Ask a news SEO: Louisa Frahm on Google Trends
We were thrilled to chat with ESPN’s Louisa Frahm about covering tentpole events in sports, competitive analysis and a perennial news SEO favourite: Google Trends.
NewzDash: Best Real-Time News SEO Tool & Dashboard
Traditional SEO tools don’t work for News SEO; they check rankings once every 3-5 days, don’t track trends, and don't track Top Stories. NewzDash was developed by News SEOs to fit News SEO needs. Find your true search visibility, uncover important stories and get instant SEO recommendations for your newsroom. Sign up for a demo and get 14 days FREE trial.
Hello and welcome back. It’s Jessie (back from a long, screen-free vacation in Costa Rica) and Shelby (in Indianapolis, getting ready to cover the NFL Combine and meet all of her remote colleagues). Not to brag, but Jessie’s vacation was great: trapeze and yoga, climbing a mountain, surfing and an attempt to eat the monetary equivalent of a plane ticket in fresh mangos (some activities were more successful than others).
This week: Ask a News SEO with ESPN’s Louisa Frahm! We were thrilled to chat about coverage for tentpole events in sports, competitive analysis and perennial news SEO favourite: Google Trends.
Next week: Affiliate marketing 2.0. Shelby will pick up where she left off on the subject. Have a question? Leave it in a comment.
Join our Slack community to chat SEO any time. We’re on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, too.
Book a classified ad in the WTF is SEO? newsletter. Click here or email firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information.
WTF is SEO?: What does keyword research and optimization look like at ESPN?
Louisa Frahm: The nice part about SEO is that the foundation — no matter what kind of content you work with — tends to stay pretty similar.
Once you learn how keyword research works, you can apply that methodology to different types of subject matter.
Sports is in a unique editorial zone, but I still use the same process I did when covering other types of news content.
When it comes to keywords and sports — but this is true for any type of news SEO work — you want to cover the names of important individuals and entities. That best practice exists across the board because that's how people search online. No matter how complex a story may be, you never want to lose sight of how someone could make a simple search around that topic.
In the sports world, that rubric would apply to the names of players, teams, events, coaches, sporting facilities and other entities that could be targeted within your pieces.
Whenever an article gets thrown my way, that's where my eyes go. When I'm scanning, I think “Which search-friendly players can we be targeting? Which search-friendly teams within this article should we focus on? What search-friendly questions can we be answering?”
One challenge with sports — say with the NFL playoffs — is that you often have many teams that could be targeted within one article. But, you have a short amount of headline space. That's where Google Trends is really beneficial. Google Trends can help you explore “Okay, I have this short character count. What keywords should I actually fill it with?”
The Google Trends Real-Time stories feed in general — and the sports Trends specifically — tend to have good ideas for potential stories, with keyword inspiration underneath the listings.
If you’re brainstorming new pieces of sports content for big upcoming events, Google Trends can provide many helpful insights. Well in advance of the event, you can use Google Trends to see what people are searching and find questions that can be answered in explainers and other types of reporting. Additionally, you can get an idea of when general interest starts to spike around recurring trends, to efficiently map out your content rollout strategy. For example, search interest in the Super Bowl tends to follow a consistent pattern year after year.
One thing that I really love about working in sports — having worked in different types of news environments — is that there’s a diverse mix of scheduled events and breaking news. It’s not breaking news all of the time. The ratio balances itself out quite nicely, in terms of managing your workflow.
That plays into the keyboard research process, too, as you will do evergreen research around those tentpole events — what, every single year, are people going to be looking for? That process can be really helpful for creating evergreen content to refresh every single year. That said, there will also be breakout events every year. Those two content strategies should complement each other.
For breaking news, there's no better tool than Google Trends. For example, around the Damar Hamlin news, people were itching for any sort of update. It was really helpful to use Rising Queries to find the latest angles. Specifically, there was a really important discussion around how his near-death experience could happen to someone so young and heart health in general.
That’s one of the most fulfilling parts of working in search: During extra sensitive news cycles, we can give people explainers that can help them feel more secure.
Tentpole events happen every other day in sports. When considering tentpole events and SEO tools, do you mostly look back or try to be predictive about the content you need in the future?
Louisa Frahm: It's a mix of both. User behaviour and search behaviour for tentpole events stay pretty consistent. Every single year, there will be people searching for “What time is the (insert here) Championship?”
There’s value in finding those evergreen trends using the Past 5 years or Since 2004 view in Google Trends. That’s a helpful practice when creating evergreen content that you can refresh every single year.
A list of the best Super Bowl halftime shows is a great example. Updating and refreshing that every single year — that’s butter. That’s a user-friendly resource that people will consistently search for and revisit in the future.
Something that I learned in working with the Google Trends team is how helpful it can be to look at Trends through the sphere of finding questions. Rising Queries have trending angles and inquisitive topics that you should be directly targeting in your headlines and content. Looking for the who, what, where, when, why and how can be very beneficial and user-friendly.
There will always be more competition for the more broad Top Queries. Sometimes when you get those keyword nuggets out of Rising Queries — like a breakout player that’s just arriving on the public radar — you can create a special connection with your target audience. For example, a “Who is [insert player name here]?” explainer can be an excellent resource with evergreen potential. You can link back to that in subsequent articles as that player’s profile continues to rise. We’ve found a lot of evergreen success with player and team profiles at ESPN.
That’s the hack I would encourage people to consider: Dig deeper into Google Trends for Rising Queries and find those angles that exist on a more human level. That’s the special sauce not every other publisher would have. The big, overarching stuff is important too. But, those more unique breakout queries can set you apart from the pack.
What do you think about topical authority at ESPN? How is it different from when you've worked at publications?
Louisa Frahm: I am very familiar with the, “Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach. I know how that goes with how many publishers there are and how competitive the news environment is.
What’s different at ESPN is the distribution of traffic and the name brand recognition. The direct traffic from the brand is very consistent. I’ve worked in places where search was such a top priority because it had to be a primary traffic driver.
What also makes us different is the legacy that ESPN has with TV and digital audiences. That history has created a basis of trust with the fans and our core audience coming to us as a sports authority. That might not even be directly due to the digital presence — it might be a carryover from TV — but it certainly creates a different dynamic of loyalty.
A good amount of our topical authority comes from that long-established trust on various mediums where we’re creating a connection with readers and viewers. That's definitely a huge advantage that our team is thankful for and always trying to build on.
Share this interview with someone who loves Google Trends.
How do you leverage your branded keywords?
Louisa Frahm: I’m always looking for those particular queries — for example, “ESPN fantasy football guide.” That popped up in Rising Queries recently because we create that type of annual content ahead of rolling out our fantasy football programming. I love looking at Google Trends to see if we’re getting branded queries that are directly connected to tentpole pieces. That’s where the name brand will come up most often, for evergreen guides or explainers we do every single year. It’s also wonderful to see the names of our writers pop up in Google Trends, in connection to mock drafts, expert rankings, season predictions and other related pieces. If the traffic is there, we do our best to prioritize the name in related headlines and other SEO elements.
Similarly, we benefit from our well-known commentators — like Scott van Pelt and Stephen A. Smith. The on-air name recognition boosts our brand’s digital footprint and visibility. It’s helpful to look at our talent on Google Trends to see what people want to know from them and how we can further optimize related online content around those themes.
Branded keywords definitely factor into our strategy. We’re always looking for those opportunities to boost our overall brand presence and influence in the online publishing space.
You’ve worked behind the scenes at Google Trends and have more experience with that tool than most other news SEOs. What are your most valuable Trends tips?
Louisa Frahm: There are so many!
I can’t say it enough: I really believe in the value of questions. In the sports world, it’s particularly helpful to zone in on specific feats of athleticism that make certain players and teams stand out from one another. “Who has won the most (insert here)?” “Who is the top scoring (insert here)?” “Who holds the record for (insert here)?” We saw that dynamic come into major search play during the recent LeBron James vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar points race. Establishing search authority with those types of topics early on and providing regular updates can create a strong long-tail connection with your target audience.
The comparison bar is huge to make sure you’re targeting the right terms, especially in breaking news. Don’t sleep on the Past hour filter. Use that to get the most up-to-date ideas and keywords for pitches and stories that are already in the works.
Don't make assumptions about keyword behaviour. The top keyword may be one thing at the beginning of a news cycle, but shift over time. It’s easy to think the keyword will stay the same, but attention spans are short. Trends can constantly evolve. Additionally, similar keywords that relate to the same theme may have different levels of search interest. I humble myself on a regular basis, checking topics often to make sure our strategy remains on the right track.
The regional capabilities of Google Trends are fantastic. Look at the map section to see what areas are searching for specific topics the most. COVID, for example, was (and still is) quite regional. Different areas can be searching for very different things. Being able to actually zoom in — from a global view to the United States down to a state or even a county — for news topics, can be really beneficial for your target audience.
If you're not signed up for the Google Trends daily newsletter, you’re missing out. It provides a user-friendly streamlined view of the biggest news topics of that day. It can provide direct content inspiration. I really love that newsletter and even recommend it to colleagues outside of the search industry.
You can also reach out directly to the Google Trends team and ask for a custom data pull. If you want a deeper dive on a topic and are getting stuck on the front end of the tool, they can help find unique reporting insights on the back end. That’s an incredible hack. Those keyword nuggets can help you create special content that no other publisher can have.
The custom pages Google Trends creates around big events and topics are really great, too. They are handcrafted with love and attention around everything from holidays to awards shows to social justice issues. Similar to what you’ll find in the daily newsletter, they provide helpful data points that can boost many different types of content.
What are your three main focuses at ESPN?
Louisa Frahm: Our top three focuses for search at ESPN are training, reporting and evergreen.
I'm a really big believer in laying a proper foundation with your editorial team right out the gate. To gain trust, training should run on a consistent basis. It shouldn't just be one and done. You want the newsroom to know you're not a one-off SEO person, but rather a steady presence who is committed to enhancing their work. Training sets the stage, but following up one-on-one with editors to make sure they’re implementing best practices is key too. You can’t do it all. You want writers and editors to be investing in SEO and embedding the techniques into their personal workflows, too.
Reporting is also key to our search strategy at ESPN. Especially when you're starting a brand new SEO team, it’s crucial to establish where search has been, where it is now, and where you want it to go in the future.
A central component of SEO analysis is providing regular reporting and tracking analytics. We want to consistently show stakeholders what kind of impact we’re making with our team. We love to highlight wins to boost SEO enthusiasm, but we also point out missed opportunities, with an overall goal to be consistently learning and tweaking our editorial workflow as needed.
Regular trends reporting is important too. We’ve made sure that our individual sports sections have dedicated SEO representation to provide recurring trends reports, intel ahead of tentpole events, postmortems after said events, and other helpful insights.
Last but not least, evergreen strategy is an essential piece of the puzzle. Breaking news takes precedence most of the time, understandably, but you need long-tail traffic to create a sustainable workflow for SEO success. We want to consistently incorporate evergreen pieces into our overall content strategy that can remain relevant for years to come.
At a legacy institution like ESPN, we also have a lot of excellent archival content. My team is passionate about discovering ways to resurface archival content to new audiences. Refreshing content, implementing internal linking, and utilizing other techniques can help promote this objective. I’m excited to continue to find those pieces of evergreen content to repurpose for long-tail traffic.
How do you approach competitive analysis for your key coverage areas?
Louisa Frahm: SimilarWeb, in particular, is great for competitor analysis. They provide an informative view around keywords you’re winning and losing on. You can filter by topics to see what you’re lagging on and should build more content around. On a simple basis, checking out Google search results pages on a certain topic can provide helpful insights on specific topics. Are you in Top Stories? If not, what are your competitors who are doing that you’re not? Do they have a LIVE tag? Is their headline set up differently? How often are they updating their headline? Could you have a timestamp issue? It can be helpful to cross reference those takeaways with Google News and Google Discover. I’ve got my eyes on many different elements.
Headline analysis should be factored into your competitive strategy on a regular basis, especially if you’re prioritizing an incredibly competitive topic like the College Football Championship. There were so many sports publishers optimizing around that topic, trying to break through in Top Stories. You always want to be digging into those results to try to pinpoint “What’s making the difference here?”
On a recurring basis, I also look at our top priority competitors to see if they’re doing anything different from us from a content strategy perspective. Apart from headlines, I’ll look at their websites to get more intel on content framing, site architecture, internal linking, schema markup, and other SEO elements.
It’s an ongoing process. In the news SEO space, we’re always trying to learn from one another. I'm always curious to see what types of tweaks our competitors might be making and if those moves should influence our strategy or not. In the world of SEO, none of us will ever have all of the answers. It’s important to stay inquisitive, monitor trends, explore industry patterns, and make adjustments when necessary.
What would you tell yourself when you were first starting out?
Louisa Frahm: My advice to any news SEO just starting out would be to have fun and not take things too personally.
When I first got into news SEO, I would pitch stories like they were my little children. I would get very attached. I’ve loved news and pop culture since I was a kid, so I felt everything on a deep level. Initially, I didn't realize the scope of what I was working on and how many different editorial objectives could be swirling at the same exact time.
It's really important to keep the bigger picture in perspective with your work. You are here to track trends, flag pitches, and make editorial suggestions. In the bigger scope of a newsroom, those stories sometimes won’t come to fruition. A pitch that you make may happen, but then fall flat with performance. If that occurs, you should learn from the experience, pick up the pieces, and move on. Dwelling on a single story can take you away from the bigger tasks at hand, especially in quickly evolving news scenarios. Additionally, there are often factors in play outside of your department within a newsroom that you have no control over. If you feel overwhelmed, it can be very helpful to take a step back, breathe, and ask “What can I accomplish today?” Once you’ve recentered, go for the things that you can conquer in your zone.
At the end of the day, all you can do is bring your best work to the table. There are so many unknown elements at play in the world of SEO, especially news SEO. We have to be open to experimentation and trial by fire. While chatting with a news SEO colleague in the past year, we both agreed that you have to be a little bit crazy to take on the constantly evolving nature of this kind of work. To excel, it’s important to keep a positive attitude, integrate yourself with your newsroom’s needs, and see the SEO value of every story. If you check those boxes, you're doing a fantastic job and I'm proud of you.
THE JOBS LIST
These are audience jobs in journalism. Want to include a position for promotion? Email us.
GMX is hiring an SEO Editor (Munich, Germany).
Barry Adams (SEO for Google News): Best practices for paywalls and SEO.
Google: Exporting data from Search Console to Google BigQuery is now available and updating users and permissions management.
Conductor: SEO trends and predictions for 2023.
Barry Schwartz: Google's helpful content update now can impact Google Discover visibility.
Digiday: ChatGPT’s arrival accelerates lifestyle publishers’ move away from SEO-driven content.
Detailed: Get the SEO secrets our industry-leading clients pay us to find
Wix: How to help Google navigate your site more efficiently
Have something you’d like us to discuss? Send us a note on Twitter (Jessie or Shelby) or to our email: email@example.com.
Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley