Information is freely available more in today’s digital landscape than it’s ever been before. This puts extra pressure on journalists to cut through the noise and get their work seen. Especially in an era of “fake news,” having authentic and reputable work by journalists more prominently matters.
While journalistic integrity remains paramount, understanding basic search engine optimization (SEO) principles can be a secret weapon for publishing news stories online. The most successful articles will not only be click-worthy but also optimized to reach the widest audience possible on the internet!
SEO practices can increase visibility for online and digital stories. SEO helps your articles rank higher in search results, which can lead to more organic traffic and engaged readers.
You can also target certain audiences by utilizing SEO practices, by understanding search intent and using relevant keywords you attract readers actively seeking information related to your stories.
High search rankings can signal trust and authority give your credibility as a journalist a boost and help establish your reputation. SEO also has many long-term benefits to ensure your stories remain discoverable and searchable even after the news cycle (inevitably) fades.
One of the biggest ways journalists can use SEO is to implement keyword optimization.
As a former journalist, I never thought about keywords when I wrote web articles about my news reports. I don’t think I even understood what a “keyword” was or its impact on visibility online. You’d be hard-pressed to find too many journalists who prioritize optimizing their copy with keywords or even know how to go about doing that.
If journalists hope to increase page traffic to their articles, then naturally part of the process would be to conduct a little keyword research to maximize page views.
But where and how do you start?
Keyword optimization begins by conducting keyword research to understand the terms and phrases your target audience is searching for in search engines. Tools like Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, or SEMrush can help you identify these keywords.
When you’re conducting keyword research, don’t just focus on broad terms, like “best hikes.” Long-tail keywords, like “best hiking trails near Seattle,” are more specific and less competitive.
Once you have a general idea of the keywords you want to target that are relevant to your article, incorporate them into your writing as naturally as possible. Avoid keyword stuffing (putting too many in the copy just for the sake of having keywords) by prioritizing readability and value.
In the SEO world, article headlines, or H1 tags, are supposed to summarize the content featured on a given URL.
The SEO best practice is to write clear, concise headlines that include relevant keywords to pique curiosity and encourage clicks. Headlines, or H1s, play a crucial role in attracting readers and improving search visibility.
Search engines understand the importance of H1s for communicating information to users. But do journalists understand those SEO rules?
When I looked at H1s on websites for national newspapers, broadcast networks, and magazines, most of the article headlines instinctually followed some basic SEO best practices.
But sometimes, writers opted for dramatic flare.
Take this CNN headline for example: “DeSantis stands tall among US governors on the front lines of Covid fight.”
As readers we know that Governor DeSantis isn’t literally standing tall, it’s a figure of speech. But Google’s bots don’t love figures of speech as much as they love straightforward sentences.
A more SEO-friendly headline would read: “Florida Governor DeSantis says Covid policies saved Florida’s economy.” Adding “Florida” to the H1 helps Google pick up queries for those who may not know DeSantis by name, but by his state and title.
This Cosmopolitan article delves into anti-Asian hate crimes during Covid. The headline is designed to have readers reflect on societal behavior, and as such, is artfully written for magazine prose. For those already on Cosmo’s website, this style of writing likely draws clicks.
However, if journalists are trying to reach a wider audience, stylized writing is not perfectly optimized for search. This sample headline includes a targeted key phrase, “anti-Asian hate crimes,” but its structuring doesn’t reflect user search behavior.
A stronger SEO headline might read: “America’s history with anti-Asian hate crimes before and during the pandemic.”
These are just a few examples of stylistic headlines that could fade if journalists are incentivized to reach broader audiences via organic search.
The article itself should be optimized, and there are some key things journalists should keep in mind before they publish their stories on the web.
Structure your articles with clear headings (also known as H2s), subheadings (H3s), and bullet points. This not only improves readability but also helps search engines crawlability, or the ability of search engines to understand the context of your content.
Quality content is more likely to be shared and linked to, which can improve search rankings, so if you’re able, focus on creating informative and well-researched content.
If you can update the meta tags or the meta description of your article, this would be another area to optimize. Write compelling meta descriptions that summarize your article and would drive a reader’s interest in clicking. These elements appear in search engine results and can help with click-through rates.
If your article has any images, make sure to optimize them with relevant alt text, descriptions, and captions. This can help with visual search visibility.
Google’s algorithm, at the end of the day, is interpreted by bots. No-sense-of-humor robots analyzing page copy. There’s no room for dramatic flair, large words, or creative sentence structure when evaluating a page.
Reporters looking to give their web copy the best chance of drawing more views will need to embrace SEO-friendly writing techniques.
If you want to take your optimization further, there are additional SEO practices to consider.
Search engines recognize websites that are optimized for mobile devices, so make sure the site of your article is optimized for mobile and is responsive. With more people using their phones or tablets over desktops to access content, content that is mobile-friendly is crucial for search rankings.
Make sure your website’s loading speed is optimized for a better user experience. Monitor your site’s speed, as fast-loading websites are favored by search engines.
Engaging with social media can also have an impact, so be sure to share your articles on social media platforms to increase visibility and drive traffic to your website. Social factors like shares, likes, and comments can indirectly impact search rankings.
*Disclaimer: I do not speak for every journalist. However, my experience gives me insight into how many reporters approach their web stories, specifically from the local television field*
When I became a television reporter in 2013, web stories were part of my daily routine. However, I didn’t think too much about them because my focus was always on the on-air report.
The web story, from my point of view, was a vessel to hold the video report I worked on. I used it to cram in extra details that didn’t make it into my 120-second segment.
Oftentimes my web story was a verbatim transcript of my report, cleaned up grammatically for readers’ eyes. If the story warranted it, I wrote extremely long web stories chock full of details. But I never thought about “keywords” or how users might search online for the information I covered. My writing didn’t actively engage or reflect SEO best practices.
Journalists who want to go the extra step when publishing their stories online should embrace SEO as an ally, not an enemy. By incorporating these tips and best practices, journalists can improve their search rankings, reach a wider audience, and ultimately have a greater impact on their stories in the online world.
The world will always need journalists and their stories. Make sure they’re seen!