How to nail SEO in journalism

SEO in journalism

Journalism has and always will be about bringing stories to readers that they need to know about. While skills such as shorthand and savvy interview techniques are most associated with the profession, if you own an online publication or indeed write for one, then nailing SEO in journalism is a key requirement of the digital age.

With so much competition for clicks, often it is your SEO that matters most. That’s because regardless of how good of a story it is, the content simply won’t pick up traffic if its format isn’t compatible with how search engines work.

So, if you want your story to be top of the bill where search engines are concerned, hold the front page as we have news where your SEO is concerned…

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Rethink your headline

Headlines have always needed to be short and snappy within journalism, and this ethos works well for SEO too, since Google will cut off lengthy headlines in search engine results pages.

It’s not just the length you need to consider, but the content of the headline itself. Whereas in a newspaper you can get a little creative with the headline, for publishing online, you need to factor in what your readers are searching for, so that your article uses the same words and phrases.

Keywords may include a person, place, or event. For example, imagine you were writing about a famous dog who skateboards on Venice Beach in California. If you wrote the headline, ‘Pawmazing dog wows crowds’, you’d be missing out on the key phrases of ‘skateboarding dog’ and ‘Venice Beach’.

In essence, this means all the phrases people are typing on social media and search engines to try and find content about this story don’t correlate with your headline. Instead, something like ‘Watch as skateboarding dog wows crowds at Venice Beach’ would pick up these search terms.

Use the inverted pyramid

Your readers want information, and they want it now. Therefore, your opening sentences should accurately reflect the headline and give a brief sum-up of the entire piece, especially for breaking news stories. This formula is known as the inverted pyramid, as the concentration of information is at the top, rather than the bottom.

Of course, with feature pieces, there is some room for flexibility because you’d expect people to spend longer poring over such articles. But beware that waffly content, especially if it lacks key phrases related to the topic, maybe a turn off for readers who are simply after a brief summary of events.

Understand H tags

When formatting content, you’ve probably noticed heading tags also known as H tags. The easiest way to describe H tags is that H1 is your headline, with H2-H6 acting as headings, with lesser importance the higher the number after the H.

H tags essentially help break up your content, with SEO platforms such as Yoast recommending you use no more than 300 words before adding in another H tag. Each H tag is also an opportunity for you to add more SEO friendly key phrases that will pick up even more search engine traffic.

Most of your headings will be an H2, and if you have a sub-point to go underneath that, then use H3. You should only use an H tag that is within one step of the previous tag. This would look like H2/H3/H2, rather than using an H2 than using an H6 underneath it.

Avoid clickbait

Clickbait is classed as content that is seen to be deliberately misleading so that users click on the story, but it’s about something totally different or is generally not what they were expecting.

You might wonder why clickbait is bad if it earns websites so much traffic. The problem is users will immediately exit the page, pushing up what’s known as your website’s bounce rate. A high bounce rate signals to search engines the content isn’t helpful, so down the rankings, your website will slide.

Likewise, whatever image you use for the thumbnail, users will expect to see this within the content itself. So make sure you provide quality content that genuinely reflects what people expect the article to be about.

Fill out image information

Alt tags, captions and any other forms of image descriptions offer further opportunities to incorporate SEO. Again, aspects such as people, place names or events are what people are going to be searching for, so the more clues you can give, the better.

On that note, the naming of image and video files should also be considered. It’s an easy detail to overlook, but as files contain a wealth of information search engines look for, you need to make sure your content sends out the right signals. File names such as ‘untitled1’ will do absolutely nothing for your rankings because they hold no relevant information.

Hold SEO reviews

If your stories aren’t ranking well on search engines or social media, then you need to know why. The reason could be to do with your website itself or the way your content is structured. Therefore, the fix could involve tweaking your website to make it more user friendly, in addition to changing how you publish content.

Also, be mindful that SEO as a concept isn’t going to be familiar to all of your team, especially if they aren’t tech-savvy. In which case, either consider training your team or hiring an editor with SEO skills.

Some publications also hire an SEO expert to identify trending topics for story ideas, which is also a great idea, as it will mean your content is continually relevant.

To sum up

Whether your journalistic publication is a casual blog, local newspaper, or part of a global news network, getting your stories noticed online requires SEO to be factored in at every turn.

Remember that your audience isn’t just made up of repeat visitors, but users of search engines and social media who are typing in phrases to find related content. By using the above SEO techniques in conjunction with continued learning, your news articles will rise above the competition.

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