Back to basics: 19 concepts publishers need to know
We’re going back to basics. Here are 19 of the news SEO concepts you need to know to grow your publication – including search intent, keyword research, E.E.A.T and topical authority
Hello and welcome back! Happy new year, friends. Shelby and Jessie here, bringing you the first issue of 2023. We both had very relaxing breaks (Shelby slept while being stuck inside during a snowstorm, and Jessie only made it to two Value Villages. New year, same personalities.)
ALSO, WE HIT 5,000 SUBSCRIBERS AND WE’RE VERY EXCITED! Continuing a great WTFisSEO tradition, this means Shelby will soon send Jessie a cake. Jessie is very excited.
This week: We’re going back to basics. We revisited one of our very first issues and refined it to include all of the SEO concepts you need to know to grow your publication. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but we hope it provides a starting point as you craft your search strategy.
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Let’s get it.
19 concepts publishers need to know
We get it: SEO is a huge, daunting field. Where to start or what to learn first is tricky. Below, we’ve outlined 19 important SEO concepts that directly apply to journalism.
What is it: Search intent, is the why behind a search. There are four types: Transactional, local, navigation and informational. Informational intent is the most relevant to journalism.
Why it matters: For starters, search intent is widely considered a ranking factor. Informational searches are those by potential readers actively seeking out information on a given topic to fill a knowledge gap.
✔️ Action item: Go to Google Trends and look at today’s real-time searches. Can you identify the search intent behind the queries listed? Scan the list until you identify all four.
🔗 Read more: Jessie and Shelby take you through what search intent is and why it matters for news organizations.
What is it: Keyword research – a way we can try to understand what words and phrases people are searching or questions people are asking.
Four tools – Google itself, Google Search Console, Google Trends (with the Glimpse extension) and Keywords Everywhere – are commonly used for this research.
This research includes looking at what other publications are writing on a topic and what your outlet has produced, as well.
Why it matters: Keyword research helps us identify story ideas and underreported topics – and looking at keyword volume will tell us if there’s enough existing interest to justify reporting.
✔️ Action item: Pick a keyword related to a niche and use Google Trends (and Glimpse!) to learn about what questions people are asking.
🔗 Read more: Shelby went into lots of detail on how newsrooms can use keyword research to inform their reporting.
What is it: Ranking factors are, in short, the aspects Google considers when it’s deciding what story appears first in search. There are so many ranking factors Google considers.
You as an editor will not have direct control over many factors such as page speed, mobile-friendliness, so for now, let's focus on the what we can control for, including:
High-quality content (see E.E.A.T);
On-page SEO (headlines, meta descriptions, links, URLs structure, images, content length);
Backlinks (stories linking to your story);
Search intent (should match the article content);
Topical authority (how much Google trusts you as an authority);
Freshness (when was the story last updated).
Why it matters: These are the factors that you, an editor, have control over. Other stuff can be passed off to your site team. Smaller teams may need to prioritize. Focus your time and energy on what you can control – and then make it count.
✔️ Action item: If you have a well-curated guide or explainer and you know it’s not getting a lot of search traffic, look at some of the above factors: Can you link to the guide in a new article? Freshen it up so it is relevant now?
🔗 Read more: Shelby takes you through what to do if you’re affected by an algorithm update.
H1 and title tags
What is it: The H1 and the Title tag are HTML elements that help make up the structure of your webpage. While both tags help describe to the internet bots what your page is about, the main difference is where they appear.
The Title tag: Appears in the browser tab. This is what shows up in search engines, but does not appear, visually, on your webpage.
The Title tag should include one – and only one – keyword you want the specific page to rank for, along with your brand name.
Publishers can use the m-dash or the vertical bar to add the brand to the tag.
Title tag: Health Canada approves AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine | Canada News Today
Title tag: Community fridges are lifelines – Vox
The H1 tag: Appears on your webpage. This should be the headline of the story or the main focus of the page, but doesn’t need the brand information in it.
Your target keyword should appear in both the Title and H1 tags on your page.
Why it matters: Google uses the information in the H1 and Title tags to figure out what your page is about and if it matches with the search query. Pay special attention to getting your target keyword in these spots when you can.
✔️ Action item: Does your homepage Title tag contain more than just your brand information? Is the H1 on the homepage your brand name?
🔗 Read more: Shelby outlined how writing clear HTML is the first step to a great SEO strategy.
What is it: Headlines are the H1 and Title tags of article pages on your news site and are considered some of the most important factors for ranking in search. This should be no surprise for news editors! Those of us who spend hours editing and rewriting headlines to capture nuance while grabbing a reader’s attention know how much headlines matter.
Search engine optimization means thinking about what you and other readers might Google to find a story and tweaking the headline to reflect that search interest. This doesn’t mean trying to game the system by stuffing every keyword under the sun just “for SEO.” Write for people first, search second.
There isn’t an exact characters limit for headlines, but you should try to keep in mind that Google only shows the first 50-60 characters in a search result
Try to front-load your keywords (i.e., closer to the beginning of the headline).
Headlines with questions, numbers, keywords, quotes or questions often perform the best.
Why it matters: Headlines are how readers decide if your story is worth reading – and sometimes they’re all a reader will see of a story. Make every headline count.
✔️ Action item: Use SEO Mofo’s optimizer tool to check to see how much of your headline gets cut off in search results.
🔗 Read more: Jessie outlined a three-point plan for writing effective SEO headlines.
What is it: A URL or the “web address” is where the internet saves your story or page.
URL structure is a ranking factor – but a small, near negligible one. They help with user experience (making it clear to readers what a webpage is all about).
Having the main-focus keyword in the URL is useful and can explain what the webpage is about concisely.
Aim to keep URLs simple and relevant, reflecting a clear folder structure on your website.
The keywords you choose for your URL structure can lock you in for specific searches. Choose wisely.
Use hyphens instead of underscores for readability, and avoid uppercase letters.
Why it matters: The URL is still important because it helps Google – and readers – understand what’s on your page and how it connects to the search query.
✔️ Action item: Do you change your URLs to be keyword focused before you publish? Consider adding this to your workflow.
🔗 Read more: Moz has an in-depth guide to URL structure and why it matters. Barry Adams covered everything publishers need to know about URLs.
What is it: A rich snippet is a Google product focused on trying to save you, the user, time by showing the nugget of information you want without clicking on a link in organic results.
If you’re looking for TV shows to watch right now, or want to know when the next statutory holiday is, or compare robot vacuums, you will likely encounter a rich snippet.
There are many types of SERP features, but we focus on the editorially-driven ones: Featured Snippet, Knowledge Cards and Panels, News Box, and Related Questions (or People Also Ask).
Why it matters: Google is taking over more real estate in search (which can be frustrating for publishers trying to surface in-depth reporting). Finding alternative ways to service your readers can help produce loyalty that could boost the numbers to your site.
✔️ Action item: Search some questions you think your audience would search and see if the result returns a rich snippet. What content fills the snippet currently? What can you provide?
🔗 Read more: Jessie looks at rich snippets – what they are, and why they matter to publishers.
What is it: Link building is the process of acquiring hyperlinks from other websites back to your website. A backlink is a link that connects publisher A (another news outlet) to publisher B (your site) across multiple domains.
There are many reasons for doing this: background, crediting another publication for a scoop or additional information, or providing your readers with reading outside of your publication.
It is a sign of authority to your page – it’s a way to tell the search engines that this page serves its intent.
Think of a backlink as an upvote, thumbs up, or endorsement of that page.
Search engines consider relevance and authority when looking at backlinks: how many links are coming from big, authoritative websites.
The bigger, more authoritative a website, the more “power” the backlink is awarded (i.e., A backlink to the BBC from a domain like theglobeandmail.com is much more powerful than one coming from JessiesCoolVeganBlog.com (a low-traffic personal blog).
Backlinks can be acquired in many different ways, but the most important is to ensure the link is genuine. Google knows if it is not (black hat SEOs beware, don’t go buying links!).
Why it matters: This is a ranking factor, and according to Ahrefs, “arguably the most important ranking factor.”
✔️ Action item: Did you recently publish a big investigation and other websites are talking about it? Ask them to link to the story.
🔗 Read more: Shelby went through how to build good backlinks and outlined the value of a backlink strategy. We also discuss link building’s relationship to topical authority.
What is it: Internal links are links from one page on your website to another page on your website. They are considered an SEO “superpower” as they help signal to Google and readers that pages are important, relevant and connected when covering a topic.
Pages without any internal links (i.e., there’s no way to get to it) are called orphan pages.
Pages within the internal linking structure help Google understand the importance of that page. If you have high-value content (an explainer, investigation or sharp piece of analysis), you want to make sure it is linked to in multiple places across your website.
If you routinely publish explainers (say, on the best face mask or blackouts in Texas), you will want to link to the explainers from your related reporting, and vice-versa.
Why it matters: Internal links connect your content together, creating a relationship and signaling importance to search engines. This can help boost organic traffic for your site, while giving a good user experience to the visitor. Internal links tell all parties what content is related.
✔️ Action item: If you have a main explainer on a topic, check: Is your most recent reporting linking to the explainer? Can you also add a link to the case tracker to your reporting?
🔗 Read more: Jessie explains why internal linking is key to SEO.
What is it: E.E.A.T stands for experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. These are factors Google considers when determining how much it should trust a brand and if the brand is providing helpful, relevant information. The addition of experience in 2022 reflected Google’s ongoing effort to value brands that have a first-hand account of what they’re writing about.
Google says, “websites and pages should be created to help users.” An article (webpage) should fulfill its intended purpose for readers: tell the people something important or share an opinion.
Google’s Search Rater Guidelines goes in depth into all concepts around quality rankings, including YMYL (your money, your life).
This is extremely important in the fight against misinformation. More weight is put on a site that can produce quality E.A.T content than one that does not.
Why it matters: Google only wants to promote trustworthy resources in search results that help users. This is part of how it makes that evaluation.
✔️ Action item: Be a news organization. Experience, expertise, authority and trustworthiness are core values to what we do. Look at your audience strategy: are you achieving that?
🔗 Read more: Jessie explained what E.A.T means (before the extra E) and Shelby explained how structured data can support those efforts. Lily Ray also talks about E.E.A.T often — follow her on Twitter for the latest.
What is it: Structured data is a standardized way for providing extra information to describe the page in a way that makes it easier for search engines to understand. Google loves well-structured data – it helps the robots understand exactly what kind of content is on your webpage and how it should be represented in search results.
The rules for structured data are agreed to by all major search engines, and are available on Schema.org. Schema is the shared language used to provide the data in structured data.
Refer to the Markup for News page of Schema.org for background and additional information about Schema and the news. We go through five types of schema for news.
LiveBlogPosting is a schema that signals live reporting and that a file is providing rolling coverage of an event. It’s effective for breaking news.
If you have a recipe on a webpage and it’s structured using the correct schema (data structure), search engines have an easier time connecting readers to your recipe.
If you Google “best vegan caesar dressing,“ the first three links in the Recipes rich snippet are put there, in part, because those websites used the correct Recipe Schema.
Why it matters: Structured data is an easy way to signal to Google what your webpages are about and makes it easy for search engines to surface your content for various rich snippets. As Google is taking more and more space for itself in search results, structured data can help you increase your visibility.
✔️ Action item: Do you have recipes on your site? Or movie reviews? Have you recently started creating FAQ pages? Use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to see if the appropriate schema is there. Check
🔗 Read more: Shelby went through what structured data is and how to use it to help your E.E.A.T efforts.
Core Web Vitals
What is it: Core Web Vitals (CWV) are a series of ranking metrics that are related to user experience on your site. CWV is made up of three factors, and combines with mobile friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security and intrusive interstitial guidelines as ranking signals for page experience. In short: the better the page experience is, the better your pages will rank.
Largest contentful paint (LCP) is a metric that measures the render time of the largest image or text block visible within a viewport (aka what loads on the screen), relative to when the page first started loading. A good LCP is 2.5 seconds or less.
Cumulative layout shift (CLS) is a metric that measures visual stability of the page. It examines the largest burst of “layout shift” (aka, the amount of times a piece of content moves from one rendered position to another). A good CLS score is 0.1 or less.
Why it matters: As Google continues to deprioritize AMP, it will be important that your site has good CWV scores to rank. A good page experience is not only a ranking factor, but vital for readers to trust your publication.
✔️ Action item: Check the CWV scores for your site in Google Search Console or Page Speed Insights and make a list of what is less-than-optimal. These are where you can start your work to improve your Core Web Vitals.
🔗 Read more: Shelby went through what publishers need to know about CWV. Our friend Barry Adams also has a comprehensive guide on CWV for publishers.
What is it: Technical SEO focuses on optimizing the actual infrastructure of your site for search engines. This form of optimization helps spiders crawl your site better and therefore can also help your rankings in SERPs.
Technical SEO also includes making sure your pages are indexed. This refers to whether the pages on your site can or cannot be read and surfaced in Google’s results.
Why it matters: There are a lot of components to technical SEO. But it’s important that the technical and editorial SEO work in tandem for your news organization to succeed. A better technical infrastructure means it’s easier for search engines to read and understand your site, and therefore easier for your site to rank.
✔️ Action item: Check your Google Search Console for errors under “Pages”. Are there any actions you can take immediately to fix some of these problems?
🔗 Read more: Shelby walks through core technical SEO concepts publishers need to know.
What is it: Topical authority is SEO jargon for subject matter expertise. Instead of individual keywords or keyword groups, topical authority is your depth of expertise on an overall topic. It’s also widely considered a ranking factor.
Search engines understand some sites to be more knowledgeable on a topic than others. As a result, they are more likely to rank articles from those sites higher in SERPs over competitors who do not write in depth on the subject.
To be considered an authoritative source on a topic, you must write quality content – journalism that answers the questions readers are actively asking in search – consistently over a period of time on the subject.
We know our audiences benefit from clear, trustworthy answers to their pressing queries. Writing those stories or compiling those explainers benefits your readers, and potentially your search rankings.
Why it matters: To rank well in Google, you need to create content that is high-impact and demonstrates authority on a topic. Topical authority is also a great concept that matches what reporters and editors are already doing: Gaining expertise in a topic area, and writing about it authoritatively.
✔️ Action item: When considering topical authority, narrow the focus to topics in the key areas your publication cares about (the NFL, climate crisis, etc.). Focus search efforts on areas that are core to your brand and business.
🔗 Read more: Jessie provided an overview of topical authority and how publishers can develop it.
What is it: Evergreen refers to content without a news peg. Typically, it revolves around a topic or idea that is not seasonal or tied to a news cycle. Instead, this content is always (or almost always) of interest to readers.
A topic is considered evergreen if it has consistent reader interest and search volume. The content is considered evergreen if it covers a timeless topic and the story, blog post or explainer can be easily updated without changing the purpose or search intent of the piece.
For example: The best cooking oil or tips for socially responsible investing are evergreen, where content about elections or the Olympics are not.
This content can be covered in how-to guides or tutorials, FAQs, glossaries, guides or lists — any non-news explainer.
How to refresh the evergreen: First, take inventory of your existing content using an SEO tool to compile a list of URLs. Then identify the top-referring keywords for each piece and perform new keyword research to inform the substance of the updates you make. Finally, check and refresh on-page text, then push the piece out again on social, section pages, the homepage or in newsletters.
Why it matters: Well-maintained and effectively produced evergreen content can provide continuous, quality traffic. Evergreen can drive new readers to your high-impact work all year.
✔️ Action item: Use the WTFisSEO? tracking spreadsheet for evergreen content.
🔗 Read more: Shelby explained the concept of evergreen for news SEO and Jessie went in more depth with advanced evergreen SEO. The Ahrefs guide to evergreen is also excellent (control + F for their explanation of the “spike of hope”).
What is it: Google Discover is a feed of content that appears on Google’s iOS and Android apps and on Google.com exclusively on mobile.
Google Discover surfaces content based on a reader’s activity in their Google account and preferences across its products. It is queryless (there is no search functionality), and includes content from non-publishers. For these reasons, it’s best to think about Discover more like a personalized, social platform.
Discover offers huge traffic, but don't rely on it for clicks. Traffic might come in bigger waves, but is far less predictable than well-optimized stories in organic results or Google News.
Why it matters: Discover offers a big – but unpredictable – audience.
✔️ Action item: Prioritize your efforts appropriately for Discover. Having solid technical, evergreen and standard news SEO should supersede Discover – but when that’s in place, consider the health of your mobile site, your E-A-T and buzzy social content).
🔗 Read more: Jessie provided an overview of Google Discover, the SEO form of this emoji: 🙃. John Shehata is the go-to news SEO for all things Discover. Catch up on our Ask A News SEO interview with John to understand why he considers Discover a tactic, not a strategy.
What is it: 10x content is a term first coined by Rand Fishkin, the co-founder and former CEO of Moz. It refers to content that is 10 times better than the highest ranking result for a specific keyword.
Rand’s three pillars of 10x content are: great UX and UI for a website on all devices; content that is well-written, interesting and considerably different from other pieces; pages that encourage social shares or engagement (i.e., be linked to from other sites).
To create quality 10x content, you must first understand your competition, then find a unique angle to approach, while identifying a powerful or exceptional way to present the content. The key to 10x content is finding a great story and making it significantly better than the competition – in a way that hasn't been done before.
In the context of news, 10x content provides additional value or another layer of understanding to readers. This means: stories that are highly engaging, have a clear takeaway and create an experience readers will remember.
Why it matters: In highly competitive SERPs, having 10x content can be the difference between ranking high and not making an impact. A 10x approach results in content that can be linked to or promoted frequently, and can help develop a reader’s relationship to a publication.
✔️ Action item: Reviewing your evergreen content? Consider 10x when thinking about how to update those pieces — perhaps working toward building a calculator or interactive component to better a reader’s experience.
🔗 Read more: Jessie explained what 10x content is and what publishers should consider.
What is it: Branded keywords are phrases associated with the brand that people use to talk about your organization or look up information on it. These can be directly on search but also on social media.
Branded keywords are usually navigational queries and the CTR tends to be higher.
These keywords provide consistent or slowly increasing traffic. The reason is mostly habitual, but branded keywords can provide you an understanding of how your audience interprets your publication.
You can find your branded keywords through Google Search Console or an SEO tool that gives you a list of keywords that you ran for.
Think about branded keywords as your brand reputation.
Why it matters: Branded keywords provide insight into how your current audience ends up on your site. This can help you understand what products, content verticals, writers or services help your organization stand out. It can also help you discover opportunities for optimization as well as areas to expand.
✔️ Action item: Run your site through an SEO tool or check your GSC. Are there specific branded keywords you didn’t expect? Can you leverage these by optimizing some articles better?
🔗 Read more: Shelby ran through what are branded keywords and how to leverage them.
Striking distance keywords
What is it: Striking distance refers to keywords your publication ranks for, but in positions 11-30 (pages two and three of search results pages). These are terms you’re already ranking for. This means it’s an easier lift to improve the position of your content on those keywords than trying to rank a new piece.
According to Backlinko, the first position has a CTR of 27.6 per cent, which is the highest amount on SERPs.
After the first position, the CTR falls dramatically. The second and third positions see around 16 per cent and 11 per cent click-through rates, respectively. By position 10, the CTR falls to less than 3 per cent.
Striking distance keywords are keywords you already rank for. Auditing the stories that are already showing up and improving them is a great place to start.
Why it matters: Striking distance keywords have potential for generating more traffic if you can improve your publication’s ranking by just a few positions. By moving from the second page of SERPs to page one, your click-through rates and overall traffic are likely to rise.
✔️ Action item: Find your striking distance keywords through a tool such as Botify or SEMRush. Look at the SERPs for those keywords and audit what content ranks in the top 1-3 positions. What can you do to improve your own content?
🔗 Read more: Jessie walked through how to improve the positioning of content ranking for striking distance keywords.
The bottom line: SEO is a huge field. These concepts do not cover all of search, but they are some of the core ideas that give you a solid SEO foundation.
Search Engine Journal: Google recommends multiple date signals on webpages.
Aleyda Solis: Ways to leverage ChatGPT in your SEO activities.
Barry Adams: Google News SEO tips for publishers: How to make tiny gains every day.
Search Engine Land: Google’s December 2022 helpful content and link spam updates are still rolling out.
Tom Critchlow: What’s your plan for SEO career development this year?
Not SEO but useful for audience editors: Dan Oshinsky is providing ideas to improve your newsletter every day in January.
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.
Trisolute Software Corporation is hiring an SEO Manager (Remote, US).
News Revenue Hub is hiring an Audience Development Project Manager (Remote, US).
ReedPop is hiring an SEO Writer (Remote, UK).
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.
(Don’t forget to bookmark our glossary.)
Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley