SEO tips for new projects
This week, we talk SEO for new projects and how to approach your search strategy. Start with a mission statement or goals, develop a content strategy, track potential on-site changes and more.
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Hello and welcome back. This week, it’s Jessie, hyped up on sugar. Continuing our time-honoured tradition (we’ve done it twice) of celebrating major milestones (the ones we remember to celebrate), Shelby sent me a vegan cake to commemorate us reaching 5,000 subscribers. A delicious reward (Shelby: Which she never sent me a photo of! How rude).
This week: SEO for new projects. We cover how to approach the search aspect for new projects: Start with a mission statement and goals, develop a content strategy, track potential on-site changes and more.
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Let’s get it.
In this issue:
Start with keyword research;
Build out the project;
Review and report on success.
How to start
Your publication identified a new vertical or area of coverage – personal finance, wellness, a new sports league, climate, gaming, travel, etc. – and the project needs a clear SEO strategy for launch.
1. Start with a clear mission statement. What is the new vertical trying to achieve? How do you know what to write about? Clear goals are needed to identify the most useful metrics for success. Here are some questions to consider:
What is the business case for the new product?
Who is the ideal audience – and where in the funnel are they?
How much content do you need for launch?
Is there a paywall? What is the paywall strategy? How much content is accessible before hitting a registration prompt or paywall?
Use these – along with your internal editorial goals – to share a clear, guiding statement.
2. Attach appropriate metrics of success. For each piece of the project objective, attach a metric that can actually be measured.
Traffic from search will obviously be a key metric for the vertical. Beyond total clicks or views, consider your bounce rate, engaged time, the number of backlinks, conversions or organic traffic to keywords associated with each part of your audience funnel.
But remember: These metrics are signals of progress and rarely are the singular measure of the impact of your journalism. Page views can tell you how close you are to your site’s traffic goals, but not how valuable a reader found your work.
Hearken has a great guide (screenshot below) to selecting journalism metrics that actually count – where each metric that’s tracked aligns with a long-term goal.
Building out the project
1. Do keyword research. Outline – and track – the keywords you want to rank for. Include in that list high-volume, competitive keywords along with long-tail, less-competitive queries.
Review branded keywords. These can help you understand how current projects are found on search, and can uncover areas of opportunity (i.e., if there are certain topics that fall under your vertical where you have branded associations already).
When you launch your project, monitor the branded keywords in GSC. It might take a bit to show up as readers gain awareness of your project, but can help guide your post-launch strategy.
Review your competition. What keywords are they currently ranking for? Does your content plan include coverage of similar topics? What is the 10x content or value-add your stories will offer?
Keyword research – along with your reporting expertise – should inform your content strategy.
2. Create a hub or section page for your new project. Keyword research should inform the hub’s page title (title tag and headline), the meta description and the URL.
If necessary, create tag or topic pages for entities within the area of focus within your project. Link to/from these pages to help with E.E.A.T and topical authority.
3. Define an effective linking strategy. Links help determine the relationship between two or more pieces of content, as well as your publication’s authority and expertise on a subject. The more stories that are linked to categories, topic pages, related evergreen and enterprise reporting, the more we signal topical authority.
Internal links: As new stories are published, find organic opportunities to add internal links back to the hub page. Review older, archived content on related topics, and where possible, link to newer stories. Where relevant, link from new content to older reporting that is ranking well.
Backlinks: Building a strong backlink profile can take time. But the benefit of launching a new news project is it can garner media attention. Take advantage of the coverage by highlighting your notable authors, related newsletters and early stories – and don’t be afraid to ask for links in stories that other sites write about your project. (Consult Ahrefs’ guide for great off-page SEO tips.)
Update links from your brand's existing social media pages. Add links pointing to the new project section from all of your social pages (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Reddit, Post, etc.). This social admin work helps with visibility and awareness. Social media interest can drive people to click or search for more information.
Consider an introductory post from an editor or senior writer that details the project’s central ambition and lists your contributing writers (with links to their author bios). Link to this from all social pages and in any flagship newsletters.
Include a variety of links to pieces in the vertical that demonstrate your value proposition to your audience. Give readers a reason to engage with the project.
4. Make authorship a part of the strategy. The profile of your writers can drive strong E.E.A.T and topical authority signals. Create individual author pages for every staff reporter, contributing opinion writer and freelancer to signal their credibility.
As Lily Ray outlined, those pages should be information-rich with a focus on demonstrating why the authors are worthy of a reader’s trust. Include their name, area of expertise, an overview of their beat, professional credentials and any of their books, podcasts or media appearances.
5. Implement on-page SEO best practices for all content. Your checklist will include headlines, meta descriptions, URLs, subheadlines, top internal links to include and image SEO. When planning your content calendar, make room for evergreen content, too, to protect against fluctuations in news traffic.
6. Optimize the site’s structure. Googlebots need to crawl your content in order to index it and make it available for ranking in SERPs for appropriate keywords. Outline how and where your project fits within the overall site structure and make sure your project’s content is captured in the sitemap.
Homepages are a major linking signal for readers and Google alike. Search engine robots begin crawling your site on the homepage and follow various links to crawl, index and ultimately rank stories.
Links from the homepage get priority crawl, so advocate for your project to have a prominent place on the homepage. That link placement can help your project's visibility in search.
This could include in the navigation (more on this below), a pinned post or a package of stories from the project.
For example: Grist includes this collection of stories from their Fix (Solutions Lab) vertical on the homepage (it doesn't hurt that the design is stunning). The curated package gives the Fix a boost in visibility for both readers and search robots.
The navigation is also key. As Shelby explained, the navigation bar immediately provides links to the section pages of your site and is the first signal to crawlers that these sections are categories or topics you cover frequently. Leverage this by linking to your new project in the site’s main and/or sub-navigations.
The New York Times, for example, provides prominent links to its properties (The Athletic, Cooking, Games), sections and international homepages.
Audit your progress. Start with a quick Incognito search for the name of your news product. Where on SERPs do you see your content? Start with the keywords you identified earlier: What content is currently ranking for those queries? Is your new vertical showing up on search?
Take lots of screenshots (this is useful when you create internal reports) of the SERPs where you rank/don’t rank. It’s a simple way to track your performance on keywords, and if there are queries with rich snippets you can capture.
Use position tracking for clearer reporting with more fulsome data for key metrics. Rank tracking is valuable because it can help you:
See improving and declining keyword positions over time and monitor your competitors’ ranking;
See changes in SERPs – i.e., if a new rich snippet becomes available for a keyword;
Compare mobile versus desktop performance to evaluate your visibility by device;
Look at different regions to see how terms and phrases readers use change by location. Are you speaking in the same language as your audience?
Position tracking measures the value and impact of your work. You can use this data (and other analytics) to inform your internal reports.
This summary should inform the wider newsroom about your project’s performance, opportunities, potential roadblocks and encourage feedback and constructive criticism.
Return to your mission statement and initial goals in each report. Are those still the most useful metrics for success? Do you need to communicate changes in your approach? SEO is a long-game and iterative process. Create opportunities to check in on your targets, see where you’re falling behind and outline how you’ll pivot.
The bottom line: SEO is a long-game. Invest in your search strategy before, during and review it after the launch of a new product. Continue to iterate and come back to your keyword research as the project moves forward.
dofollow.io is very quickly my #1 source for high-quality backlinks that raise my domain authority & traffic with major sites like HubSpot, Cloudways & so many more.
Aleyda Solis on Twitter: Google will host an event on Feb 8. The company says it is “reimagining how people search for, explore and interact with information, making it more natural and intuitive than ever before to find what you need.”
The Verge: Hustle bros are jumping on the AI bandwagon.
The Verge: Google is reportedly testing an alternate home page with ChatGPT-style Q&A prompts.
Bing: The importance of setting the “lastmod” date in your sitemaps.
CNN: Remember when Jennifer Lopez's Grammy Awards dress helped invent Google Image Search?
John-Henry Scherck: The future of B2B SEO is audience development.
Not SEO: Friend of the newsletter Adrian Lee is raising money for The Coldest Night of the Year. The event supports the essential work of the Red Door Shelter in Toronto, Canada, a space for women, families and refugees seeking sanctuary from violence. Donate here.
THE JOBS LIST
These are roles across the globe we see that are audience positions in journalism. Want to include a position for promotion? Email us.
Paramount is hiring a Director of News SEO (New York).
NBCUniversal is hiring an SEO Editor (New York).
BBC is hiring a Senior Journalist, Growth – Search Specialist (Cardiff, UK).
Have something you’d like us to discuss? Send us a note on Twitter (Jessie or Shelby) or to our email: firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, too.
Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley