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Ask a news SEO: How do you advocate for search in your newsroom?
This week, WTF is SEO? chats with Jake Banas of Grist.org about getting editorial buy-in for SEO and key metrics of success.
Hello and welcome back! We hope you are enjoying early November, that time when the sun still deigns to grace us with its presence for at least part of the day. Here’s to getting out for the last few fall hikes before we’re all about chill indoor vibes and the return of the SAD lamp.
We’re bringing back our Ask A News SEO series (ICYMI: our chat with Lindsey Wiebe). This week: Jake Banas of Grist.org, an essential news organization covering climate solutions (their Ask Umbra column is a personal fav).
Jake is the Grist’s Audience Growth Manager and below, you will find his thoughts on getting editorial buy-in for SEO and what Bo Burnham's Netflix special has to do with the climate.
Do you want to participate, or have someone you think we should talk to? Let us know! We like friends.
Next week, we’ll be back with more actionable tips for news SEO.
How did you first get started in SEO?
It was the summer of 2016, PokémonGO was recently released... it was a simpler time. I didn't know much about SEO at the time but was working in tourism marketing in New York State's Finger Lakes region. I knew PokémonGO was getting big and that, when the game was new, people weren't sure where to find Pokémon.
I convinced my boss to let me write a blog post, "Where to find Pokémone in the Finger Lakes." The post broke traffic records for our website and still owns the featured snippet for that search term.
After that experience, I wanted to understand more about SEO. I began to learn by running small experiments on the marketing blog and during my time as a social coordinator for Futurism.com.
Since working in media, I've continued to learn just by reading as much as I can about SEO. WTF is SEO has been helpful in rounding out that knowledge.
What is something you wish you knew when you first started in SEO?
One thing I wish I knew more about when I first started is the importance of SEO for images. File names, captions and especially alt-text were all things that I overlooked a lot, but they all play a part in good SEO.
I think oftentimes it's easy to overlook these seemingly small details because we don't think folks are always going to pay attention to those spaces, but search engines pay attention to everything.
How do you convince people in your newsroom that SEO is worth your attention both after stories are published and as part of the content creation process?
Everyone who works in a newsroom wants their stories to be read more. The challenge is it can be difficult at first to understand how SEO helps with that.
How search engines work their magic is not something most people think about every day. The best SEO starts at the beginning of content creation (although it's never too late) and often times I'll ask, "who is the intended reader of this content? How are they looking for it?"
Grist is a national (U.S.) media organization covering climate change and the environment. Sometimes we have stories that are focused on a local angle. In instances like that, local SEO becomes important.
In my audience position, our editorial teams are kind enough to involve me in their headline workshopping process. That's a great opportunity to ask if including local information might help boost the profile of a story in that area, especially among that town's residents who might be seeking to understand climate impacts where they live.
But the value of SEO goes beyond the beginnings of content. Demonstrating the value of good SEO months or even years after something has been published can show your newsrooms how their work has longevity and value beyond initial publication.
For example, when the IPCC report came out this year and basically said things are about to get worse for our planet no matter what we do, we saw spikes in search terms for people trying to understand how climate change would impact the areas they lived.
Thankfully, we had prepared a story years ago that covered how climate change would affect areas of the U.S. and we saw a big boost to that page from search during that week.
What advice would you give audience editors trying to advocate for SEO-focused recommendations in the newsroom?
Folks who work in newsrooms are generally curious but if there isn't proof of something they may be skeptical.
If possible, look for examples where SEO is working well and share those as examples, explaining what's working and why. As audience editors, we should be constantly learning from insights and tweaking processes, so keep advocating to make changes. Whenever possible, highlight the team's successes as you go along and put them in context.
If an article had a high amount of search visitors after you tried something a little different, let your newsroom know and try it again.
How do you use search insights to inform or power the journalism of the Grist? What has been your biggest search success so far?
Grist is a 20-year-old publication with a large archive of content. But we still have a lot of maturing to do.
When I started here, no one really thought about SEO and most of our search success was to older articles that just happened to rank well, but don't necessarily represent the Grist we are today. Part of our challenge has been to get the team thinking more actively about SEO efforts. We hadn't traditionally paid attention to trending search terms, but now my brilliant social coordinator, Myrka Moreno, and I will share search insights with our editorial teams to help them when they're thinking of stories to cover.
By getting the team to more actively think about SEO we've also had surprising success tapping into cultural moments. Grist recently wrote about Bo Burnham's special, Lorde's album release, and Twilight. Despite not being an entertainment or review site, we ranked well for search terms about those subjects and were able to hijack their buzz. As a niche publication it’s invaluable to reach folks who may not know something relates to your beat and may not be thinking to search for it explicitly.
How do you show the value of SEO in at the Grist?
Every newsroom has metrics of success.
For Grist, while page views are important we also pay attention to things like average engaged time. As an audience manager, I report regularly to the team what content performed particularly well that week. I always make sure to highlight the sources for page views, making sure the team understands where and how readers are finding us, and the average engaged time.
So, not only that readers are finding us, but that they're engaging with our reporting. That's especially true for SEO. Since we're still cultivating better SEO practices at Grist I take extra care to share with the team when a particular article had high search traffic.
Highlighting these successes and good SEO work are what keeps the team trying to repeat that success with other content.
Find your niche and capitalize on it;
Be an ambassador for SEO in your newsroom;
Continue to review to your publication's metrics of success.
An intriguing read for news SEOs - what to do about keyword cannibalization (which may not be a bad thing)
Google is hiring a search quality analyst to fight spam
Here's the timeline for bringing page experience to desktop
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.
Content Editor, Life & Arts at The Globe and Mail
Content Editor, Report on Business at The Globe and Mail
Content Strategist at Globe Content Studio
Senior Digital News Producer at Reuters
SEO Manager at CNBC
SEO Manager at NBC News Group Commerce