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Mailbag: Sitemap, page speed and how to handle wire stories for SEO
This week, Shelby looks at three common news SEO questions: What's a sitemap? What's important about site speed? How should newsrooms handle wire updates?
Hello, and welcome back. It’s Shelby, reporting live from the Bahamas (Jessie: Why is she writing about SEO on vacation? 🌞 True dedication.)
This week: A mailbag issue. I answered three questions from readers about sitemaps, site speed and the evergreen news SEO question: What TF do we do about wires?
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What’s a sitemap? How many should I have?
A sitemap is a file hosted on your website that includes information about the content on your site and the relationship between the content. Think of it as a blueprint. This is a complex file that lists a series of URLs on your site. Search engines can crawl these sitemaps and process the URLs for indexing, while understanding the structure of your site.
You can have multiple sitemaps assigned to different types of content. For example, you could designate a sitemap for just videos, another for images, and one for evergreen content. Or, if you’re planning for a big event, create a sitemap designated to just the URLs around that tentpole.
The purpose of a sitemap is communicating to the search engine which pages contain the most important content and when it was last updated – the crux of an SEO strategy.
A sitemap needs to have a name (all sitemaps must have different names), and can include any of the following values:
<lastmod>: The last day of modification. When the page was most recently updated.
<changefreq>: How frequently the page is likely to change. For a live or rolling file in a sitemap, the frequency would be “always.” Other valid values include: hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and never.
<priority>: The priority of the URL relative to the others on a scale of 0.0 to 1.0. Most URLs will be set to the default (0.5). You don’t need to assign a different priority – it is not likely to have an affect on your position in rankings. It is mainly assigning priority based on the content on your site.
None of the sitemap’s values are a directive. They are hints for search engines to better understand the content on your site.
You don’t need a sitemap if your website is properly linked – that is, if the pages you want to be crawled are reached through some form of navigation. Google and other search engines have developed to discover most of the pages on a site if it is optimized for internal linking. However, sitemaps are still best practice and help you build that relevance, authority and trust that Google relies on.
How do I create a sitemap? If your site is hosted on WordPress and you use the Yoast plugin, you can create sitemaps directly through the plugin. Check Google Search Console for step-by-step instructions to submit your sitemaps to Google. If your site is hosted on a more complex CMS, you can create your sitemaps through a third-party generator, like XML-sitemaps.com, then manually load them onto your site. Or, ask your web development or site team for help. Google also provides documentation on building and submitting a sitemap.
Pro tip: Read our technical SEO edition for more insights.
What do I need to know about page speed?
Page speed is the time it takes for a web page to load. This can be affected by the amount of elements on the page (images, videos, charts), as well as the site’s server.
What you need to know is that page speed is king. In a hyper-connected world, humans want the answers on their phones and they want it fast. When Google announced the page experience update last year, it was a big deal. This update was the first nod to overall page experience – how the page loads, how you interact with its elements and if it is mobile-friendly – as one of the most important components. Google also said that with this update, all news content would be eligible in Top Stories and that AMP was no longer required.
Pro tip: Read our Core Web Vitals edition for more insights.
Why it matters: Page speed is a ranking factor. The faster your page loads, the more likely it is to rank well. Focusing on a good user experience – pages that are fast, slick and provide the information your readers want – is vital.
A page should ideally load under two seconds, but under a half-second is the bar set by Google.
We publish a ton of wires, but also staff files on the same news event. What strategies exist for handling this changing content?
The answer to this question will absolutely vary from newsroom to newsroom. Depending on your legal, editorial and SEO teams, you may decide to go a different route when it comes to publishing a wire story. (A wire story is any story written by a service, such as the Canadian Press or Reuters, that can be republished on any news site with an agreement with that service.)
One of the most important components to ranking well in search is original content – and enterprise reporting is a top priority of all good newsrooms. Original reporting should always take precedence over wires, but starting with a staff file isn’t alway possible. In that case, publishing and updating a wire, until the in-house version is available, is the smart workflow.
I see three different approaches:
Redirect the wire to the staff file;
Canonicalize the wire with the staff file;
Keep the wire and the staff file separate.
1. Redirect the wire to the staff file. This ensures all traffic from the wire goes to the staff file after it is published. A 301 redirect tells Google the page has moved and its new version is now the staff file. The benefits to this approach are that it prioritizes your staff content for the keywords you ranked for at the beginning of the event and will drive any trailing traffic to this page. However, you may not rank as high if you’re forcing Google to crawl a new URL and force any backlinks to go through a redirect to the new page. You also limit the number of keywords each story can individually rank for. For example, if you publish the wire at 6 a.m., but the staff update isn’t available until 10 p.m., the story will have changed three times. Things change very quickly.
2. Canonicalize the wire with the staff file. This approach is similar to a redirect, however it does not remove the wire from existing on your site. (A canonical tag tells search engines that a specific URL represents the master copy of a page, according to Moz.) When you redirect a story, the original URL can no longer be accessed. This way, the wire still lives on your site and on the internet, but you’re telling the search engines that there is another version that is the “true” version of this story. This is done by setting the staff file URL as the canonical.
3. Keep the wire and the staff file separate. This works best in news moments when the story is rapidly changing. When you first publish the wire, ask yourself what its purpose is. More than likely, the wire provided the pertinent information fast. As the story develops, many angles will emerge and your staff file may focus on one of those, and therefore pick up some additional search traffic for long-tail keywords. You can also then link to and from the wire, so you provide additional information to the reader. This process does run the risk of cannibalizing your site for a single keyword.
What works best will depend on your specific site and objectives. As with most SEO efforts, your best bet is to experiment and measure the impact to see which process makes the most sense for you.
THE JOBS LIST
These are roles across the globe we see that are audience positions in journalism. Want to include a position for promotion? Email us.
The Times and The Sunday Times is hiring a SEO Journalist based in London.
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