Five things you can do RIGHT NOW to help your SEO strategy
In issue 33, Shelby looks at five SEO tips and tricks you can implement right now on your site including indexing, title tags, 404s and more.
Hello friends! Happy Monday. Shelby is back this week, and we’ll be going through some actions you can take at this very moment to help your search strategy.
After a few conversations with folks trying to implement some of these practices into their newsrooms, I realized how overwhelming it can be to learn something new every week and immediately add it to your to-do list. So let’s make it simple and think of what we can do now that will have a lasting impact.
Before we get to this week’s issue, we have a few announcements!
We’ve started a Slack community! After many conversations with people wanting to discuss more of these day-to-day decisions outside of the newsletter, we felt it’d be great to create a news SEO-focused community. Click here if you’d like to join.
Jessie and I will be speaking at the first-ever news SEO conference, NESS21, on October 26-27. We’re joined by a ton of amazing speakers, including the CEO of The Atlantic and the director of SEO for The New York Times. As a thank you, the organizers have given us a promotional code for 25% off your ticket! Use the code SPEAKER.
There will be no issue next week as I celebrate my best friend’s wedding and us Canadians enjoy Thanksgiving.
Let’s do some SEO.
Today, we’ll go through five steps you can take immediately to see improvement in your search strategy. These are some of the first things I tell anyone to look at when it comes to auditing a site, particularly a news site.
Make sure your site is indexed.
This seems silly – “Of course my site is indexed!” You're yelling at me right now – but it’s extremely important you double check your site is actually being seen by search engines.
Go to the search bar in Google and input site: followed immediately by your site’s domain.
This will return all URLs that are indexed by Google with the exact metadata that is provided on each URL. If your site shows up, amazing!
We know that the site is indexed, and you can go through the list of URLs that Google sees and what metadata is being served.
If your site does not show up, let’s get to work!
First, check that Google Search Console is set up and you have access to your metrics. If GSC is not set up for your site, do this immediately. Go to Add Property, and add the code that it provides to your site. You can do this through the host server (ask if your development team can help) or by adding a snippet of code to the header component of your WordPress site.
Once the code is added, ask Google to verify it. If the codes match, it will begin ingesting your content into the search console, which includes indexing your site. If this is successful, you’ll see your pages show up within 24 hours.
After the data is visible in Search Console, go through the index coverage report. This will give you all of the URLs that Google sees, and if the search engine identifies any issues that could be a next step for you to fix (redirects not working, 404 errors, noindex errors, etc.).
Revise your title tag(s).
I’m talking specifically about your homepage title tag, but you should eventually audit and revise all title tags for brand information pages (i.e., location, subscription, contact, team, etc.). Your homepage title tag is what is (usually, if Google isn’t having an existential crisis) pulled for your publication into Google. It is the first explanation of what your site is about to folks searching your organization. We want a descriptive, yet clear and concise title tag to explain the type of stories on your site.
When writing your homepage title tag, you want to keep in mind three things: brand, location and expertise.
Your brand should come first in your homepage title tag. It is what people would search to find you and is the reader’s first introduction to your website. Use your proper name – whichever one is found on your business papers.
The location is extremely important to include, especially when you are a smaller publication with a name that is replicated elsewhere. Include the city and sometimes state/province.
Finally, you want to keep in mind the expertise of your site. What does your site write about? Does it do straight local news, sports or lifestyle? Are you mostly focused on arts and culture? This is where branded keyword research can be beneficial, too. Search for your site and see what people also search or use a keyword research tool and look up keywords people use to find your information.
Then, we’ll take all of this and put it together into a solid title tag for a news organization.
The sequence I like to follow is:
NEWS ORGANIZATION NAME: EXPERTISE OF SITE IN/FOR LOCATION
A few examples of this include:
The Globe and Mail: Canadian, World, Politics and Business News & Analysis
Bushwick Daily: Community issues, events, arts & culture for North Brooklyn
The Independent: Community-supported journalism for Newfoundland and Labrador
Once you feel like your homepage title tag encapsulates your site, submit it in your system and allow search engines 30 minutes to an hour to reflect the change in SERPs. You can also resubmit the URL for crawling on Search Console.
Repeat this process for the rest of your brand information pages. For all articles you publish, the brand should be at the end of the title tag, after the headline.
Example: Dog climbs largest tree in northern Alaska, gets stuck | The New York Times
Fix any 404 errors
Previously, we went through status codes and what they mean. 404 errors are pages that are “not found.” This could mean the page existed previously, and no longer does, but people still have access to the URL.
These are the URLs we need to focus our attention on. If you have a list of pages or articles that have expired because your licence to a wire story expired or was deleted over time and never redirected to a relevant page, we need to fix them. Here’s how to do it.
Use a crawler like Screaming Frog to get a list of 404 errors connected to your site. Don’t have access to Screaming Frog? Here’s how to identify 404 pages with Google Analytics.
Once you have a list of the internal URLs that return nothing but your sad “this page does not exist” template, create a spreadsheet with the list of the URLs with errors, and where you’d like these URLs to be redirected.
URLs should be 301 redirected to another page on your site that serves a similar purpose or search intent.
A caveat: We can’t redirect old stories to newer stories if there is no new development on the file.
Use your judgment when deciding if an old 404 page should be redirected. News articles should be vetted through these questions:
Did this URL have significant organic traffic to it before it was a 404?
Did this story have a series of follows on the topic or was it a standalone brief?
Did this article provide more than 200 words of copy to provide E.A.T content to the reader?
Did this article provide a value to the reader, and is there one that serves somewhat the same purpose?
If you answer yes to any of these, then 301 redirect it to a page that will help your reader find the information they need. If the answer is no, then leave the page to be a 404.
Make a list of your top 10 pages
This will make every SEO task you’re ever asked so much easier. Your top 10 pages will be pulled from whatever analytics platform you like best – we’re looking to parse out your best-performing organic traffic pages. These are the pages that provide the largest percentage of your organic traffic on a regular basis.
These 10 stories will be where you can monitor performance, make on-page optimization improvements, identify evergreen content opportunities, track any experiments you’re testing and so, so much more.
I personally like to pull from whatever analytics platform my site is native to, but for the sake of explanation, let’s use Google Analytics.
Note: Depending on whether you have UA or GA4, it will change slightly how you acquire this information.
Through Universal Analytics: Set the timing to the last six months. Go to Behaviour > Site Content > Landing Pages and set the secondary dimension to Source/Medium.
Create a list of the top 10 URLs for traffic from the Source/Medium of Organic/Google. (You can also create a segment to just pull any URLs with traffic from Google if you know how).
Through GA4: This gets much more complicated, but you can set up events and monitor the
page_view event to gather your list of top-performing pages.
Right now, you really don’t need to do much with this list aside from having it for safekeeping. But as you work through some of the other tasks in the newsletter and that are important for your search strategy, you will find yourself coming back to these URLs often.
Create a robot (and human) friendly navigational structure
Another “duh,” but something that can use your attention at this very moment. Your site is your baby. Your site is the way readers find all of that sweet, sweet journalism you and your team work so hard for. So let’s make it easy for them – and the robots.
Your navigational structure is the way your website’s nav is built. It is the way people find content on your page based on categories or topics chosen by you. It is created (or should be created) with your users in mind. How will they find news stories? Sports? How about that amazing investigation on mental health in the workplace that is buried?
We want to create a clean navigation that ideally doesn’t go below three levels (how far into a section or category a reader must navigate to get to a section).
Level 1 should be the navigation on your site that readers see. These are your broad topics of coverage – news, sports, arts & culture, etc.
Level 2 are the subcategories below your broad topics. These could be local news under news, football under sports, or events under arts & culture.
Level 3 should be used sparingly, but particularly if you focus on a specific topic or event within a topic or an event. It could be the federal election, which falls under the politics umbrella under news. Or you may find that people search particular teams under a particular sport.
The number of categories/sections in your navigation will vary, but try not to get too complex, especially if you’re a smaller publication. A good navigational structure relies on the stories that live in each section, helping link all of the content together. If a section has one or two stories living in it, it’s not a useful section.
Our main goal with a solid navigational structure is to allow search engines and readers alike to find everything they need swiftly and clearly.
🔗 Read more: How to improve your website navigation in seven simple steps
The bottom line: SEO can be extremely overwhelming! If you start with a few tasks and work through them, everything else slowly falls into line. Be patient! Play the long game.
THE JOBS LIST
These are audience roles in journalism from across the globe. Want to include a position for promotion? Email us.
Editor, Cooking and SEO, Bon Appétit and Epicurious: Bon Appétit and Epicurious are looking to hire a writer/editor to work on very SEO-driven projects. The role will require an editorial skillset, but also an understanding of SEO and a willingness to learn the complicated SEO concepts.
Google has offered “helpful tools” for evaluating online information, including a “about this result” tab.
Brodie Clark on Twitter: Short videos have begun popping up in SERPs
Tom Critchlow's Substack newsletter: Using surveys to get executive buy-in
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.)
Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley