Breaking news (pt. 1): How to optimize breaking news for search
In issue no. 14, we look at how to think about SEO when a news story is first breaking and developing.
Hello and welcome back. It’s Jessie here! This week’s big news is that one-half of team WTF is SEO? is one-half vaccinated (Bill Nye was right: science rules)! I’m loopy with joy.
Back to news news: This week, we’re starting a multi-part series looking at SEO for breaking news events.
And what search metrics to look at after a breaking news event to evaluate success.
Shelby covered technical breaking news SEO considerations.
In this issue, we will look at on-page and content SEO efforts to prepare for and react to a breaking news event.
In this issue:
Preparing for breaking news
Figure out how people search for news
Using keyword research to shape coverage
(Don’t forget to bookmark our glossary.)
How to SEO for live news
Before a story breaks: Prepare, prepare, prepare
Preparing ahead of time for breaking news scenarios is the best kind of news SEO.
For U.S. editors: Sign up for the daily Google Trends Newsletter from Simon Rogers (for a curated look at Top Trends, top/related questions). (Canadian editors, petition Google to make a 🇨🇦 version!)
Sign up for Google Trends alert emails to get pinged where a certain threshold of search interest is met.
✔️ Action item: Sign up for Trends and alerts
When the story first breaks: How are people looking for information?
When the story breaks, look at Google Trends (along with social media and related monitoring tools) to see how people are searching for information.
What’s the breakout search term? [A breakout search means that term grew by more than 5000%.] Use that in headlines, URLs, meta description (often the dek or sub-title), body copy or for the title of your topic page.
Use Google Trends to compare similar search terms to see what has higher volume. Use the phrase with higher volume in headlines, but you can use the secondary keyword in decks or body copy.
Here, Google Trends shows the difference in search interest between the widespread two phrases around vaccination documentation. It looks at the common language (“vaccine passport”) and similar wording (“vaccine certification”) over the last week in Canada. You can see “vaccine passport” is always more commonly searched.
Search intent for breaking news will always be informational. Readers are trying to answer the W5 (who, what, when, where, why and how) questions. Use keyword research to figure out what people need to know.
Now that we know the keyword or phrase that is driving most traffic right now, we can begin to build out coverage that helps answer those 5Ws.
Answer high-volume questions identified in search using explainers, FAQs, rolling files, assigning a story or other types of service journalism.
For example, both Mother Jones and HuffPost use a straightforward question-and-answer format to outline everything a reader needs to know about COVID-19 vaccine passports.
The highly-scannable explainer format answers something of wide interest while linking out to more in-depth reporting.
As you build your breaking news pages, send clear signals that the page contains content that is frequently updated. Live or breaking news flags signal to readers – and Google – that this information is fresh and new. [Shelby will outline more technical breaking news SEO strategy next week. Stay tuned!]
Do not update a URL more than twice.
Keep your headline focused on the most updated information.
Use chunks in your live file to break up the information.
Use anchor tags and a table of contents to help readers navigate the page (and increase time spent).
Try to create topic clusters around the pillar of the breaking news event by cross-linking between your main explainer and further or related reporting.
These topic pages for breaking news can also help build trust with your audience.
If you have a livestream, you can add a “Live” badge in search results with BroadcastEvent using structured data. Also consider adding the Indexing API for ideal crawling and indexing in a timely manner by Google.
✔️ Action item: When news breaks, figure out how people search, keep search in mind when building breaking news pages and hubs.
As the story is evolving: Use search to shape coverage and find new story angles
As the story evolves, be sure to keep any “live updates” or “breaking” news pages updated. Google is granular and will update on a minute-by-minute basis, so it’s important to have this fresh.
Search-friendly headlines should always include top-referring keywords, relevant geographical locations and indicators of the people involved. Dates, numbers and questions are also useful, while staying under the optimal length.
If the story will be updated frequently, make the URL keyword-focused as early as possible. Do not update more than twice.
Use Google Trends or other search volume-monitoring tools to make your keyword strategy changes as searches change (ie., when news of a shooting at Vancouver’s airport broke Sunday night, YVR shooting was a trending search with more than 100k searches with “vancouver airport shooting” the top related search). This morning, the stories in Google News capture “vancouver airport shooting” in their headlines.
With Google Trends alerts turned on, Canadian news editors would be pinged around 9:00 p.m. Sunday night, with notice that people are actively searching for this information.
Use search to find unexplored sub-topics: What does our audience need from us on this story? As a story evolves, think about what readers need to know by looking at what questions they are asking in search.
Google Trends: Look at related searches for questions related to the story.
Google: Search for the main-focus keyword for a story. What questions show up in People Also Ask?
Grow Keywords: Use a keyword research tool to find new keywords and questions on a topic.
Answer the Public: What questions are being asked on this topic?
These insights can be useful to guide or help brainstorm new angles of coverage or to help outline an explainer or hub page on a story.
Here, Google Trends shows related search queries to “vaccine passport” – showing there’s interest in G20 news, the Canada-U.S.-border, whether Canadians will need a vaccine to visit their pals in the United States.
People in search are showing an active interest in a subject and are often top of the funnel, new readers (and more publisher-agnostic).
Your explainer answering basic questions can serve as an excellent entry point for deeper coverage and commentary.
Make sure your topic or hub pages are consistently updated as news evolves and include links to commentary or opinion, too!
Consider evergreen content: If news is breaking on a subject you’ve already covered, look at the archives for the reporting or explainers you already have. Repackage your evergreen content in news packages on your homepage, on social media or in newsletters.
✔️ Action item: As the story evolves, keep looking at search data to identify keywords being used to find stories; answer SEO insights to find and answer questions being asked.
The story is ending: What do I do?
Use Google Trends to see demand (search interest) for a topic (by using volume as a metric) and understand when it's petering off.
Update your hub or topic pages to indicate clearly to readers that your intense coverage of a story is ending, where and when to expect further updates, and how to continue to follow your coverage.
If the story is likely to emerge again, turn explainers or hub pages into evergreen content. Fold smaller, incremental updates into a broader explainer.
The bottom line: Even in a breaking news environment, search is a useful tool to shape your coverage. Use existing tools like Google Trends to identify and track the keywords that are driving traffic. Keyword research can help identify questions or topics to include in your reporting.
Breaking news best practices SEO checklist:
✔️ When a story is breaking, use Google Trends and other search tools to identify how people are searching for the story.
✔️ Using Trends and other tools to find keywords for headline, deck, URL use (ie., what phrase is most used?). Use keyword research to find story ideas and angles.
✔️ Keep looking at this data during a news cycle because how people search might change.
✔️ Build a hub for your coverage that sends clear signals that you have live/continuing coverage.
✔️ As you wind down coverage, tell readers where to find updates or future reporting.
FUN + GAMES
Question: When did Google News launch?
September 22, 2002
September 22, 2012
September 22, 1998
Google’s webmaster blog: Best Practices for News coverage with Search
Google News Optimization: How to Boost Your Site's Visibility & Traffic
NEXT WEEK: We will cover the technical aspect of breaking news SEO.
Please provide feedback for this issue. Is the content covered:
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.
FUN + GAMES
The answer: September 22, 2002
Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley.