Best of: Our top WTFisSEO? newsletters from 2021
This week, we look back at our top-performing newsletter editions. What's a keyword? Does E.A.T. content matter? How do I know TF I'm doing? Our best of answers those questions (and more)
Before we jump in, a word of thanks to all of you for subscribing to this newsletter! We started WTFisSEO? in February as a way for us to develop our skills as SEOs outside of the demands of the daily news file. In 42 issues (clocking in at least 50,000 words total), we are confident we did just that. We’re grateful for the weekly deadline forcing us to research, synthesize and explain these search concepts.
Growing this newsletter from zero to more than 2,000 subscribers in less than ten months is unreal.
A special shoutout to early champions of this newsletter Lindsey Wiebe and Barry Adams. Plus Ming Wong, the brilliant designer behind our logo, and John Shehata who (along with Barry) invited us to speak at NESS, the first-ever news SEO conference. A final thanks to Lindsey (again), Bryan Flaherty and Jake Banas for participating in our first few Ask a News SEO series.
Okay, enough with the sappy thank you notes. What is this, the Oscars?!
We’re hosting an SEO for news call in the new year! Join our Slack community to get first access to the invite.
Let’s get into it.
Our very first newsletter! If you are just getting started, here are the basic SEO things you need to know:
Search is an excellent way to find and grow new audiences (and search readers are often more loyal than social readers if your outlet correctly fulfils their intent).
SEO is much less “optimizing for Google” and much more “understanding the questions readers are seeking answers to” and then creating reporting that matches that interest.
No matter how much traffic we can get from Google or other search engines, we never write for Google or other search engines. The reader comes first!
In this early issue, we outlined 11 of the key concepts all news SEOs should know. From that last, the greatest hits:
Search intent: The why behind a query (we focus mostly on Informational intent);
Ranking factors: How Google determines the order of search results pages. There are too many to count, so focus your efforts on delivering E.A.T. content, on-page SEO, building backlinks, search intent, freshness and topical authority;
H1 and title tags: These HTML tags describe the contents of a page to Google. The H1 (the headline) is the most important tag that Google considers and you control;
URLs: The address for a story. Keep it short and include keywords;
Backlinks and internal links: So important! Backlinks build authority and internal links connect readers to more of your journalism. A great linking strategy is an easy SEO win.
These are some of the foundational search concepts. SEO is a huge and complicated field. Start with what you have control over, and build your strategy from there.
There are three keyword-focused newsletters on this list, pointing to the high importance of keyword research in SEO (news and otherwise).
Keyword research is one of the first steps in developing a publication-wide SEO strategy, and it’s the first step when evaluating a story for search, too. It’s how you answer the questions:
How are readers finding this information?
Which keywords should be included in headlines, deks (meta description), and in the body copy?
What other questions, subtopics, or areas of focus exist for a story?
E.A.T content – expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness – is the type of content Google wants more of. This is also known as quality journalism (aka the stuff we produce every day).
We can support our E.A.T efforts by using structured data. Structured data is a standardized way for providing a bunch of information about a page in a way that helps classify and organize its content.
We provide “explicit clues” to search bots about the meaning of the page (i.e., a recipe or review)
Structured data is written in a coded vocabulary that search engines can understand. Most search platforms agreed once upon a time to follow the structured data rules laid out on schema.org.
HTML, or hypertext markup language, is a programming language that is used to make up the structure of a website. Proper coding – the use of clean, semantic HTML – is the most basic, straightforward way to optimize your site for search. Here are the key HTML elements you need to know:
Title tag: Generally, it will contain the h1 (containing the headline) plus the name of the brand (“COVID-19 infections hit 4,000 per day | BBC News”). Tells Google what’s on the page, but is not visually present in the browser;
Heading tag: The H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6 tags should contain the headline (H1), the key subheads (H2 or H3), plus any less important subheads (use the H4, H5, H6 tag sparingly; it’s uncommon to actually need it). The most important of these tags is the H1 (the headline which should contain a short, keyword-focused headline);
Meta description: Often the deck or subtitle. Shows up(-ish) in SERPs (sometimes Google will use the meta field, sometimes it will pull another snippet). Not a ranking factor but can impact click-through rate;
The robots tag: Tells the search engines what to do with the page. Be sure to match the instructions to your intent;
Canonical: The URL should be keyword focused, short and clearly outline what’s on the page.
Links are an underappreciated, highly important part of any SEO strategy. Not only do internal links help connect your readers to additional reporting and spread authority across pages, but they help search engines understand the structure of your website. Internal links also help search engines index individual articles on your site.
On-page, try to hyperlink on a key phrase (link to your COVID-19 case tracker on the phrase “COVID-19 infections” or “coronavirus cases”; avoid the use of “here” as the hyperlink).
There’s no magic number of links you need per page; include hyperlinks to useful, relevant content.
When a piece of content is performing well in search, be sure to link back to earlier or evergreen reporting to signal to Google that those pieces should be reindexed.
Google Search Console (GSC) is a free data service from Google that helps you monitor, maintain and troubleshoot your site’s presence in Google Search results. GSC helps you understand and improve how Google sees your site.
There are many, many, many different use cases for GSC. These are the ones we go through in the issue:
Identify priorities for your search strategy;
Easily identify winners week-over-week (with metrics you can give higher ups);
Identify “low-hanging fruit” to optimize;
Remove URLs you don’t want on search;
Analyze the data around a single URL.
In this issue, we go through a step-by-step process on how to find what the top-referring keyword for a particular news story is. This is a great process you can take to find which keyword you may want to target for your own, unique story.
What do people search most to find information about this particular topic?
What is the main-focus keyword?
What is the secondary keyword(s)?
What other avenues should we explore?
Are there any breakout opportunities?
We also broke down the process in a video if you’re a visual learner.
There is no shortage of SEO tools available, from Google’s suite of helpers to paid or freemium products. In this issue, we looked at 11 tools, each serving its own (sometimes very specific) purpose. Here are the tools we use most consistently:
Google: Analytics for on-site data; Trends (and the Trends Newsletter) for real-time insight on how readers are finding news on a topic; Search Console for the keywords readers used to land on your site; and Google search itself for a real-time look at the SERP landscape (plus see which rich snippets are available).
Keywords Everywhere: The Chrome extension is excellent. Get access to trend data, related terms, and People Also Search For info and long-tail keyword opportunities right in SERPs for any query.
SEO Pro: Kristina Azarenko’s Google Chrome extension is excellent for looking at on-page SEO (and recently updated with more data). With the extension, you can easily see all the HTML tags, Schema, and headings, status codes, links, images, and schema for any page on the internet.
Keyword targeting means exactly what it sounds like – the process of researching, selecting and optimizing for a term on a page. It includes using a specific keyword in the many components of a page, including the page title, meta description, URL, body copy, images, videos or GIFs and links (both internal and external).
Some things to consider when targeting a keyword:
Read the piece: More important than anything is making sure you are aware of the story you are optimizing for.
Break out from your seed keyword: Your seed keyword is the root of your focus. It will almost always be too broad.
Be open to change: Consider that there may need to be a change to your strategy.
Do not keyword stuff: There’s a fine line between having a keyword in a piece enough for substance, but you don’t want the keyword to be thrown into body copy, headlines, URLs or decks when they aren’t warranted.
The bottom line: We covered a lot of topics in 2021 – and 2022 will be just as jam-packed with fresh insight and lots of nature-related asides in this newsletter. Drop us a line (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have suggestions for topics or questions.
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.