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How to craft a successful SEO pitch (with examples!)
Audience editors have a million story and product ideas. Here's how to create a news SEO pitch that will have your editors saying, "yes!"
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This week: How to create a successful SEO pitch. As audience editors, we may have a million different story ideas or projects we want to launch, but just can’t get the buy-in we need. We’ll go through how to craft your pitch to ensure it at least gets consideration from your peers and hopefully pushed through as a successful new piece of content.
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Let’s get it.
In this issue:
Pitching SEO stories in news.
Five things to consider for the perfect pitch.
Pitching SEO stories in news
Pitching for news can be complicated. Journalism, as we know, is a service for people to get the information they need to live better lives. While we, as audience editors, know people use search to find important information, it can be difficult to get newsrooms onboard with the idea it's also the primary way readers find our reporting.
Pitching SEO-informed stories or projects means you know readers are looking for this information. But simply saying, “XYZ is trending” is not good enough. Reporters and editors — like you — are busy trying to write the best stories. You must give reason for writing your pitch.
When pitching a story that is informed by search data to your newsroom, you need to remember that, like journalism, it needs to have an impact. Your pitch must be clear, informative, descriptive and easy to act on. The last thing you want is a complicated pitch that an editor ignores.
Along with search volume, also consider:
Does this suit my brand?
Will the writer have time to report this out?
Can we turn this around quickly enough to match search interest?
Above all else, pitching in news is about adaptability. In traditional SEO, you may create a whole content brief with the exact headline, keywords and items to include in the copy. But in publishing, it’s vital you are open and willing to adjust your plan at all times.
To be successful, you should pitch often. Bring ideas for new stories to the daily news meeting and make real-time suggestions about additional (search-informed) branches of coverage via email or Slack. During tentpole planning meetings, come with ideas. If a trend is popping off in search, strike while interest is high — turn a pitch around quickly, even if that means sacrificing depth.
THE HOW TO
Five things to consider for the perfect news SEO pitch (with examples!)
Creating a successful SEO pitch takes the perfect blend of search and journalistic instinct. In my experience, most pitches that have been accepted — and successful — have an understanding of journalism while being informed by search data and insights. What makes the best pitches stand out is a combination of editorial and business goals.
With that in mind, here are five things to consider when crafting the perfect SEO pitch.
Note: When I refer to pitching, it’s generally about a single story or series or articles. For pitching search-informed projects, you’ll follow a lot of the same guidance, but will need to build a comprehensive proposal that includes the long-term commitment, a timeline of how production will occur and what the newsroom will gain. For a more in-depth digest, check out our issue on SEO tips for new projects.
1. Does the pitch fit your goals? AKA: Is the pitch worth your time?
Before even starting, make sure your pitch is worth doing. Lay out the return on investment. How will this story help hit the KPI you're targeting? Will it help?
Audience editors are more likely to run into resistance to a pitch when it’s derived from “trending data.” This is often because publications don’t want to just write clickbait — and that’s entirely fair. Our job is to show how writing on a topic everyone is talking about marries business goals and audience interest.
An SEO pitch’s ROI is going to be traffic from search. It’s that simple. It’s showing that the search audience is looking for something like this, and therefore will come to you because of your expertise.
When crafting your pitch, include that this is a search-informed pitch that would bring traffic to your site because people are actively looking for this. You can include screenshots from Google Trends or other SEO tools that back up your point (more on this below).
For example, you were performing keyword research and realized people were looking up the best travel destinations on a budget (inflation, am I right?). You’re thinking of asking the travel desk to create a listicle on the top 10 local destinations to travel on a tight budget that feel like they’re international.
Now ask yourself: Is this worth your time?
Three things to consider:
Will this grow our audience and traffic? It’s possible that while you may think the story has legs, there really is not that much traffic. Or, it may not reach readers because your travel section doesn’t have a ton of authority. Regardless, if the answer is no, you shouldn’t be pitching this story.
Will this grow our subscribers? A story that may not see huge search numbers, but could rank and potentially drive some subscriptions, is worth doing. Use your audience editor brain and determine if this story works with your subscriber base.
Can we build off this story/project? If it’s a one-and-done story, make sure the ROI is worth it for the time needed. But if you see a project having a long-term impact on the bottom line, and can be expanded or built on over time, show that. Include two or three additional ideas for coverage.
For example, if you’re a sports publication, building out your coverage on a certain breakout player who is having a great year makes sense. But if you’re a news publication that sees more traffic from coverage of the politics in your city than sports, and you don’t have future resources to cover the topic in-depth, it may not be worth pitching.
Always explain why this story is important to your brand. Any publication can write about Taylor Swift going to Arrowhead Stadium to see Travis Kelce play, but what can your brand provide that no one else can that will make a reader want to read your TSwift article?
2. Who is the pitch for? Cater to your audience.
Know your audience. Catering the pitch is important. You want to meet the editor at their level, and speak in a language that they understand. Don’t include jargon or unimportant SEO-specific terminology.
Always explain the story in publishing speak. Connect your idea to the section’s goals. Explain how their resources will be used and what topics or subject matter should be included. Your job is to make the editor feel like this story is valuable and worth assigning and taking the time to craft.
If the pitch is for a managing or assignment editor, explain why it’s important for the brand and how your pitch will be the foundation of future success. Is it an additional branch of the storyline you’re working to cover better? Does it enhance the evergreen strategy?
Always explain why the pitch matters to the person you’re pitching to. If they’re worried about traffic, explain how it will increase clicks. If they’re worried about conversions, explain the value to the subscriber base. If it’s something that will help grow your authority on a topic you’re building upon over time, say that.
Pro tip: Don’t disqualify your own thoughts. You may have a question about something that can be answered through reporting. And if you’re asking it, likely others are, too. Be a human in your pitch and show that you’re thinking about the subject matter just like your editors.
3. Include data, evidence and examples.
Good data makes it very hard to say no to a pitch. Data that shows the popularity of a specific topic and the ROI editors can expect makes for a far more compelling pitch.
Search visuals are extremely effective. They show why a story is important and why it’s likely to be successful. Always include some form of data in your pitch, for example, 2-3 screenshots.
Screenshots could be from:
Google Trends: Use the search interest graph for your geographical location, the “rising trends” chart for a specific topic gaining interest or Glimpse extension data.
Tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs: Use the search volume for a keyword, the CTR of a specific topic or a list of competitors ranking for a topic your publication wants to own.
Pro tip: Always explain how your publication can do it better. Journalists love to show off (who doesn’t?). When crafting your pitch, include an example of a competitor doing an article on the same topic and explain how your publication’s expertise can do it better.
Nothing is more effective than a screenshot. Evidence is important when you’re arguing for staffing and resources.
Think about your metrics for success: What other KPIs can you assign to this pitch? Include them.
4. Craft the pitch (with structure)
Editors are swamped. They don’t have time to think about how a story should be written. That’s where we, as audience editors, come in.
Craft the pitch in the way you want the story to be written. Include the why and how that we discussed above, plus any and all information the editor/writer should include, or additional research when they write the piece.
Explain what the structure of the story is (a timeline, an explainer, a listicle, analysis, data or chart, etc.), how it should be structured (a list of questions included as H2s, a bulleted list, a complex story, visuals, embeds, etc.), and what to include (questions or queries readers are using, information that is specific to your brand, etc.).
After the outline, collect the topically-related articles that your publication has already published that should be linked in the story. This not only shows that you did your homework, but shows you’re thinking about the larger goals of the publication beyond just getting your idea published. And when the story is published, everything you need to optimize it effectively is already together.
Here’s what your pitch should look like — a real example
Below is an example of a pitch I gave our editors at The Athletic in 2022 when we published an excerpt from Evan Drellich’s soon-to-be-released book on the Houston Astros’ sign stealing scandal from 2017. While the scandal was five years old, we knew search interest was going to spike when the book was released. Evan also has a very big Twitter (sorry, Elon) following, and we knew when the excerpt was published, it would have a domino effect from social to search.
Keeping this in mind, I went back and looked up what we had done at the time and noticed a gap in our reporting — we had no timeline on the series of events.
Knowing this is a story we wanted to own, I crafted the pitch that included the why, the how, the what and a series of links we can include. I also pointed out how this story can serve us for more than one day (always point out if a story has evergreen potential. Remember: little effort, big impact.)
