SEO for breaking news - again!
This week, we look at content and technical considerations for breaking news, including keyword research, live blogs, and reviewing your efforts.
Hello and welcome back. This week it’s me, Jessie, back from my second(!) brunch hosted in the new place. From groups of vegans and non-vegans, I can confirm my tofu scramble is a 10 (my coffee-making skills, maybe a three).
This week: breaking news. The last two years have offered no shortage of unrelenting, breaking news. And while we can’t predict the news, we can move to prepare our response. Today, we’re revisiting our three-part series looking at how audience editors can approach breaking news from a search perspective.
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Let’s get into it.
In this issue:
News is constant. How can audience editors prepare?
How to run live coverage of a news file (content and technical consideration)
Review your efforts for successes and lessons
Breaking news is the core of what we do in journalism. It’s the most stressful, exhilarating part of the job. And while we can’t predict when news will break, we can prepare.
Sign up for the daily Google Trends Newsletter from Simon Rogers (for a curated look at Top Trends, top/related questions).
Sign up for Google Trends alerts to get an email notification when breakout search terms emerge.
The key to search success in a breaking news environment is building your search instinct. Get into the habit of looking at these resources on a daily basis.
This will help develop an understanding of how readers search and the questions they are likely to ask.
Search instinct is understanding how search intent (the why) can signal the content type that will be most useful for readers.
How do readers want information presented? Searches that include “live,” “news” or “updates” signal that a live blog would be useful. The W5 questions (who, what, when, where, why and how) indicate an explainer could be engaging. Terms like “photos,” “see” or “watch” express a desire for visual elements like maps or photos (“where is” is also a signal a map would provide useful context).
As you continue to build your search instinct, you'll be able to identify what readers are looking for more quickly. You will better anticipate the treatment readers want and can prepare for the types of queries likely to emerge. From there, you'll win the day.
When a story breaks, look at Google Trends and other keyword research tools to see what people need to know.
In Google Trends, look for breakout search terms. (Breakout means interest in the query grew by more than 5,000 per cent.)
Compare similar search terms to see what has a higher search volume for your geographical area. (But remember that while search volume can tell you how popular a term is, it's not a perfect predictor of traffic.)
Look at long-tail keywords. Keep notes for additional reporting, to include in an FAQ, or use as subheads in stories.
Use the breakout search term or phrase with a higher interest in headlines, URLs, and topic pages. Use secondary terms in the meta description, subheads and body copy.
Try to create topic clusters around the breaking news event by cross-linking between your main explainer, the topic page, and further or related reporting.
Continue with keyword research to find the W5 questions readers want to be answered. The high interest or trending questions can be answered in explainers, FAQs, rolling files or news stories.
Use a keyword research tool to find new keywords and questions.
Often high-volume questions might seem too basic to be useful (“who is Volodymyr Zelenskyy?,” “what is a sanction,” “what is SWIFT,” or “how to watch the state of the union”).
But remember: search readers are often a new top-of-the-funnel audience. These are readers with an active interest in a news event. They’re searching for a way into the story. Your explainer, FAQ or timeline can provide an entry into more analytical or comprehensive reporting.
If you create an FAQ or Q&A, consult our structured data newsletter and implement the FAQ schema. (The Washington Post has a great FAQ template.)
As the story evolves, continue to return to keyword research – are the main-focus terms changing (i.e., are readers searching for “ukraine crisis” or “ukraine war” more )? Consult Google Search Console to see the terms readers are using to find your stories and monitor for any errors on pages.
Running live blogs
In breaking news, speed is a priority. Publish as soon as possible to start ranking with the core information. If the breaking news unfolds over several days, publish a new blog (on a new URL) each day.
Live blogs or rolling files are an excellent complement to your reporting. When running live blogs, send clear signals – to Google and the reader – that the page is frequently updated.
Write a clear, keyword-focused headline that also signals the page is frequently updated (“live” or “updates” should be in title). Front-load your headline with your main-focus keyword and work in the names of key figures or places before the 70-character mark. The headline should have the latest significant update.
Write a keyword-focused URL of about 5 words, removing anything unnecessary (“the,” “at,” “and” are useless). (Barry Adams has an excellent URL primer covering literally everything you need to know.)
Use images and videos during events that demand to be seen (along with words like “watch” or “see” to signal the content type of your page). Strong, original photos help publishers stand out in Top Stories.
Update the file in chunks. As Christine Liang discussed at NESS, “paired updates” (changing the meta description, featured image, headline and adding a new chunk of content) help tell Google your content is fresh – so it can continue to rank in Top Stories and SERPs. Once you make a substantial update, republish the story (and re-promote on social).
Add the correct schema to your pages. Schema provides “explicit clues” to search bots about the meaning or specific context within the page. Why add it? Rich snippets and higher ranking in SERPs.
All pages across your site should have the NewsMediaOrganization markup; NewsArticle or Article markup on stories;
Include datePublished and dateModified markups on all articles to help search engines understand freshness.
For rolling coverage, add the LiveBlogPosting schema to try and surface their stories in Google’s Top Stories rich snippet feature with the red LIVE badge. (The Guardian, The New York Times and CNN all have excellent live templates.)
Be as descriptive as possible when generating the structured data. Provide coverageEndTime, coverageStartTime, Backstory, Author and the individual liveBlogUpdate.
Use a tool like Technical SEO or the structured data component from Yoast to generate your JSON-LD. Use the Schema Markup Validator to check your code before publishing and the SEO Pro Extension (in the Schema tab) to confirm there are no errors once it is live.
The bottom line: Google is granular and will update SERPs on a minute-by-minute basis so it’s important to have fresh content.
Technical SEO in breaking news
Check the speed of a page using Google’s PageSpeed Insights checker.
Check that new URLs are being indexed properly using Search Console’s URL inspection tool.
Check to make sure pages are indexing for Google News. If your site is not already optimized for Google News, start with this great guide
You can have the best, more considered reporting, but if Google can’t find and surface your content, you’re missing potential audience.
News in review
Wait at least 24-48 hours after the “end” of a breaking news event to measure success. There are five key metrics we can consider to evaluate our efforts.
Organic traffic from search: Using your preferred analytics, look at the number of readers – both total raw and per cent of total views – of who arrived from search. Is it above or below the average for a story on your site? 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?
Keywords: For the keywords you targeted, did your stories rank on the first page? (Trisolute, the free Newsflashboard version, or Newzdash are helpful with SERP monitoring.). Also check Google Search Console or another SEO tool to see which keywords drove the most traffic to your stories. Were those the keywords you targeted? Did you rank in SERPs for your target keywords?
Backlinks: To measure the number of different websites that link to your news coverage, use an SEO tool like SEMRush, Ahrefs or Moz. Five or more high quality links from notable sites is a success
Page speed: Check your hub or main breaking news files to see if they loaded in two seconds. If not, what elements were non-essential and could be skipped in the future?
Create a report that highlights the content and technical SEO metrics that align with your organization’s goals. Outline what your team learned and what can be done better next time.
Success can mean many things: beating your competitor, bringing in new subscribers or simply learning from your mistakes. Share what you learned widely. Newsroom-wide fluency in search is the biggest success of them all.
Start with keyword research to understand what information readers want, and the content type or format that would serve that user intent.
Build out your coverage with stories that follow our on-page SEO checklist or use the LiveBlogPosting schema.
Technical SEO: Make sure your pages are correctly indexed, then check page speed and load time for pages. Use Google Search Console to spot (and fix) errors.
THE JOBS LIST
These are audience positions in journalism. Want to include a position for promotion? Email us.
Properly is hiring an SEO Manager (based in Toronto or remote).
Hearst Magazines is hiring a Commerce Content Strategist to work on Good Housekeeping (New York, N.Y.).
Endgame360 is hiring a Technical SEO Manager (remote, preference to U.S. applicants).
CNN is hiring an SEO Analyst, News (Atlanta, Georgia or New York, N.Y.).
Toronto Star is hiring an Editorial Content Strategist (Toronto, ON or remote).
Page Experience update is now rolling out on desktop.
How to build a topic cluster in 10 minutes.
This handy flow chart from Aleyda Solis tells you whether you should migrate a page to the new web version.
Have something you’d like us to discuss? Send us a note on Twitter (Jessie or Shelby) or to our email: email@example.com.
(Don’t forget to bookmark our glossary.)
Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley