SEO for planned news events
In issue no. 27, we look at SEO for planned news events (elections, budgets, debates) and look at how to use search to inform content strategy, plus technical tips for live news pages.
Hello and welcome back. This week, it’s me, Jessie.
Planned news events allow us as audience editor a chance to show off. Can search power our journalism and inform our coverage? From us: a resounding yes!
Let’s get it.
In this issue:
Using keyword research to inform your planned news event plans;
Technical considerations when preparing your live files.
Content, content, content
Finding your “seed” keyword
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went to the Governor General and dissolved parliament. It’s election day zero. First stop on your election SEO trail: identifying the seed keyword for the news event. This keyword is important to know, as it’s likely to have the highest search volume, but also the most competition for traffic.
In this federal election, it is
There are many metrics used to evaluate a keyword, including:
Search volume: How many searches are performed per month for the keyword;
Potential traffic/clicks: How many readers click a link on this keyword. It’s likely much lower than the search volume because not every search query needs a click, so this is a more realistic view of what traffic can be like. For example: If a reader searches, “
How old is Justin Trudeau?,” or “
When is the Canada federal election?” the answer will be provided through a rich snippet in SERPs. Don’t optimize for keywords Google will answer;
Keyword difficulty: SEO tools gauge this differently. It’s based on a mix of factors, with backlinks being a key element.
Using Ahrefs, we can see the seed keyword
federal election has:
Estimated average monthly search volume: 6.1K;
Average monthly potential clicks: 4.1K;
Cost per click (for paid campaigns): $1;
Keyword difficulty: 38 (or rated as hard to rank for).
Once the seed keyword is identified, let's look at how each part of the country is searching for this term in Google Trends. Use the filter icon to add regions.
From here, look at the related queries – top, rising and breakout phrases – for possible story angels across Canada (if you’re a national outlet) or in your province/region.
In this example, we can see there’s national interest in mail-in ballots, how the upset in Nova Scotia will impact the vote and public opinion polls.
Now what? You now have an understanding of what the main focus keyword for the event is, but also some related angles to beef up your coverage. You can use those keywords in your section or topic pages, content pillar pages and your main explainers – these are your top-of-the-funnel stories, an entry to more specific content.
In an election, readers will have many questions. Readers search with the five W’s:
What is my riding? Who is my candidate? Where does each party stand on the issues? When (and where and how) do I vote? How are the leaders polling nationally?
These are perennial election questions with strong informational search intent and a great opportunity for you to provide readers a service. Readers are looking to fill a knowledge gap about a topic. Check your archives from the last election (2019) and update those files with 2021-specific information (more on that next) if it makes sense. If it makes more sense to create a 2021-specific version, do that instead.
This kind of story – service journalism where the content matches perfectly with intent – is excellent evergreen content.
A special case
In this pandemic election, some of these questions will have a new, COVID-19 flavour. When, where, and how readers cast their ballot might be different this year.
Going back to Google Trends, we see rising interest in mail-in ballots; but looking at Ahrefs data, we see extremely low, and even zero volume for keywords on the topic.
mail-in ballots canada: 0;
vote by mail canada: 40;
who can vote by mail in canada: 0.
The search volume is low because we are several weeks out from Sept. 20.
However, knowing that Elections Canada expects 2-5 million mail-in ballots – a huge spike from 2019’s 250k votes, there’s reason to think the volume will spike closer to the vote. Potential traffic for service journalism around mail-in ballots or voting by mail is not represented by search volume.
Google Trends shows these keywords are worth our effort (it’s already being searched across the country) and can be a form of essential service journalism. Literally millions of Canadians will be voting by mail for the first time. And if they’re anything like me – who, for sure!! does not know how to address an envelope – they’ll need solid information about casting this ballot (how to get a ballot, the deadline to drop it off, where to drop it off).
Keep watch in Google Trends, Keywords Everywhere and Answer the Public for emerging questions. Expect an increase in search interest around mail-in ballots, and for questions like:
How does mail-in voting work?
When do I need to send in my vote by mail?
When will mail-in votes be counted?
Will we know the results on election day?
Use search data – and your own instinct – to inform an explainer (and use that filter in Google Trends to identify regional search interest because what voters in Happy Valley-Goose Bay,Newfoundland and Labrador varies from what concerns folks in Fort McMurray, Alberta or Toronto).
Assigning from search interest
Google Trends is not an assignment desk. Keyword volume does not guarantee reader interest or journalistic merit. That said, we can leverage search data to inform new reporting.
An angle might be worth pursuing if:
It’s a breakout term (“Breakout” Google-defined threshold of searches in a specific amount of time. In Canada, it’s 5,000 queries);
Aligns with your publication’s mission, coverage or niche;
It’s a new angle you haven’t covered, but would interest your audience.
Start with a simple FAQ or explainer. If it performs well, expand the piece to include more questions from search, or expand your coverage.
THE KNOW HOW
Live news SEO
It’s debate week and you are prepping your live news page. Here are the technical considerations we recommend keeping in mind:
Technical SEO: Check you have the correct Schema for a live news file.
Launch early in the day: Aim to publish a live debate page or elections results page before people start paying attention. Make the URL clear and don’t update it more than twice.
On-page optimization: Refer back to our on-page SEO content checklist for priority areas focus.
It’s debate night! On top of the expected coverage, you should expect there to be some story angle that just happens (and sometimes, the thing you’re reacting to on-the-fly, is an actual fly).
Is your live news page working? As you add to the page, check page speed is still under the two second mark, or loading at a fairly quick pace. Try your page on multiple types of browsers as well as on mobile to ensure all readers will have a good user experience.
Keep an eye on Google Trends for the unexpected breakout search (turn on ✨ email alerts ✨). During the Democratic primary debates in 2019, Kamala Harris challenged Joe Biden on his record on school desegregation busing. Following that remark, interest spiked in
biden busing and
biden segregation – both were breakout search terms news orgs began to target.
Assign new: Service journalism during an election is invaluable. Look at simple FAQs or explainers on concepts readers are interested in. Look at Google Trends for real-time data to see if there is interest and it aligns with your mission (i.e., it's about climate and you’re The Narwhal; housing affordability and you’re The Star; economic recovery and you’re The Globe), hop on it early to dominate search results. Refer to our breaking news guide for more tips.
Update evergreen: If there’s a surprise focus on something you already covered, check your archives. Retop with fresh context and repromote on social media. This works for explainers and FAQs, less so for longer reported pieces (in that case, focus on social repromotion, and link to the reported piece from your live file).
Do nothing: Okay, so, Justin Trudeau said “moist” again, or wanted a coat because the venue had too much A/C? Leave these moments to your social team! Or fold into a “5 key moments from last night’s leaders debate” round up.
Otherwise, keep the headline, featured image, deck and structure fresh and updated throughout the night. Live news headlines don’t need more than five updates per event – so choose your moments wisely, and use updates to reflect the movement of the story.
For example, your initial headline should set up the event (ie., the debate) with key names and times. Then update the headline if there’s a juicy quote or breakout event. The last update should transition from live event to evergreen headline.
Use keyword research to identify areas of interest;
Create content that fulfills search intent;
Optimize on-page efforts for content SEO and technical considerations.
The bottom line: Elections are a lot of work – but they are also an opportunity to reach readers at the peak of their interest on a specific topic and introduce them to the breadth of your reporting.
FUN + GAMES
True or false: Your geographic location is a factor in where your web page listing appears in search engine results.
A lot of weird things are happening with title tags in SERPs.
Everything we know about the title change tests.
International SEO: How to do keyword research in a language you don’t speak.
NEXT WEEK: Your 101 guide to technical SEO
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.
(Don’t forget to bookmark our glossary.)
FUN + GAMES
The answer: True. Depending on your geographical location, the SERPs will change.
Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley
I *am* including this because I want non-Canadian readers to know that Happy-Valley Goose Bay is the REAL name of a town in Canada (Newfoundland, to be precise. Population: 8,109).