Every SEO concept we’ve covered in 29(!!) issues 

This week, Jessie recaps every content and technical SEO concept we've covered since February, 2021.

Hello and welcome back! This week, it’s me, Jessie. Here in Canada, it’s the last full week of our federal election (where we need to talk about climate more) and the second week I’m back in the classroom (teaching data and interactive skills!). 

  • We are still looking for more folks to interview for our #AskaNewsSEO series. Have an audience editor we should talk to? Email us.

  • ICYMI: We’re thrilled (overjoyed!!) to be joining NESS 2021, the news and editorial SEO summit organized by search legends Barry Adams and John Shehata. You can snag a ticket to hear us talk about evergreen SEO in October. 

The back-to-school season has us diving back into our archives (all 29 issues worth), to catch you up on every SEO for news concept we’ve covered since we began in February. Consider this your Search for News 101 course (and yes, there’s a quiz at the end).

Working from home is just a series of increasing bonkers and uncomfortable positions until it’s 2:00 p.m., and your back is screaming for that sweet, sweet ergonomic chair (delivered to you by your staff photographer in March 2020). Fernando Hernan on Unsplash.

Sharpen your pencils and break out a fresh notebook, we’re going back to basics on both content and technical SEO concepts news editors need to know. 

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In this issue: 

  1. SEO basics: Core search concepts 

  2. Content SEO: 3 pillars for Google search 

  3. Technical SEO: What to whatever 


THE 101

(Re-)introduction to search engine optimization 

Let’s start by going right back to the beginning. 

What is SEO?Search engine optimization is the process of developing and editing content to capture existing reader interest from search engines, primarily Google. The objective is expanding your audience by enhancing your search traffic (that is, the number of page views and site visits from Google or another search engine) through quality content with a fresh user experience. Readers from search are more loyal than those who arrive at your site from social media. 

How do search engines work? Google’s search algorithms sift through the billions of links that exist on the internet and present the “most relevant, useful results” for users. Google says it considers “the words of your query, relevance and usability of pages, expertise of sources, and your location and settings.” Translated for news, this means Google wants high-quality reporting that answers questions readers are asking on sites that load quickly and without a million janky ads or unnecessary Javascript tricks. Great, that’s the journalism we’re already producing. 👍

What is crawl accessibility? Before Google can rank your page, it must be able to find and index your page. 

These three concepts are key to understanding how Google works: 

  1. Crawling: Google scours the world wide web for content; then looks at the code (are there HTML or JavaScript errors?) and content (is it useful?) for each URL it finds;

  2. Indexing: Google, having found a new URL, catalogues and organizes that content. Once Google indexes a URL, it’s possible for that content to show up in results for relevant search queries.

  3. Ranking: Google decides which URL is the best answer to a reader query based on a set of ranking factors. Links in SERPs (search engine results pages) are then ordered relevant to least relevant.

What are organic search results? Organic results are earned links that rank through effective SEO, not by using Google Ads. Today, SERPs include ads, the standard 10 blue links and dynamic results ( “SERP features”) like People Also Ask, the News carousels and other rich snippets.

What are ranking factors? These are signals Google considers when deciding what story appears first in SERPs. Google considers oodles of factors – and is often cagey about what is or is not considered. Let’s focus on what we’re sure Google looks at: 

This is just a shortlist of areas that we, as audience editors, have control over. 

When we optimize these components, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee our pages will rank. But our efforts will greatly improve the chances.


THE KNOW HOW

Content SEO 

Let’s level up. We know how Google works. Now, let’s look at how we, as news editors, can best respond to search interest. 

In every issue of this newsletter, there are three core pillars of news SEO we return to: keyword research, on-page optimization efforts and link building strategies.

What is search intent? The intent is the “why” behind a person asking a question for a keyword. There are four types of intent: transactional, local, navigational and informational. We’re primarily focused on informational intent for queries. 

  • Consider Canada’s election: If readers search for “elections.ca mail in ballot” it’s clear the intent is navigational (taking a shortcut to find Elections Canada's hub for casting a vote by mail). However, searches for “How to vote by mail Canada” are looking for an explainer of information on how the process works. 

If the intent is unclear, do a simple incognito search for the term – what results show up? Once you understand intent, you can determine if it’s worth trying to rank for, then create compelling content that responds to that interest. 

What is keyword research? Understanding the key terms and phrases readers are using to find stories on a given topic. There are three pillars to keyword research:

  1. What keywords are being used? Start with a keyword research tool and your “fat head” (most general) keyword for a topic. From there, look at the trend data, related keywords or people also ask (for potential subtopics), and long-tail keywords (for evergreen opportunities). 

    1. You want to identify the top-referring keyword for your story; after your story runs, check your search data to see what you actually ranked for.

  2. What questions are readers asking? Using People Also Ask, look for related questions from readers and Answer the Public for that same data, but on steroids. An explainer or FAQ that answers a series of questions, or a story responding to the search interest for a specific keyword, are excellent service-driven examples of SEO-informed content. 

  3. What is the volume of that interest? Search volume is an important SEO metric that refers to the number of people searching for a specific keyword during a selected period of time (most often monthly figures). Understanding high and low volume phrases can help prioritize story ideas and estimate potential traffic for a keyword. 

For each keyword, also consider keyword difficulty – a metric that quantifies how hard ranking in the top 10 search results will be. Difficulty for a keyword is based on a number of factors, including domain authority, page authority and content quality. There will always be more competition for fat-head or general keywords (COVID-19 or federal election) than more specific, focused phrases (covid cases new zealand schools, or canada federal election polling); while longer-tail or niche keywords are more likely to see readers click if the result matches their intent.

There are a million SEO tools for keyword research, but we almost always start with Google Trends, Search Console, AnswerThePublic, and Keywords Everywhere. Also try: KWFinder, Ahrefs, SpyFu, or SEMRush. When researching, also Google your top keywords to see what other news publications are writing (and see if there are any angles or questions you’re missing).

Once you have keywords in hand (or, more likely, in a Google doc), you can produce an explainer, news story or longform article that responds to the search interest you uncovered. Don’t forget to optimize your on-page SEO treats.

What is on-page SEO? Literally the stuff on the page. At The Globe, these bits of text are collectively referred to as “treats” (yes, like a cupcake or cookie). The headline, the subtitle (meta description), URL, subheads and internal links – along with images or videos in the file. 

  • Headlines, headlines, headlines: Headlines are the most important field Google looks at when ranking content. Write keyword-focused headlines that are ~70 characters and written for people. Use a tool to check where your headline will cut off in a SERP.

  • Sub-titles/meta description: The sub-title helps drive click-through rates in SERPs, even if not always visible on your website. Keep it short and punchy, about 150-160 characters.

  • URLs: The URL should be descriptive and include the main-focus keyword. Don’t update – even in breaking news – more than twice. 

  • Internal links: Connecting Story A to Story B on the same topic, internal links are an important ranking factor and help drive internal referral traffic. Be sure to link out to and from high-performing pages, and include 3-5 links. Where possible, hyperlink from target or secondary keywords.

  • Images: Worth a thousand words, images should be optimized to have clear file names for the correct file size (usually JPGs) and be as compressed as possible. In a story, images must include alt text and captions that explain the semantic meaning of the image for users with screen readers or slow internet connections.

Whether we’re thinking about SEO for planned events or breaking news (1, 2, 3), these are the core pillars of our on-page search efforts. 

Best practices:

  • Understand the internet intent behind the keywords you research and want to rank for;

  • Ensure all treats (headlines, decks, URLs, internal page structure) reflect keyword research; 

  • Put your internal linking (and backlink) strategy to work.


THE KNOW HOW

Technical SEO 

We know all about keywords, search volume and writing great headlines. Let’s turn our attention to technical aspects of SEO, which are, as Lindsey explains, a huge part of a winning strategy. 

Technical SEO considers the infrastructure of your website for search engines. You don’t need to write code, but it is important to have an understanding of HTML (hypertext markup language) concepts

What are the most important HTML tags? Again, there are oodles of HTML tags. Some important for SEO, some minor. Here are five you want to make sure are G2G: 

  • Title tag: Shows up in the browser tab and in SERPs. Should include the headline and your brand (Canada federal election: Leader enter final push ahead of Sept. 20 vote | The Globe and Mail).

  • Meta description: Often the subtitle of your article page; should be 150-160 characters. Not a ranking factor, but helps CTR.

  • The robots tag: Provides search engines directives for what to do with the page (i.e., nofollow tells Google not to follow/crawl links on the page).

  • Canonical: Provides search engines with the true version of a duplicate set of content. This is particularly useful when there are multiple versions of a story on a variety of pages or sites.

  • Heading tags: How a search engine crawler understands the hierarchy of headings on your page. Heading tags start with <h1> (usually the headline) to <h6> with H1 being the most important, and H6 being the least.

What is structured data? Written in JSON-LD (JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data),, structured data is a standardized way of providing “explicit clues” – additional information about the content on a page – to search engines.

What is a rich snippet? In SERPs, Google will return a mix of links and other features (called rich snippets), including Featured Snippets, News Box (or Top stories), People Also Ask questions, recipes or image carousels. As Google takes up more real estate in search results with these features, targeting one of the dozen of snippets available can drive people to your website. 

  • Google gets the data for a rich snippet from structured markup (like Schema) on the page, which helps search engines understand better what information is on your webpage. 

  • Use the Structured Data Markup Helper or TechnicalSEO.com to get the correct code for the snippet and use Google’s rich results testing tool to check for errors.

  • There’s no guarantee that using the correct structured data will mean your webpage nets a rich snippet; but since these features have higher click-through rates, it’s worth experimenting. 

What are other important technical considerations? As Shelby wrote last week, the list of technical SEO concepts audience editors need to know includes “indexable” and “non-indexable” content, how to crawl a site, the function of sitemaps and a guide to the HTTP status codes. Plus, she explained duplicate or thin content. 


The bottom line: Congratulations! You’ve completed the 101-level introduction to search for news publishers. From here, you’re well equipped to build on these core concepts and extend your search efforts. Develop an evergreen SEO strategy, use schema to support E.A.T. efforts, build out content pillars for priority news topics or apply your SEO skills to when launching a new news product


FUN + GAMES

SEO quiz

How many searches have been recorded by Google so far in 2021?

  1. 60 billion searches

  2. 360 billion searches

  3. 360 million searches

  4. 160 billion searches


RECOMMENDED READING 

  1. What does it take to rank in Google Discover?

  2. Don’t worry: Google still uses the original titles for ranking 

  3. Example technical SEO issues and how to fix them

  4. Microsoft launches a personalized news service, Microsoft Start


Have something you’d like us to discuss? Send us a note on Twitter (Jessie or Shelby) or to our email: seoforjournalism@gmail.com.

(Don’t forget to bookmark our glossary.)


FUN + GAMES

The answer: 2, 360 billion (with a B!) searches so far in 2021.  


Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley