Ask a News SEO: Katie Vogel
We’re thrilled to have Katie Vogel, from Hearst, join to talk about how good journalism is about being concise, empathetic and understanding the needs of readers.
Hello, and welcome back. Jessie and Shelby here. Shelby is once again travelling home from a sunny destination and Jessie is keeping the travel envy at bay (is it working? She’s rereading this intro; leaning to no).
This week: We’re thrilled to have Katie Vogel, the Director of Search Strategy for Hearst Newspapers, to join us for an Ask a News SEO. We talk about how good journalism is about being concise, empathetic and understanding the needs of readers. Connecting this idea to SEO can help shift culture in newsrooms and be more compassionate about readers' daily issues.
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WTF is SEO? newsletter: On Twitter, you say good social and good SEO aren't bells and whistles. They're just good journalism. Could you expand on that and explain how good journalism is at the forefront of your work?
Katie Vogel: Good journalism is about being concise and empathetic with our readers. That means understanding their intents and needs and understanding where and how and when they're looking for information.
If we do headlines, story selection and handle our products well, we don't just do good SEO, we're doing great journalism. Connecting those dots and making it less about SEO as a buzzword, but more about search as empathy with our readers. That's not just how we do great journalism. It's also how we shift culture in our newsrooms to be more empathetic about the daily issues that our readers are facing, whether they're in the school drop-off line, at the grocery store or running to catch a flight. We need to be present with people when they need us.
It's so easy to think that we always have the answers. When we engage with the tools that we've got — to better assess and analyze search trends — we're able to uncover more of our readers' behaviours. Why wouldn't we embrace that as a way to think more critically about how we conduct ourselves as journalists?
WTF is SEO?: How do you approach local vs national SEO?
Katie Vogel: Before Hearst, I was at USA Today. Doing straight national editorial search is so much easier than the nuances and complexities of local search. Not just because of how you can sort on Google Trends. It's because local SEO requires — especially in markets that are significantly smaller — so much more expertise about your readers and their daily lives.
That means really leaning on local newsrooms to understand where their readers' eyes are going at any given moment in time. That it's not like being able to do broad and shallow research, like you can for national SEO. The deep and narrow focus that’s required for local SEO requires more patience, more area expertise and more creativity.
Especially when we're trying to differentiate ourselves when local news rises to national attention. We have to really stand ourselves up straight so that we are taken seriously as the experts and earn trust with our readers up front. That means showing up for them every single day so that we have established our authority on search.
WTF is SEO?: How do you build trust with local audiences?
Katie Vogel: It’s all about consistency. The Houston Chronicle has done a wonderful job of this with following the Texas education policy, especially as it relates to the Houston Independent School District. When that story rises to national attention, we have already built that body of knowledge that we're able to cross link to and from, and build a really effective backlinking strategy. National news can’t match us on that.
One of my points of hope for local SEO is that Google is privileging local outlets. It’s understanding a sort of semi-hard paywall system from publications, understanding how our subscribers are interacting with our work and where they're converting and how we get to meet them where they're at. And honestly, that means really being dominant for local SERPs.
WTF is SEO?: What changes when a local story goes national?
Katie Vogel: Oftentimes, these are the worst days in a newsroom. But it's also about understanding our right to serve our audiences. We're never going to match CNN, The New York Times or the BBC for first or second-day breaking news, much less USA Today. However, we can make sure that we understand how local and regional audiences are engaging with this story. We can tailor our content to them because national audiences aren't going to convert and be subscribers for local outlets past the news cycle.
If we're able to dominate SERPs for secondary keywords, that's where we win and actually get to serve our readers.
WTF is SEO?: Are there tactics that you use in these moments?
Katie Vogel: First of all, it's doing your general surveillance on Google Trends for what your primary and secondary keywords are going to be, then doing outreach on backlinks. Sometimes that's more effective than others, but you can always try. If you don't try, you have failed. And then I think it's about being really smart about how you approach headlines, especially for live files. It's about being iterative. For main files, for explainers and for more of those utility plays in big breaking news situations, it's about getting it right the first time.
I also think that it's really about making sure that we understand how Googlebot is functioning in this day and age. We talked a lot about that at NESS this year — really making sure that unless it's a live file, that those files are fully optimized, that our cross-linking strategy is stood up straight and that everybody understands what the plan is for breaking news.
Planning is the least sexy thing that we get to do and it's actually the most important. Taking a deep breath, stepping back, making sure that we're fully organized — that's a place where we actually get to win.
WTF is SEO?: Let’s talk about AI and local news. We've seen AI being used to automate content creation. Smaller, less-resourced newsrooms potentially see this is an opportunity. Do you have thoughts about AI SEO, specifically in the local context?
Katie Vogel: We've seen that AI done badly is a way to ruin your reputation in the industry and to lose trust with readers.
This is a place where we need to take care. We understand that this is probably going to be an inevitable part of our workflows, whether that's on the data analysis side or the editorial side, but it's up to us to make sure that we're engaging with AI within a framework of journalistic ethics.
First and foremost, that means that we need to be skeptical. At Hearst, one of our developers, Ryan Serpico, has built a bot to provide prompts for headlines. But our editorial and legal teams worked to build robust training and ethics frameworks to make sure that those prompts are never a replacement for a journalist, and there's always a human involved.
You can't even touch it until you've undergone a certain amount of training. It has a lot of safety measures built in, too. It's really, “how do we help people brainstorm more effectively around headlines?” Not cut and paste this, but even more so than editorial workflows. Wil Reynolds had some really excellent thoughts [about AI at NESS] and we personally use ChatGPT to eliminate the really banal data crunching awfulness that we all encounter, and just have it to do part of our jobs. And that's fine.
But also, for those of us who are doing editorial SEO, that's not what gets us out of bed. We need it. We need that insight. We need that knowledge. But if we can use ChatGPT to more thoroughly interrogate our data, I think that that's the place where we can better use our resources.
I don't think that automating stories via AI is going to be sustainable in the long term. Especially as we continue to see a crisis in trust in local and national news, and increased skepticism from our readers about how we're doing things, we have to be incredibly forthright as an industry about who's writing, how they’re writing and who it's for.
Being able to think about how we are outsourcing the parts of our brains that end up being overtaxed to ChatGPT, so that we can focus on engaging with the things that bring us joy, meaning and creativity in our work, so that we can stay engaged with it and not burn out, that's where the secret sauce is.
Unfortunately, a lot of people look at AI as a blunt instrument, when really we should be treating it like it's a scalpel.
WTF is SEO?: What do you wish you had known earlier in your news SEO career?
Katie Vogel: Oh my goodness, everything. First and foremost, that it is okay to make mistakes and to fail and to goof up. You're going to goof up the same way that you would if you're a reporter or an editor. You're going to pick the wrong keywords in a really high-pressure situation. You're going to write a crappy headline that falls totally flat and you're going to provide editorial guidance that is not going to stand the test of time. I wish that I had known it was okay to say that I didn't know.
Especially for women in these roles, we are constantly holding ourselves to a really high standard of, “we have to constantly know” because we can easily think of ourselves as imposters, or that don't belong here. But we need to be able to treat these roles, and this portion of the industry, as a space where we are constantly learning. And that means constantly admitting when we got something right and when we got something wrong. If we can't do both of those, we're not actually able to engage with this as professionals.
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THE JOBS LIST
Audience or SEO jobs in journalism. Want to include a position for promotion? Email us.
The Atlantic is hiring a Manager, Audience Development & Engagement (New York/Washington).
The Globe and Mail is hiring a Content Strategist in its Content Studio (Toronto).
Google news and updates:
🐛 Google has confirmed a bug with some of the reporting within Google Search Console. Monday morning, GSC was also down.
💯 Google shows follower counters in results for platforms like YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter.
🤖 Google: The crawl rate limiter tool in Search Console is being deprecated on Jan 8th, 2024.
More recommended reading:
🔧 Lily Ray: Google updates its Search Quality Rater guidelines. Here’s what changing.
🔨 Search Engine Land: Changes to Google’s quality rater and algorithmic evaluation systems.
👀 Natzir Turrado: Insights into how Google’s algorithms work, according to leaked documents.
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