We published the timeline the day Evan’s book excerpt came out and included it on our homepage as a package. The story still ranks in Google today for “astros cheating scandal timeline” — the main keyword we were targeting.
Now, every time the scandal is mentioned on broadcasts for Astros games, we see traffic go to the timeline.
Pro tip: Showing that you want to win as much as your writers and editors do always helps. You’re all working toward a common goal. Communicating how your piece will win the day on search is another way to get buy-in.
The timeline is now evergreen and an easy lift to update. Every season, we will change the image and include additional information or links, continuing to drive traffic to our best journalism.
5. ABC (Always Be Changing). AKA: Have an alternative option ready
Sometimes the pitch you give isn't what's accepted. And that’s okay! There are bandwidth constraints or something else comes up that becomes more important.
If you’re up against a deadline, consider a hack way to get the most important parts of your idea accepted. Always think about the ROI. If it’s important for your publication to be in the conversation, provide an easier way to make the pitch work. It’s better to start small and build than have zero visibility.
For example, at The Athletic, we wanted to publish a file on the NBA play-in tournament schedule release, but we knew it’d be difficult to have a robust file quickly. We relied on our NBA insider and our news team to craft a quick “What to expect” story that we turned into the “Everything you need to know” file after the NBA schedule was released.
Below was my interaction with the editor.
The adjusted pitch performed better than we expected. We replicated it for the NBA regular season schedule release, too. For our team, we asked ourselves:
Time is a valuable resource. Is our time on this project better spent elsewhere?
What's the turnaround time — and do we have that to spare?
Do we have all of the information to write the story?
Can we repurpose old content and information to create something new and fresh? Is a quiz taking a lot of your time and you’d rather create explainers, or timelines instead?
Bonus tip: Sometimes, you just have to go for it.
Search is all about people. People use search to look up information on everything: Concerns in their daily lives, pressing news items and deep fascinations. When something is of interest, they will click and explore.
Sometimes, it’s just a matter of putting your pitch out there. If Taylor Swift is at the Kansas City Chiefs game after Travis Kelce extended an invite — and that’s all anyone is talking about, and it serves your audience — you should pitch the story. The worst thing that can happen is the editor says no, and you move on with your day.
If your pitch is rejected, don’t take it personally. Ask for feedback and try again next time. Create a spreadsheet to track your pitches, unsuccessful and successful. If the pitch is accepted, also track how it performs.
(Where relevant: If your pitch is rejected, check if other outlets matched your idea. Did your competitors rank well for something your publication declined to cover?)
When you start to have successful audience-driven pieces, share the wins with the newsroom. Nothing speeds up buy-in like showing how their story did exactly what you were hoping it would do.
The bottom line: Pitching SEO stories is incredibly important. Consistently pitching will help the newsroom understand audience-driven journalism. Craft a solid, data-backed pitch and don’t be afraid of rejection.
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THE JOBS LIST
These are audience jobs in journalism. Want to include a position for promotion? Email us.
Betsperts Media & Technology is hiring a Director of SEO (Remote).
The New York Times is hiring a Newsroom Generative AI Lead (New York, NY).
🖥️ Google news and updates: Helpful Content Update
Google’s September 2023 helpful content update is rolling out.
Lily Ray posted an early analysis of last week’s Helpful Content Update. Online tools are in the category most affected by the Google update, followed by informational sites with basic — and widely available — information. Click for her early analysis on her LinkedIn or Twitter.
Here’s the full report of winners and losers for Amsive.
Barry Schwartz has a look at what's new in the update including an improved classifier, third-party content, content written by people or machines (and much more).
SISTRIX has a list of 150 domains that lost visibility.
🛍️ Search Console: There are new updates to the new Shopping tab in Google Search Console.
Here’s friend-of-the-newsletter Aleyda Solis on using AI for 10x content.
🖱️ SISTRIX: Google denies using click data to inform its results. However, ex-Googler Eric Lehman says that’s not true: The 17-year veteran of the company said Google uses click data for ranking.
🍔 Andrew Holland has a quick-fix guide to E.E.A.T.
🤖 JournalismAI, a research initiative, reported on news organizations around the world are doing with AI. The overwhelming majority — 85 per cent — are already experimenting with AI in some form.
🔬The Verge: TikTok is testing the addition of Google results in its app.
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