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Ask a News SEO: Shelby and Jessie edition (plus: our plans for 2022)
In this week's newsletter, Jessie and Shelby explain how we found SEO and outline our plans for 2022.
Hello, and welcome back to another year of news SEO! We hope everyone had a great, restful holiday break – whatever you got up to! (Jessie went to various Value Villages a record six times in one week while Shelby did much more normal things like unpack her new apartment and work out.)
This week, a very special edition of Ask a News SEO: featuring us! Shelby and Jessie.
A big thanks to Darian Kovacs for having us on the Marketing News Canada podcast to talk about building the newsletter and the value of SEO in newsrooms.
Let’s get into it.
How did you first get started in SEO?
Shelby: I fell into SEO sideways. When I was the editor-in-chief of my student newspaper, The Cord, our web team eliminated a large bout of malware that affected the site’s visibility on search for years, but I didn’t think much of it. I just liked solving problems.
When I joined The Globe and Mail in 2016, I was offered two roles – a full-time, permanent position and a full-time, contract position. The full-time, permanent position was the Newsroom SEO Specialist, which I felt highly unqualified for. But I took the job, then enroled in an SEO course at Juno College and adapted the marketing principles to a news discipline. This resulted in me learning on the job during one of the busiest news seasons I've ever experienced, including the 2016 U.S. election. But I fell in love with the way SEO really helped people find information where they wanted it.
Jessie: When I first moved into an audience role in a newsroom, my biggest passion and focus was on newsletters (and I still very much love newsletters and think they’re a powerful engagement tool).
In that role, I quickly realized how massive a role search can play in finding new readership. Search readers are a diverse audience of sharp and inquisitive people with an active interest in a given topic. This makes search readers an ideal pool for potential registered users and, ultimately, subscribers.
But my real start in SEO was working alongside Shelby, probably one of Canada’s first full-time news SEOs, when we were colleagues. Her leadership and expertise demonstrated the value of search for our workplace.
What is something you wish you knew when you first started in SEO?
Jessie: That meta keywords are meaningless – even if it’s a field in your CMS. I’m mostly joking (it’s something I learned pretty quickly).
Training and advocacy are a big part of the job. Beyond writing keyword-focused headlines, news SEOs also need to help build search instinct in the editors/writers in their newsroom (this is something Claudio Cabrera articulated so well in this podcast episode). SEO knowledge is more useful when it’s shared.
Shelby: I wish I understood just how much of human behaviour can be explained by what we do behind a computer. Everybody lies. But nobody lies to Google. We can use this knowledge in a positive way – not to exploit peoples’ deepest, darkest secrets, but to answer their most troubling questions at times when they need it the most.
In a less philosophical answer, I wish I knew how little it matters to know the details of “good” SEO and how much more it matters to understand your audience. When you begin in SEO, it can be very daunting – there are lists of things to do, things not to do, good practices, bad practices and everything in between. But a good SEO strategy is built entirely around your audience’s need, not a checklist that someone posted on their blog.
What are your top 3 favourite SEO tools?
Jessie: Of course, I love Google Trends for its realtime and historical data (and the Google email recapping trends led by Simon Rogers and compiled with the help of a number of trends editors). News Flashboard is a great, free tool that helps publishers understand the visibility of their stories on Google (and spot keywords with Top Stories potential where they are not ranking). Keywords Everywhere (the Chrome extension) is a handy reference for trending, related and long-tail keywords. Also, use Keywords Everywhere to look at People Also Ask questions. Pro tip: Especially if you are newer to news SEO, install the extension to see that data on all your searches as a way of building that search instinct and understand how people look for news.
Shelby: Can I cheat and say four? I feel I can do almost everything I need to in SEO with Ahrefs, Google Trends, Screaming Frog and Keywords Everywhere. Ahrefs is one of the best tools on the market for a full comprehensive suite that covers keyword research, technical SEO, link analysis and backlink profiles. Google Trends is the pinnacle for understanding your audience, and is responsible for 90 per cent of the emails in my inbox. Screaming Frog is a great tool for link analysis and bulk exporting your site’s data. If you are looking for things to fix immediately, use Screaming Frog. Finally, as Jessie said, Keywords Everywhere is handy for trend data and building that instinct for what constitutes a good keyword.
What advice would you give audience editors trying to advocate for SEO-focused recommendations in the newsroom?
Shelby: Every reporter wants their stories to have the most eyeballs. Helping reporters understand that you can get more eyeballs while also balancing the integrity of journalism is the most effective way to push search in your newsroom.
Second, the journalism will always pay for itself. Our job is to show reporters and editors that we are simply helping the journalism reach more people that will pay for it.
Every day, journalists listen to their sources tell their stories. We are doing the same thing. We are listening to the audience tell us the stories they want to be told.
Jessie: Pitch your projects as experiments and use data to back your reports. If you pitch an idea as an experiment, you create space for the possibility that the effort might fail. But establishing something as an experiment (“If we do X, Y or Z might happen”) with clear success metrics (“We hope to see Google/search as the top referrer on the story”) creates a framework for thinking about the project as a move forward. The experiment might not be entirely successful on your terms, but can be understood in the newsroom as worthy of the effort – which is key since experimentation should be a constant component of your strategy, not a one-off. Use whatever metrics are available to you (from Google Search Console, Chartbeat, your internal analytics tools, etc.) to create a report outlining the successes, failures, and areas of opportunity for the next idea.
The only way an experiment is a failure is if you don’t learn something from it. In search, not everything is going to work (and it’s not always going to work on the first attempt). Knowing that one failure can be the foundation of a future success is key.
What is one trend you see emerging in SEO in 2022?
Shelby: Good news for us journalists: quality content will become even more important. In order for people to be provided the most comprehensive information, Google will prioritize the E.A.T signals we began seeing early in 2021 and beyond. Quality content with research, sources and niche authority will reign supreme in SERPs – if they win the limited Google real estate.
What should readers expect from WTFisSEO? in 2022?
We have big plans for this newsletter! You can continue to expect weekly newsletters focusing on news SEO every Monday at 1:21 p.m. We want to continue to provide beginner-level explainers on SEO topics while also sharpening our focus on how newsrooms can use search to build out a comprehensive audience strategy. (And: We want to reach 5,000 subscribers by end of 2022.)
We’re also hosting our first news SEO hangout! Join us on Zoom for an informal chat on Feb. 3 at 5:00 p.m. EST. We’ll talk shop, trade stories, and generally get to know other folks in the community.
Please also continue to share your SEO questions with us. We love answering community questions with newsletter editions and even in our Slack community. And we’re firm believers that our industry is strengthened when more people share this knowledge (plus: we love to see greater competition in SERPs from a wider variety of outlets).
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.
The Associated Press is hiring an Audience Engagement Manager on the product side.
The Times and Sunday Times is hiring an SEO journalist (based in London).
News Corp Australia is hiring an SEO Specialist (based in Sydney).
The Narwhal is hiring an Audience Engagement Editor.
Vox Media is hiring a Senior SEO Analyst.
WAMU is hiring a Managing Editor of Audience.
Barry Adams outlined five predictions for news SEO in 2022 in his excellent SEO for Google News newsletter.
NewzDash also outlined their top predictions for 2022 for news SEO.
Claudio Cabrera from the New York Times was a guest on the Own Thy Audience podcast talking about news SEO.
“Traffic whoring” or simply optimizing? Finding the boundaries between clean and dirty metrics.
Axios reports that news engagement fell off a cliff in 2021 (and 2022 is unlikely to be much better).
Moz is back with its Whiteboard Friday. The first edition of 2022 looks at 22 tips from Cyrus Shepard for successful Google SEO this year.
Both Jessie and Shelby have held a number of job titles over the last decade including visual editor, SEO analyst, web developer and editors at our university publications. We’re big believers that the long and winding career path makes you a more resilient, valuable part of a newsroom. We were thrilled to see The Morning Brew talk about how folks can zig and zag their way to professional success.