11 SEO concepts publishers need to know
In issue no. 02, Jessie and Shelby look at some key search concepts – what they are, and why they matter to publishers – to provide editors and reporters a solid SEO foundation.
Hey, Jessie in the driver’s seat today (fun fact: I don’t have my driver’s license and I have literally never driven a car. Good news for you: this is strictly a ~virtual~ driver’s seat today).
This week: We are outlining 11 of the most important search concepts publishers should know. Keep in mind that we are providing a very top-level, simplified look at these factors. Consider this your psych-101 lecture. We will level up on each concept in future newsletters.
11 search ideas publishers need to know
We get it: SEO is a huge, daunting field. Where to start or what to learn first is tricky. Below, we’ve outlined 11 important SEO concepts that directly apply to journalism.
11: Search intent
What is it: Search intent, as covered last week, is the reason behind a search (the “why” behind a person asking a question). There are four types of signals: Transactional, local, navigation and informational. Informational intent is the most relevant to journalism.
Informational queries are people actively looking to fill a knowledge gap.
Ontario vaccine rollout was a trending search as the province released its COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan. Stories ranking for this keyword directly respond to search intent.
Why it matters: For starters, search intent is widely considered a ranking factor. Informational searches are those by potential readers actively seeking out information on a given topic to fill a knowledge gap.
✔️ Action item: Set up Google Trends alerts to your email. When the next Trend alert arrives, scan the list: Are any of these terms relevant to my site, and do I have reporting on the topic?
🔗 Read more: Search Intent and SEO: A Quick Guide
10: Keyword research
What is it: Keyword research – a way we can try to understand what key words and phrases people are searching, or questions people are asking.
Four tools – Google Trends, Google itself, Google Search Console, AnswerThePublic and Keywords Everywhere – are commonly used for this research.
This research includes looking at what other publications are writing on a topic, what our publication has written.
Why it matters: Keyword research helps us identify story ideas and underreported topics – and looking at keyword volume will tell us if there’s enough existing interest to justify reporting.
✔️ Action item: Pick a keyword related to a niche, and use AnswerThePublic to see questions people are asking in search.
🔗 Read more: Shelby went into lots of detail on how newsrooms can use keyword research to inform their reporting.
9: Ranking factors
What is it: Ranking factors are, in short, the things Google considers when it’s deciding what story appears first in search. There are so many ranking factors Google considers (too many? We’re just humble audience editors – who are we to say? Yes. Yes, there are).
You as an editor will not have direct control over many factors such as page speed, mobile-friendless (we will cover these factors in the future). For now, let's focus on the consideration we can control for, including:
High-quality content (see E.A.T)
On-page SEO (headlines, meta descriptions, links, URLs structure, images, content length)
Backlinks (stories linking to your story)
Search intent (should match the article content)
Topical authority (how much Google trusts you as an authority)
Freshness (when was the story last updated)
Why it matters: These are the factors that you, an editor, have control over. Other stuff can be passed off to your site team (if you have one. For small teams, we *will* look at these factors in the future). Focus your time and energy on what you can control – and then make it count.
✔️ Action item: If you have a well-curated guide or explainer and you know it’s not getting a lot of search traffic, look at some of the above factors: can you link to the guide in a new article? Freshen up parts of it so it is relevant now?
🔗 Read more: On-Page SEO Ranking Factors
8: H1 and title tags
What is it: The H1 and the Title tag are both HTML elements that help make up the structure of your webpage. While both tags help describe to the internet bots what your page is about, the main difference is the spot where they appear.
The Title tag: Appears in the browser tab. This is what shows up in search engines, but does not show up, visually, on your webpage.
The Title tag should include one – and only one – keyword you want the specific page to rank for, along with your brand name.
Publishers can use the m-dash or the vertical bar to add the brand to the tag.
Title tag: Health Canada approves AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine | The Globe and Mail
Title tag: Community fridges are lifelines – Vox
The H1 tag: Appears on your webpage. This should be the headline of the story or the main focus of the page, but doesn’t need the brand information in it.
Your target keyword should appear in both the Title and H1 tags on your page.
Why it matters: Google uses the information in the H1 and Title tags to figure out what your webpage is about and if it matches with the search query. Pay special attention to getting your target keyword in these spots when you can.
✔️ Action item: Does your homepage Title tag contain more than just your brand information? Is the H1 on the homepage your brand name?
🔗 Read more: Shelby outlined what writing clear HTML is the first step to a great SEO strategy.
7. Headline optimization
What is it: Headlines are the H1 and Title tags of article pages on your news site and are considered some of the most important factors for ranking in search. This should be no surprise for news editors! Those of us who spend hours editing and rewriting headlines to capture nuance while grabbing a reader’s attention know how much headlines matter (and we know how embarrassing it can be when a bad one slips through) .
Search optimization means thinking about what you and other readers might Google to find a story and tweaking the headline to reflect that search interest. This doesn’t mean trying to game the system by stuffing every keyword under the sun just “for SEO.” Write for people first, search second.
There isn’t an exact limit for how many characters in a headline, you should try to keep in mind that Google only shows the first 50-60 characters in a search result
Try to front-load your keywords (i.e., closer to the beginning of the headline) and shorter than 60 characters.
Headlines with questions, numbers, keywords, quotes or questions perform the best.
Why it matters: Headlines are how readers decide if your story is worth reading – and sometimes they’re all a reader will see of a story. Make every headline count.
✔️ Action item: Use SEO Mofo’s optimizer tool to check to see how much of your headline gets cut off in search results.
🔗 Read more: Jessie outlined a three-point plan for writing effective SEO headlines.
What is it: A URL or the “web address” is where the internet saves your story or page.
URL structure is a ranking factor and they do help with user experience (making it clear to readers what a web page is all about).
Having the main-focus keyword in the URL is useful, especially if the URL path does not.
Aim to keep URLs simple and relevant, reflecting a clear folder structure on your website.
Use hyphens instead of underscores for readability, and avoid uppercase letters.
Why it matters: The URL is still important because it helps Google understand what’s on your page and tells readers navigating your site.
✔️ Action item: Check your worst-performing stories. Are there things in the URL structure that might answer why it is under-performing?
🔗 Read more: URL Structure
5. Rich snippets
What is it: A rich snippet is a Google product focused on trying to save you, the user, time by showing the nugget of information you want without clicking over to a link that appears in organic results.
If you’re looking for TV shows to watch right now, or want to know when the next statutory holiday is, or compare robot vacuums, you will likely encounter a rich snippet.
There are many types of SERP features, but let’s focus on editorially-driven: Featured Snippet, Knowledge Cards and Panels, News Box, and Related Questions (or People Also Ask).
Why it matters: Google is taking over more real estate in search (which can be frustrating for publishers trying to surface in-depth reporting). Finding alternative ways to service your readers can help produce loyalty that could boost the numbers to your site.
✔️ Action item: Search some questions you think your audience would search and see if the result returns a rich snippet. What content fills the snippet currently? What can you provide?
🔗 Read more: Jessie looks at rich snippets – what they are, and why they matter to publishers.
4. Backlinks/Link building
What is it: A backlink, in the most simplest way, is linking to a site that is not your own. You are linking to an external website.
There are many reasons for doing this: background, crediting another publication for a scoop or additional information, or providing your readers with reading outside of your publication.
It is a sign of authority to your page – it’s a way to tell the search engines that this page serves its intent.
Think of a backlink as an upvote, thumbs up, or endorsement of that page.
Search engines consider relevance and authority when looking at backlinks: how many links are coming from big, authoritative websites.
The bigger, more authoritative a website, the more “power” the backlink is awarded (i.e., a backlink to the BBC from a domain like theglobeandmail.com is much more powerful than one coming from JessiesVeganBlog.com (a low-traffic personal blog).
Backlinks can be acquired in many different ways, but the most important is to ensure the link is genuine. Google knows if it is not (black hat SEOs beware, don’t go buying links!).
Why it matters: This is a ranking factor, and according to Ahrefs, “arguably the most important ranking factor.”
✔️ Action item: Did you recently publish a big investigation and other websites are talking about it? Ask them to link to the story.
🔗 Read more: Shelby outlined the value of a backlink strategy.
3. Internal linking
What is it: Internal links are links from one page on your website to another page on your website.
Pages without any internal links (i.e., there’s no way to get to it) are called orphan pages (how sad!).
Pages within the internal linking structure help Google understand the importance of that page. If you have high-value content (an explainer, investigation or sharp piece of analysis), you want to make sure it is linked to multiple times across your website.
If you routinely publish explainers (say, on the best face mask, blackouts in Texas or the hot new social app Clubhouse), you will want to link to the explainers from your related reporting, and vice-versa.
Why it matters: Internal links can help boost organic traffic for your site, while giving a good user experience to the visitor. Internal links tell all parties what content is related.
✔️ Action item: If you have a main coronavirus explainer (a case tracker, for example), check: Is your most recent reporting linking to the article? Can you also add a link to the case tracker?
🔗 Read more: Jessie explains why internal linking is key to SEO.
What is it: E.A.T. means expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness – three words that are core to the mandate of every newsroom. These are also three factors Google considers when determining how much it should trust a brand.
Google says, “websites and pages should be created to help users.” An article (webpage) should fulfil its intended purpose for readers: tell the people something important or share an opinion.
This is extremely important in the fight against misinformation. More weight is put on a site that can produce quality E.A.T content than one that does not.
Why it matters: Google only wants to promote trustworthy resources in search results that help users. This is part of how it makes that evaluation.
✔️ Action item: Be a news organization. Expertise, authority and trustworthiness are core values to what we do. Look at your audience strategy: are you achieving that?
🔗 Read more: Jessie explained what E.A.T. means and Shelby explains how structured data can support those efforts.
What is it: A schema template for structured data. Google loves well-structured data – it helps the robots understand exactly what kind of content is on your webpage and how it should be represented in search results.
If you have a recipe on a webpage and it’s structured using the correct schema (data structure), search engines have an easier time connecting readers to your recipe.
If you Google “best vegan caesar dressing,“ the first three links in the Recipes rich snippet are put there, in part, because those websites used the correct Recipe Schema. (As a total vegan FYI, the Oh She Glows recipe > Minimalist Baker. Trust me.)
Why it matters: There are many kinds of schemas. Making sure your content uses structured data can help boost your performance in search.
✔️ Action item: Do you have recipes on your site? Or movie reviews? Use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to see if the appropriate schema is there.
The bottom line: SEO is a huge field. These concepts do not cover all of search, but they are some of the core ideas that give you a solid SEO foundation.
FUN + GAMES
When did Google Trends launch?
May 11, 2000
May 11, 2006
May 11, 2016
May 11, 2004
Resource of the week:
Quickstart: Learn the basics of Google Search from Google
How to use People Also Ask Questions from Google to Build Better Content Briefs
EVEN MORE SEO
Categories or tags? Breaking down the WordPress features
Three tips to write effective SEO headlines for news
Have something you want us to explore? Email email@example.com
FUN + GAMES
The answer: May 11, 2006
Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley.