Breaking news SEO (pt. 3): When the party’s over
In issue no. 16, we conclude our series on breaking news SEO, looking at how we can evaluate the success of our efforts.
Hello and welcome back from the long weekend.
This is the third and final instalment of our breaking news SEO series. So far, we looked at how editors can use search during the breaking news cycle:
This week, we look at what to do when the story is over (or mostly over) and how to evaluate success. We put together this tracking Google doc for live news – use it to capture your work as a story develops and in a post-mortem with your editors. Commenting access is ON, so tell us what to add.
In this issue:
Content SEO metrics: Organic traffic, keyword ranking
Technical SEO metrics: Page speed and backlinks
After the news cycle ends: What are the key takeaways? Communicate those lessons to your editors
How to measure content SEO success
We know that when a news story is breaking, we turn to Google Trends or realtime search insights to see what people are looking for.
We respond to that interest in our reporting: in explainers, FAQs or help otherwise shape what questions we answer for readers. Some metrics can help us make sense of our reporting’s impact and inform our strategy for future news events.
These are some questions to ask yourself as you’re looking at the piece(s) after the news cycle:
Wait at least 24 hours after the “end” of the breaking news event to see its full effect
For pieces informed by search insights, was Google the top referrer for traffic? How does the traffic for that piece compare to other stories on the subject, or against your overall site average?
For stories with headlines and meta descriptions (decks, sub-titles or sub-headings ) informed by keyword research, which keywords drove the most traffic and were they what you targeted? Did you rank in SERPs for your target keywords?
We can look six key metrics to measure success:
Organic traffic from search:
What it is: Organic traffic from search measures the number of readers who found your site or story from a search without any paid promotion.
How to measure: Use your site’s preferred analytics tool. Look at the number of readers – both total raw and per cent of total views – of who arrived on the page from search. Is it above or below the average for a story on your site?
Success is: If your breaking news stories brought in more traffic than average from search. If it didn’t, was there a reason you can identify? (Was the story missing keywords in titles, meta descriptions? Was it linked to frequently from other reporting?)
What it is: A link to your site shows up in SERPs for a particular keyword that you may or may not have intentionally targeted. (Refer to part one for more on identifying those phrases.)
How to measure: For the keywords you targeted, did your stories rank on the first page? If the news story had a breakout search term, did your organization rank for that phrase? How many page views or site visits did you generate from that keyword? If you have access to a Keyword Gap analysis tool, compare your performance against competitors.
Using the SEO tools: Use the Google Chrome extension from Detailed to open a story in the tool of your choice (for example, Ahrefs, SEMRush, Moz or SimilarWeb). Identify the top-referring keywords: Do those phrases match the keywords you targeted during the news event?
Success is: If your publication ranked fairly high in SERPs for the keywords you targeted.
Time spent and bounce rate
What it is: Time spent (measured in seconds) tells you how long readers engaged with your story. High time spent often means your content aligned clearly with the reader’s search intent (great news! This is what we want). Bounce rate, meanwhile, is the percentage of readers who came to a page, but left without interacting with the page (either by clicking another story or returning to search).
How to measure: Start with search-focused stories: Is time spent and page views per visits above average? If you can, segment it further to look at how many new or unregistered readers engaged with your stories: How long are they spending on the page, compared to your existing subscriber base? Is your bounce rate high or low? How does it compare to your average?
Success is: If time spent or average session duration is higher than the average for most stories.
Conversion rates (from search)
What it is: Depending on the objective of your newsroom, how you use it to measure “conversion” will change. Consider your audience funnel:
To grow top of the funnel: How many new anonymous or unregistered readers found the story from search?
To increase the middle of the funnel: How many new readers from search created an account, subscribed to a newsletter or followed your site on social media?
To increase the bottom of the funnel: How many readers forked over their credit card info?
While not technically the dictionary definition of “conversion,” all these on-site actions are converting totally unknown audiences to more loyal readers. Search readers – when you answer their query effectively – are more easily moved through the funnel as this increases their loyalty to your publication.
How to measure: Compare against the site’s overall conversion rate or how many subscribers/supporters you accumulated.
How to measure technical SEO success
What it is: The number of different websites that link to your news coverage. This is a key Google ranking factor – and a clear signal that your coverage resonated with readers and is trusted. Building a good internal and external link strategy is core to search strategy.
How to measure: Use a backlink tool like SEMRush, Ahrefs or Moz to see which new links direct to the page.
Success is: Breaking news can be hard to acquire links because it’s timely. Any links are great, but higher quality links from notable sites will help (five or more is incredible).
Bonus tip: A social tool (like CrowdTangle’s Google Chrome extension) is helpful for finding referral from platforms – is the traffic coming from your brand’s page, or organic traffic coming from a person/brand with a big following?
Page speed / site speed
What it is: Page speed measures how long your story took to load.
How to measure: You can use Chrome’s Developer Tools on the page to measure page speed, or use any of Google’s inspect tools. Look at the extra stuff on that page (maps, charts, videos, interactive elements) – what was/was not necessary? Make note for future events.
Success is: Your hub or main breaking news file should be under two seconds load time.
Bonus tip: There is a clear connection between a fast website and a low bounce rate – this makes sense! Websites with a ton of pop-ups and ads interrupting the reader’s experience are more likely to see readers fleeing (especially if they come in from search and are trying to fulfil a query).
We had a whole long weekend to think about even more audience ideas
Using a search-focused piece, how did it perform with your subscribers or supporters?
Often, what does well with search readers will resonate with subscribers or supporters (but the reverse – nich resonating with a wide, search audience – isn’t true).
Who found the most value in your search-focused content (using time spent, visits, or shares as the metric to evaluate)?
What other websites or social platforms sent you traffic? Use CrowdTangle’s chrome extension to uncover new sites for referral traffic.
Was an in-depth piece picked up by Longform, or shared on a particular Reddit forum, or curated into another publication’s newsletter?
If a story is widely shared on Facebook, consider a Live with a reporter. If it’s popular on a sub-Reddit, an AMA might convert passive readers to become part of the active audience. If a niche newsletter picks up your reporting, consider a co-pro in the future.
It is useful, as editors, to always be thinking about moving readers through the funnel and building strong ~ audience loops ~ in our newsrooms.
During breaking news, identify the keywords used to find information that your organization can target/respond to with reporting. Make note of your target keywords.
As news winds down, look at the top referring keywords for your coverage – are they the same as your target keywords?
Review technical SEO components to improve for future events. How much stuff should you add to a page before it’s no longer useful to readers?
✔️ Action item: Create a report that highlights the content and technical SEO metrics that align with your news organization’s goals. Try to make sense of the numbers beyond the numbers — is there a reason that you can see for why the story performed the way it did?
The bottom line: Readers from search are showing an active interest in a topic. How does your organization push these readers through the funnel, to become paying subscribers or more active members?
FUN + GAMES
What is Google’s “search limit” (aka the amount of words in one search query)?
NEXT WEEK: Next week we will provide an actionable (we love an action item) how-to guide for looking up/finding search data using multiple tools (Ahrefs, SEMRush, etc.). Tell us what to cover:
Uncovering sub-topics or new questions to answer for evergreen content
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: 32
Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley.