keeping the “notepad” next to me to learn tips from you.. Thanks a bunch for the article

    5. Writerelated says:

      These are excellent SEO tips. I only recently started writing. When I first started writing my original intent was to just write for fun. As I started writing I started considering how I was going to reach more people. That is when I started researching SEO. I spend a lot of time going back and forth between writing and SEO. Good work on this article.

    6. Franklyn Galusha says:

      I am a SEO who has over the last several months shifted my emphasis to more natural inbound links. However the pursuit of those inbound links has become increasingly challenging thanks to Google’s latest algorithm updates. I agree with Shaad the pursuit of quality inbound links and citations have become the key driver behind higher search engine rankings for all small business owners online today. UP until the time I came across this article I had no clue there was such a tough thing has a ‘inverted pyramid’ and how it could help my clients and myself to capture reader’s attention. Thanks for the insight.

    7. Shaad Hamid says:

      Thanks for all the lovely comments guys.

      @Scott: I completely empathise with you with regards to figuring out this “SEO madness”. It can be quite challenging especially when you’ve already got tonnes on your plate. If you could spare a moment, SEOmoz’s beginners guide is an excellent place to start: http://www.seomoz.org/beginners-guide-to-seo

      We also covered a blog post on how content plays a part in establishing relevance and quality to your site: http://white.net/noise/blog/2012/08/googles-quest-for-high-quality-sites-the-role-of-content.html

      Both these resources should keep you in good stead with regards to making sense of SEO and its role in the marketing mix.

    8. John says:

      thank you for this post , I will bookmark http://www.seoptimise.com and will come every now and then , thanks again ^_^

    9. Great article Shaad and I love the title, good comparison. You make some great points too.

    10. Pedro Alves says:

      Many thanks for the contribution, always learning making good readings.

    11. Marisa South says:

      Great article with such relevant points. The Monitoring and Targeting paragraphs especially caught my attention. Some fantastic strategies that can be adopted for SEO.
      Will keep my eye out for the next post – there’s always something to take away and learn from. Thankyou!

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