Your on-page news SEO checklist
This week: A guide to on-page SEO tactics and considerations. What to know about headlines, meta descriptions, URLs and more
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Hello and welcome back. This week, it’s Shelby bringing you another refreshed early issue of the WTF is SEO archives – your on-page SEO checklist. Originally written by Jessie, we’ve updated it with new tactics and advice. Because just like news, SEO is ever-changing – and so are our best practices.
The goal is to outline all on-page SEO considerations for news publishers. Take what makes sense for your particular newsroom and leave the rest. Establishing a workflow that considers some – or all – of these will help you prioritize search as a driver of traffic for your publication.
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Let’s get it.
In this issue:
Start with keyword research;
Best practices for on-page SEO;
What else to consider.
News is happening. Assignment editors want to jump on the story and begin covering it from your publication’s angle. Audience editors, this is your time to shine. Let’s shape some reporting.
How do you suss out the search potential for a given topic?
What about identifying questions to answer and subtopics and to explore?
The first step is always keyword research. Your checklist:
What keywords are readers using right now to find stories on XYZ topics?
What questions are readers asking in search about XYZ topics?
Understand search volume and keyword difficulty.
Keyword research starts with a topic – your focus for the breaking news story. From there, use Google Trends to examine current search interest around keywords related to the topic.
Pro tip: Google Trends creates a trending search when a topic is searched over a threshold (5,000 in Canada; 10,000 in the U.S.). That breakout provides related queries (what else readers looked up on the topic).
Keep a running document of terms and keywords that may be valuable for your reporting. Use these terms later in body copy, headlines and in decks, or to inform additional reporting.
As the story evolves (i.e., a multi-day story or event), use Google Search Console data to understand which keywords are driving people to your reporting. Continue to use these for the headlines and URLs of related reporting.
Find the questions readers are asking in search to inform further reporting. Use SEO tools like Glimpse, SEMRush, Ahrefs or Google’s People Also Ask feature.
Use Keywords Everywhere for real-time trend data, search volume, related keywords, People Also Ask questions and long-tail keyword opportunities on your Google SERPs.
Search insights can be useful to brainstorm new areas of coverage or inform the types of reporting that readers need (an explainer versus focused analysis) and format (a long-form article versus an FAQ versus a list).
A common question for news SEOs is: Is there any “search interest” in XYZ topic? We can answer yes if some combination of these things are true:
The topic has breakout terms in Google Trends;
Related searches are already bringing traffic to your site;
The topic is timely, relevant to your publication’s niche or is seasonal;
There are questions or subtopics that you can explore in further reporting.
Search is great for finding top of the funnel readers – people we hope will become future readers, members and subscribers. But there’s no sense covering a trending topic if it doesn’t overlap with the audience you serve. Think about E.E.A.T and topical authority when doing your keyword research.
THE KNOW HOW
SEO considerations when posting stories
A reporter filed a story. You or your edit desk is ready to post. What are your priority SEO considerations? Let’s go through headlines, decks, URLs, internal links and image optimization.
Headlines, headlines, headlines
The headline is the most important piece of text on the page, so take extra time crafting a good one. Headlines explain what the purpose of the page is for readers and search engines alike, and is the first interaction a reader has with your story.
Ninety per cent of people will read your headline and not click. It’s up to you to make them want to click on your story!
To make them count, consider these five points:
Headlines around 70 characters: Google cuts off your headline in organic results based on pixel width (600px). You have a bit more space for Top Stories, but keep your headline concise.
Keywords to the left: Front-load your headline so the intent is clear to your audience and it doesn’t get cut off. Your keyword should be as early as possible in your headline.
Write for the people, make it interesting: Don’t keyword stuff. Google will catch on. Instead, use numbers, dates, questions, places and your top-referring keywords to grab a reader’s attention.
Use a headline preview tool (from Moz or SEOMofo) to see what readers will see before publishing the story.
Try Kristina Azarenko’s Chrome extension to see all the on-page SEO information (headline, title tag, meta description, URL, etc.) in one on-site tab. This can also be used to also ensure there is only one <h1> HTML tag, which should be your headline.
✔️ Action item(s):
Write and workshop multiple headlines for each story. Don’t settle on the first one (and don’t default to a print headline!). A/B test your best options, too. Change it up as you go.
Use Slack? Try a channel populated with trusted editors to workshop headlines before stories get posted. Get editors or writers to ask for feedback before they publish a story.
The meta description
The meta description is not a ranking factor, but it is important for providing context to your readers and search engines. Meta descriptions are generally used to provide additional information for the SERPs and help drive the click-through rate for your page (which is a ranking factor). Meta descriptions don’t always show up on article pages.
Write short and for people: Google might use the meta descriptions to show in SERPs (or it might pull a snippet from the post), so write inciting copy that’s about 150-160 characters.
Keep URLs short and descriptive to help readers and robots understand what the page is about. Include your main-focus keyword in the URL slug.
URLs do not need extra numbers, special characters, secondary information or quotes and should not contain uppercase letters. Even in live or breaking news, avoid updating a URL more than twice.
