What we learned at NESS 2.0 (part one!)
Barry Adams on technical SEO, Mark Burka discussing affiliate SEO, Leonie Roderick and Ben Dilks talking paywalls, Alli Berry on content workflows – and more! Here's what we learned at NESS 2.0
Hello, and welcome back. Jessie and Shelby here – another collab issue. Two weeks ago, we were so thrilled to attend the second annual News and Editorial Summit conference, hosted by Barry Adams and John Shehata.
PS: Thanks to the conference folks for including this truly chaotic, hilarious screenshot of our presentation from last year in the 2022 trailer 🙃. If you want to look back on that conference, read our recap.
Next week: Listen, this conference? Potentially too much excellent content – definitely too much for one newsletter edition. We will return next week with the highlights from the other half of the conference.
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Barry’s session started with a quick overview of how Google works: crawling, indexing and ranking. He also provided a recap of what is new in 2022, which mostly pertains to Google Search Console:
A simplified coverage report;
Improved Core Web Vitals report (with more URL-level data!);
New reports for HTTPs, video indexing and merchant listings.
AMP: Kill it (if you can). Before you remove AMP on your site, check that your Core Web Vitals are solid. Then develop a hypothesis for removing AMP, test and iterate.
Edge SEO: To test an SEO hypothesis without requiring huge developer resources, consider edge SEO – the practice of changing pages in the cloud. This allows you to perform SEO-specific tests for specific sections of the site – effectively A/B testing!
A great reminder on Google and its whims: The best protection against Google algorithm updates impacting your visibility/reach is your brand power and reader loyalty.
Avoid busywork: Not every 301 redirect and occasional 404 needs to be fixed. It is part and parcel for sites the size and scale of most publishers. Focus on changes that will have a meaningful impact for your organization.
Hone in on your brand’s strengths: Use Google Search Console or another tool to find branded keywords and associated content: Is it solid across the board? Can you improve your topical authority in those areas or double down on content production for areas you’re already the go-to source?
Identify your branded keywords with related queries (i.e., “Your Brand + stocks” or “Your brand + jobs report” or “Your brand + horoscopes.” These are topic areas where you have a clear, strong relationship with readers. Are there repeatable templates or approaches you can implement to expand the reach of your most-valued journalism?
Ensure the on-site experience for your readers is solid and that you’re providing readers high-quality, original journalism they can’t find anywhere else.
Barry’s talk is available on YouTube: Technical SEO for news websites NESS edition
COMMERCE AND AFFILIATE SEO
Mark Burka, Senior SEO Content Manager for the portfolio of sites for Conde Nast, ran through an incredible workflow for publishers for affiliate and commerce SEO – that is, search efforts that directly produce revenue for your site. He discussed strategies to make money and generate passive income while achieving other multiple KPIs (traffic, revenue, subscriptions, on-site engagement).
Number one: Think about the user experience – where are your products from? Is it consistently in stock and optimized for the experience you’re hoping for? (Nordstrom and Amazon have higher click-through ratings because of familiarity, so consider where readers want to go.)
Think about the funnel: Mark explained how using the funnel during your keyword research can provide an indication of the search intent for the keyword you’re targeting. If the search volume is higher, it’s likely more an awareness intent, or wanting to learn about a general product topic. Meanwhile, keywords with lower search volume but higher keyword difficulty may indicate the potential to convert. For these keywords, you could give your readers the best places to buy the product, or click-to-buy options.
When writing a piece for affiliate commerce, ask yourself what type of content will connect to the readers you’re trying to get to spend money.
To start, use Mark’s step-by-step process to ignite an affiliate SEO strategy:
Complete a keyword refresh/gap analysis based on any niche topic;
Prioritize by search volume and keyword difficulty (easiest to highest);
Collect merchant EPC/commission rates in affiliate networks;
Assess which pages are ranking for keywords with search intent.
Mark recommends training your teams to future-proof stories by thinking about what the top three ranking publishers are doing as a blueprint or idea, while understanding different types of content deserve different types of treatment.
The workflow Mark created was great insight into how to work with your teams – but that’s giving away too much (go get the videos). What we can tell you is that it’s extremely important to identify, review and refresh your stories consistently with your team so that you have a proactive approach. Different topics merit different rates of refreshes, so encourage your teams to think about the overarching strategy.
Pro tip: Use metaphors to build a shared language. If the editorial team doesn’t understand your jargon, they won’t buy into your strategy. Create a language you can collectively use and build trust.
PAYWALLS AND SEO
Leonie Roderick and Ben Dilks
Every organization with a paywall will take a slightly different approach to premium content based on their specific business needs. There are four types of paywall:
Hard paywall: All content is gated. Readers only see a few paragraphs before asked to subscribe;
Soft or metered paywalls: Get a limited number of stories before hitting a paywall;
Flexible or freemium paywall: Some stories are free, some paid;
Smart or dynamic paywall: An algorithm determines which readers will see a paywall and when (based on propensity to pay).
A paywall is not inherently bad for SEO. Potential pitfalls include incorrectly implemented paywalls that result in content not being crawled or indexed correctly, or Google mistaking the paywall for a cloaking scheme.
Check Google’s documentation for Flexible Sampling and Subscription and Paywalled Content Markup to understand best practices.
Also affecting paywalls: Learned reader behaviour impacts visibility in search. Readers in search come to understand a publication has a paywall, and when seeking content, avoid that brand. The result is a lower click-through rating for the ranking content. Paywalls could also increase pogo-sticking (readers click on a story, then quickly navigate back to SERPs because they hit the paywall) and bounce rates – which are bad for SEO.
The corollary: Paywalls are essential for many publications and push organizations to produce high-quality journalism readers need most. Editorial SEO, as Leonie and Ben articulated, is about understanding the information readers want and can’t find elsewhere. That can include investigations, exclusives, journalism that empowers readers (EAT and YMYL content), reviews, commentary and analysis from high-profile writers.
Read more: All about paywalls
Alli Berry, the previous director of Director of SEO & Content Strategy at The Motley Fool, discussed tactics for maximizing visibility in SERPs. To achieve the goal of generating leads with free content, the Fool focused on ranking in Top Stories and evergreen results.
How do you know what topics to cover? If the goal is to dominate SERPs, a good place to start is targeting mixed search intent queries with high volume. To surface ideas, use keyword research tools like SEMRush, Google Trends, along with social listening and audience engagement tools such as Sparktoro.
Your content strategy is only going to be as good as your knowledge of the topic. Publishers should understand and anticipate the topics readers are searching for and the questions they are asking.
There is – and will always be – a gap between what a keyword research tool can tell you and the full spectrum of questions readers will be looking for. That’s where subject-matter expertise comes in – rely on the experts in your newsroom.
After you publish new content, implementing internal linking is key. Does the new piece link to the parent page? Does it link to other relevant stories and pages? Great internal links should be a default part of your workflow.
When pitching story ideas, start with a creative brief that includes the title tag and headline, meta description (sub-headline) and the URL. These outlines for new content should also include primary and secondary keywords with search volume, related internal links and competitor observations.
To dominate SERPs, remember 10x content – and use that as your baseline when doing competitive analysis. What are the assets that other outlets are using to outperform your journalism? From there, determine the elements that make sure for your publication.
SEO AND YOU: CAREER PANEL
Lily Ray, Chris Moran, Louisa Frahm, Paul Shapiro, Barry Adams
This session was a highlight on its own. This was such a stellar lineup of exclusively excellent people from a great cross-section of the SEO industry. The speakers talked about the way SEO forces you (better: allows you!) to learn constantly and pick your own path. Best yet: an SEO career is one that rewards curiosity.
Our feelings about the session, translated into emoji: ✨😍🎉. Go get the video(s) from the NESS website.
And finally: How good is it to connect with the news SEO community? We left NESS with 40+ pages of notes, a ton of new ideas and immense gratitude to Barry, John and all the speakers for making a truly great conference. Tell us your favourite insight or key takeaway on Slack. (Bonus points for any editor who implemented or developed an experiment based on what they learned at NESS).
Share WTF is SEO’s recap of the News & Editorial SEO Summit.
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.
Hearst UK is hiring an SEO Manager in London.
The Associated Press is hiring for several roles (including a VP for Digital, video producers and editors).
Lily Ray on Moz’s Whiteboard Friday: Measuring E-A-T
Read more: Top insights from the News & Editorial SEO Summit 2022
Adam Gent: Is it an SEO feature – or an SEO bug?
Ahrefs: What is topical authority and how do I get it?
Have something you’d like us to discuss? Send us a note on Twitter (Jessie or Shelby) or to our email: email@example.com.
Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley