How to do keyword research for news 101
Keyword research is the foundation of good content SEO. Here’s how to conduct effective keyword research, identify reader needs and optimize your journalism to reach the widest audience possible
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Hello, and welcome back. Jessie here, back from finishing my homework — a sentence I’ve not written since the aughts. The good news: The assignment was knitting. The bad news: I’m not sure my efforts could fairly be called knitting. More like: Cute yarn, loosely knotted.
This week: How to perform keyword research for news SEO, which is an update to our second-ever newsletter issue. (Were you one of the 149 people who received our 2021 issue? Bless your heart. Your early support is so valued!)
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Let’s get it.
In this issue:
What is keyword research?
How to do keyword research.
Examples of keyword research.
What is keyword research?
Keyword research is the foundation of all content SEO. Understanding what information readers are actively seeking out is the most basic service SEO editors can provide to the newsroom.
Keyword research for news involves uncovering and analyzing queries used by readers looking for information on a topic. It’s important because if a news outlet publishes a story that no readers are searching for — or it isn’t optimized to match how readers are searching — that article won’t see traffic from Google.
Note: A keyword is any word or phrase that a user types into a search engine to find information about a topic. Keywords can be a single word or a long phrase; for this reason, “keyword” and “keyphrase” are often used interchangeably.
Keywords are shaped by four types of search intent: navigational, commercial, transactional and informational. Search intent is the why behind a search. In news SEO, we’re primarily concerned with informational intent — readers trying to gain knowledge on a topic.
(Informational intent keywords are the focus of this newsletter. Publishers with an affiliate arm should research commercial and transactional keywords. All outlets should optimize relevant pages for navigational queries and branded searches.)
Without proper research, you might end up targeting keywords no one is using. Keyword research enables you to:
Understand your audience’s needs and tailor content to the questions readers are asking. Knowing what people are interested in — and providing high-quality information written by expert voices — is an essential reader service.
Acquire higher-value readers. People who arrive from search are often more likely to subscribe or become loyal readers. Outlets that are in regular conversation with their readers are better positioned to cultivate engaged audiences.
Done well, keyword research helps better align content with reader interests, boosting search performance and overall traffic, and ultimately expanding the reach of your journalism.
How to do keyword research
Keyword research usually starts with a “seed” keyword — a query that’s one or two words long. They’re often the topic you’re looking to research further. From there, seed keywords can be split into secondary keywords. These secondary keywords are angles your reporting might include (i.e., other branches in the overall coverage).
Take the seed keyword and use keyword research tools to explore the questions readers are asking and subtopics they’re interested in. There are a million keyword research tools to choose from, but they all use a seed keyword to generate a longer list of phrases.
Once you’ve entered a seed keyword into a research tool:
Write down the questions readers are asking;
Identify the keyphrases readers use to find this content;
Record any key subtopics that pop up related to your seed keyword;
Look at the competition: Do a standalone search on Google for the seed keyword. Find your top competitors, then look at how those publications cover the topic.
Example case study: Sundance keyword research
Let’s run through an example of how to conduct keyword research using a general topic. For example, the seed keyword “sundance” in Google Trends brings up the Rising/Top related topics and Rising/Top related queries. These are what people are searching in relation to your main topic.
“Celebrities at sundance 2024” is a secondary keyword to “sundance.” Consider how celebrity-focused stories fit into your overall coverage plans: Do you need to prioritize celebrity names in headlines over movie titles? What about a gallery of red carpet photos? What standalone stories can you create — like People’s writeup of Malia Obama’s short film — to respond to that reader interest?
Important note: In Google Trends, there are both “search terms” and “topics.” In Google Trends, there are "search terms" and "topics." Search terms show data related to the exact query; while topics provide a picture of the topic in its entirety, including all related searches.
SEMRush’s Keyword Magic Tool returns all keywords, along with key details like search intent, keyword volume and difficulty.
With filters turned on for informational intent and questions, we can see questions users ask on search that our journalism could answer. Many are related to last year’s festival, but that’s fine, as we know “Where is Sundance?” will be asked this year, too. General searches using the five Ws (who, what, where, when, why) and how tend to be repeated every year.
Return back to Google Trends and use the Glimpse extension to get search volume data (including trendline information for the last month or quarter). There is also the option to get alerts when there’s a change in interest.
Glimpse’s People Also Search section includes four categories: All (every query), questions, attributes and brands. Attributes can signal the themes within a topic (aka, possible storylines to cover).
Here, the attributes report takes the People Also Search feature and breaks it down by attribute (on, in, etc.). A possible story here: A guide to watching the Sundance films at home, specifically on Netflix.
Pro tip: Glimpse also offers filtering (in the Channel dropdown) to look at data from TikTok, YouTube and other social media sites. Handy!
Next, get out of the keyword research tool and take a look at the search engine results page (SERP) for your keywords.
Look at the SERP: The features Google serve, and the search terms it uses in subheadings, can signal the coverage Google thinks is relevant and useful for readers.
Is there a Top Stories box? What terms are in the label or what secondary topics warrant their own carousel?
What’s in Related Searches and People Also Ask — are these useful questions to answer?
If there’s a Perspectives box, what forum or social media content is ranking — are there any hidden gems you can answer?
Then, perform competitive analysis. Search the keyword on Google and ask:
What’s in the SERP that my coverage doesn’t have?
What labels or subheadlines is Google using in Top Stories?
What rich snippets is the SERP providing, and which publications are currently featured (and why)?
What are other publishers writing? Consider the headlines written by competitors: What keywords or headline structures are they using?
What angle or additional information can we add?
Keeping with the Sundance example, Google is serving up a Perspectives carousel, a Mentioned in the news box, and Top Stories.
The People also ask feature has a rundown of questions about the festival.
In addition to Google, AlsoAsked.com highlights the network of questions asked around a topic.
This is all data to consider when writing up a story pitch, helping inform or writing on-page SEO information (the headline, meta, subheads, etc).
A celebrity and entertainment magazine might use the Mentioned in the news feature to help determine which celebrity names warrant focused coverage. A film review site could explain the difference between various film festivals (or rank them by how important/prestigious they are). A local Utah publication could go deep on the history of festivals in their state. This is where your subject matter expertise is essential. It’s what will make your coverage come to life.
The next step is evaluating keywords. Prioritizing keywords and determining what stories to pitch will be specific and unique for each newsroom.
Some metrics to consider might include:
Keyword difficulty and your outlet’s authority on the topic;
The search intent behind a keyword (is it informational? Can it inform a story?);
The traffic potential of a story with this keyword;
Search volume and the trendline of search interest — is it consistent, going up, seasonal or declining?;
The relevance of keywords to your publication’s existing news plan. Will writers have the time and resources to report out all the angles you’ve highlighted? Can your reporters turn around a story quickly enough to match search interest?;
Where the keyword fits into your short-, medium-, and long-term ranking goals;
And any other success metric you think is important.
The final step in keyword research is content creation. Take all the information from your research and use it to inform a story pitch.
The pitch should include good data and outline the structure of the story (explainer, list, analysis, etc.), how it should be structured, what to include (i.e., all the questions and relevant queries you just collected in your research), and why it’s worth publishing (i.e., how it will advance overall audience efforts). Include a possible headline, related internal links and anything else you think will sell the idea to your newsroom.
Then of course: Write and publish the story.
Pro tip: When optimizing stories, change up the keyword phrasing in your headlines, URLs and subheadings. Not every headline needs to have “NFL Draft 2024” right at the beginning of the headline. Google is smart enough to know that a headline that says, “The best college prospects for the NFL Draft in 2024” is still targeting that keyword.
Once the story is live, check the SERPs for the keywords you wanted to rank for. If the story is there, get yourself some small treat. (You deserve it.) But know that keyword research is an iterative process — the headline or search term that ranked well at the beginning of a story’s lifetime might shift over time as news develops. Continue to perform keyword research as the story develops.
The bottom line: Keyword research is the foundation of good content SEO. Conducting effective keyword research by identifying reader needs, creating journalism around these questions and optimizing stories will help you reach the widest audience possible.
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THE JOBS LIST
The Boston Globe is hiring an Audience Engagement Editor (Boston, MA).
The Walt Disney Company is hiring a Director, Audience Advancement (New York, NY).
The Financial Times is hiring a US Audience Engagement Journalist (Hybrid).
Yahoo Sports is hiring a Senior Editor, Audience Engagement (Remote).
Google news and updates
🤖 Google: New ways to search in 2024.
🤖 Search Engine Land: Google SGE impact by industry and emerging features.
🤖 Google’s Danny Sullivan: “Google News is not somehow ‘boosting’ AI content to the top of search results.”
🤖 Barry Schwartz: Google updated the Chrome following feed feature to show topics you follow.
🤖 The Register: Google is changing how search results appear for EU citizens.
Even more recommended reading
🗞️ Barry Schwartz: Google barely surfaced a Top Stories box for some election queries.
🔮 Lily Ray on LinkedIn: Expect 3-4 major core updates in the coming months, including Helpful Content System changes.
🏗️ Ahrefs: How to perform enterprise SEO audits — and why they’re different from a “regular" site audit.
✍️ Search Engine Journal: A topic taxonomy is a good way to create content that demonstrates expertise and authoritativeness. Here’s what to know.
🤖 Jeremy Caplan: Make your own ChatGPT bot.
📈 Joy Hawkins: Why is this site getting 144 per cent more traffic from Google in 2024?
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