URLs are a smaller ranking factor – possibly negligible – but case studies have shown you can get locked in for the keywords you target. Think about this critically, especially when running a live blog or rolling file.
Internal and external links
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 which pages are important, relevant and connected on a topic. Internal links also help search engines find stories, as they are discovered from known links.
Consider how you can link and connect the article to other content across the site.
Add anchor text links (i.e., hyperlinking specific keywords in a story). It’s best to hyperlink on a keyword because it can signal to readers and robots what the linked story is about. Avoid using “here” when hyperlinking.
Add contextual links (i.e., “Read more:” or “See Also” links in the body of an article and/or in a “related posts” section) where it’s helpful to readers.
Find high-performing search stories and check that it has sufficient links throughout. Explainers, topic pages, previous reporting, content pillar pages, evergreen content – these are all great stories to include links to and from.
Think about all entry points: Someone could search one way and end up on your news piece, but another could find your explainer. Connect all of the dots for them by providing links in all relevant pieces.
Link to relevant topic pages (i.e., a page that houses all of your content on the particular topic, person or institution) in the story as early as possible.
There’s no magic number of links to include (3-5 is usually good), but only include a link when it is relevant.
As an audience editor, it’s important that you signal when a linking opportunity arises. In breaking news situations, editors are only focused on the story at hand. Remind them that other stories on the topic exist and connect those files appropriately.
Subheadings (often H2s) are subsections of your article or story that are typically labelled in an <h2> HTML heading. These subheads are nested in your story and help break up the structure, providing additional context or answering specific questions.
In the context of news SEO, subheadings are very useful to answer audience questions, and can potentially rank for rich snippets or People Also Ask boxes on SERPs. For example, if you answer “What time is the Super Bowl” in your everything you need to know about the Super Bowl explainer, you could potentially rank for the rich snippet on Google, like this:
When doing keyword research on a topic, look for questions using tools like Google Trends, Glimpse or Google search results. Answer these questions in your content where it makes sense. Use the question as the subheading within an <h2> HTML tag.
If you use a subheading within a subhead, use cascading level of headings
For example, if you have an <h2> and then add an additional subheading, use an <h3> to signal to search engines that this is the next level in the hierarchy.
There is no minimum or maximum number of subheadings you can use in an article, but keep in mind your publication’s engagement times, content focus and editorial strategy.
Image optimization is essential for accessibility on your site. Correct optimization of images means better user experience, faster page load times, improved accessibility and more opportunities for search ranking.
Here’s what to consider:
Signify in your structured data that your images are on the page. Google will use this schema to determine whether it can be used as the featured image on Top Stories.
Use the correct image format type supported by Google.
Reduce the file size (without losing image quality) to help ensure all pages load under 2.5 seconds (a lot of plugins will do this for you).
Try using responsive images to load only the size of the photo that’s needed for the browser size and check that the HTML container doesn’t result in Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) issues.
Write clear, specific alt text that explains the semantic meaning of the image for users with screen readers or slow internet connections. Also populate captions and title text for images in a story.
Don’t leave your images with basic file names (img23453.jpg). Describe your image in the file name, too (justin-trudeau-2019.jpg).
🔗 Read more: Image optimization for Google News from Barry Adams
Best practices for SEO when posting a story:
Write clear, short headlines that use targeted keywords or phrases;
Write meta descriptions that entice readers to click;
Write descriptive URLs and avoid editing URLs;
Execute your internal strategy and consider linking to older content;
Use subheadings to break up your stories and potentially rank for questions;
Optimize images for speed; write good alt text.
✔️ Action item: Build out your customized checklist based on these tips. Prioritize what is possible for your newsroom and over-communicate the importance of thinking about search.
The bottom line: Organizing your on-page SEO efforts will save you time and be more efficient in capturing search traffic when news is happening. Consider what works best for your workflow of articles and, in breaking news situations, which are the most important.
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THE JOBS LIST
These are audience jobs in journalism. Want to include a position for promotion? Email us.
The Washington Post is hiring a SEO Assignment Editor (Washington, D.C.).
NJ Advance Media is hiring a Manager of Content Innovation and Digital Growth (WFH/Hybrid, local to New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York City areas).
Axios is hiring an Associate Director, Audience (Remote).
The Philadelphia Inquirer is hiring a SEO Editor (Philadelphia, P.A.).
Mia Sato for The Verge wrote about how CNET paused publishing AI-written content after a disclosure controversy. We also talked about this in our SEO for Journalism Slack.
Lily Ray for Sistrix: Google US SEO Visibility Winners, 2022 (Shoutout The Athletic!).
Aira & Women in Tech SEO published their State of technical SEO report, 2023.
Ann Smarty wrote on the value of updating old content (team evergreen!) for Wix.
Sara Fernandez wrote about SEO and impostor syndrome and how you can conquer your fear of failure.
Mordy Oberstein for Wix explains how to optimize your podcast for Google search.
Matt Tutt: 24 experts share how they are using ChatGPT to help with SEO efforts.
Richard Lawler and James Vincent for The Verge: Google is freaking out about ChatGPT.
CNBC: Google employees scramble for answers after layoffs hit long-tenured and recently promoted employees.
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.
Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley We’re on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.