Your questions answered: Google Discover, authorship, must-know SEO concepts and more
This week, we answer your questions about must-know SEO concepts, Google Discover, blocking google-extended, authorship and internal reporting.
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Hello, and welcome back. Jessie and Shelby here with a collab issue! Jessie’s back from hosting a super early holiday hang. Think: A collage station, a sad puzzle moment and a chip bar (including, obviously, the Canadian classic: ketchup). Shelby bought a tealight candle advent calendar from a local artisan and already burned too many days. Is she sorry? Nope. Is she cheerful? You betcha.
This week: You asked, we answered. With so much volatility in the SERPs recently, we wanted to check in and find solutions to your most pressing questions. Thanks to everyone who replied to our Slack callout. In this edition, we cover must-know SEO concepts, Google Discover, blocking `
google-extended`, improving authorship and communicating the long-term investment that is needed for effective news SEO.
Join our community of more than 1,300 news SEOs on Slack to chat any time.
Let’s get it.
In this issue, we’re answer your questions:
What are the must-know SEO concepts?
How do you communicate that SEO is a long-term project?
Is Google Discover worth optimizing for?
Should publishers block `
google-extended` crawl bot?
Can you amend an author bio if you were using a pen name?
What’s a healthy organic-to-Discover traffic ratio? Is there one?
What are the essential concepts every news SEO should know?
SEO is a broad discipline, which can make it intimidating to learn. Here are the concepts every news SEO should know:
How Google works: Search engines have a three-part process: Crawling (discovering URLs via links), indexing (adding to a huge library of content) and ranking (showing content in search results for a relevant query).
On-page priorities: Headlines should be tight (70-80 characters), front-loaded with keywords and catered to search audiences. The meta description, URL, internal links, images and subheadings should also be optimized — and this should all be done pre-publication.
Keyword research: Uncovering the phrases and questions readers use to find information. Keyword research helps editors shape reporting and provides an extra level of audience insight.
E.E.A.T and topic authority: E.E.A.T is part of the guidelines used by Google’s human raters to evaluate if the search engine is providing helpful, relevant content in results. Topic authority is subject matter expertise, the areas where your publication is most knowledgeable. E.E.A.T and topic authority are not direct ranking factors, but signals the kind of content Google wants to surface in search results.
With those five concepts, you can be a high-performing news SEO. Once you’ve mastered those, here are other areas to explore:
Position tracking/tracking in Top Stories: Don’t just send your work out into the world and forget about it. Use an SEO tool to track where content appears in search results and tweak stories as needed.
Recovering from a Google algorithm update: News publishers may see fluctuations after an algorithm update. The answer to declines is always the same: Improve your site, improve your content.
This is not an exhaustive list — there’s lots more you can learn. Check out our archive for an extensive catalogue.
Search traffic can be volatile. Improving visibility in search can take a long time. How do you communicate that SEO is a long-term, strategic effort?
Traffic from all platforms — social, newsletters, search, etc. — can be volatile. It can be challenging to put in a lot of effort — following guidance from Google and others — and not see the payoff.
The best way to communicate that the long-term, strategic effort will be worth it is to show that it is currently worth it. Report on small successes consistently, and put the efforts into context (i.e., how is this success helping toward a broader strategy?).
First: Whenever talking about SEO, communicate that it is a long-term investment. Be mindful to reinforce it’s a people-first discipline, one that is concerned about listening to readers (long-term thinking). This dispels the incorrect notion that SEO is about chasing clicks (short-term thinking).
After major breaking news events, provide a debrief on your efforts. How did your content perform compared to other efforts, and where have you improved since the last big new event?
What tactics helped and how can those learnings be applied elsewhere? This creates an opportunity to reflect on things that are working, reaffirm best practices and show how each piece builds the overall puzzle.
Identifying what didn’t work — and why — is just as important. A competitive analysis can highlight the tactics that enabled other outlets to secure key positions in search.
For recurring tentpole events, compare your performance against the previous event. Showcase where you improved, and extract opportunities for next year.
It’s sometimes the case that traffic changes very quickly, both positive (a huge spike in audience) or negative (your page views go off a cliff). That may be because of an SEO tactic, an algorithm update or some technical issue. The first task is to communicate to leadership/stakeholders the processes you're taking to tackle the issue.
If a Google algorithm update wipes out a significant portion of your traffic, consider the tactics that got you there. Publishing content outside your established topic authority, or writing a lot of non-E.E.A.T stories, should be avoided.
A final thought courtesy of this Barry Adams interview: “Chasing after the latest Google updates is exhausting and ultimately futile. Instead, you should chase after quality and reliability, and trust in Google’s long-term ability to recognize those values reflected in your website’s design and content.”
Google — like Meta, Reddit, Apple News, etc — is a middleman. If we’re chasing anything, it’s quality, long-term relationships with a core audience of readers who will return to your site because they value the content you create.
Can you optimize for Google Discover — or does the traffic fluctuate too much to worry about?
Yes, it’s possible to optimize for Google Discover. However, since traffic from Discover can vary wildly, prioritize it after increasing visibility in organic search/Top Stories.
What to know about Google Discover: Discover is queryless — there is no ‘search’ functionality — and highly personalized. Think of Discover more like a social platform than a traditional search product.
How to optimize for Google Discover:
Write engaging — but not clickbaity — headlines. Headlines should elicit emotion and be timely, unique and insightful.
Experiment with story types and format. Listicles, content with an aspirational view on living or a recurring series on a consistent topic tend to perform well. Evergreen content does well when updated, too.
Considering trending, popular content, especially if it overlaps with topic areas that perform well in Discover. Review your site’s Discover traffic to identify topics with higher-than-average click-through rates. Experiment with running more stories (or updating evergreen) on those topics.
Google even notes that Discover will fluctuate: “Traffic from Discover is less predictable or dependable when compared to keyword-driven search visits. Given its serendipitous nature, you should consider traffic from Discover as supplemental to your keyword-driven search traffic.”
In forecasting meetings, avoid tying any revenue targets to Discover. As we’ve seen, what Google gives, it can easily take. Discover as a core part of your strategy? That’s a recipe for disappointment.
Should publishers block Google-extended and other search generative experience bots? Google's crawler seems to be a bigger chunk of the crawl budget. Is blocking in 2024 too little too late?
It’s never too late to take action, especially if you do not want your content to help profit Google and others and their AI products. For some publishers, it also may have to do with competing against their own AI products, too.
Google-extended` is the crawler that trains Google’s Bard and Vertex AI generative APIs, including any future iterations of the model. Google uses this crawler for any Search Generative Experience snippets. (Google also provides an overview of all of their crawlers and fetchers (user agents) used to discover and scan content.)
Personally (Shelby), I believe blocking the crawler is the best option. Google is using the content to make a product, but is not interested in compensating these publications. There are reports that generative AI violates copyright law and the rights of news publishers. Barry Adams, meanwhile, has consistently expressed concern about large language learning models (LLMs) using publishers’ content to build AI products without permission.
Block the crawler if you don’t see a benefit. Don’t help build the tool that will dilute your traffic.
Reminder: As Danny Goodwin notes, you can block `
google-extended` in robots.txt, but that does not block your content from appearing in Google’s Search Generative Experience or prevent Google from using your content for training SGE. To opt-out fully, block Googlebot (which would also take you out of Search). However, you can opt out of SGE overviews using `nosnippet.`
For sites using pen names (for conflict of interest reasons), I've seen huge traffic dips recently. Given Google’s recent changes around E.E.A.T, can you amend the byline to the correct author and pair it with a correct and credible biography to build back up credibility?
You absolutely can build up the authority and credibility of the real author, especially if Google has already taken action against the previous pen name page as the search engine has noticed something awry. With so many algorithm updates in recent months, it’s clear the search engine is making adjustments to surface more content that is created by humans (that includes forums like Reddit and user-generated content). Google wants to know about the person writing the content. Authorship is hugely important for this.
How to handle: Create the author page for the real person. Include the author’s name, place(s) of study, reporting expertise and any other credentials that exemplify E.E.A.T signals.
Pro tip: In the bio, link to the topic tag pages of subjects they may have written about extensively. Include investigations or in-depth reporting that showcase their authority.
Once the page is created, go back and change the author field, wherever possible, to the new profile. Ideally, update all the articles previously published under a pen name.
Continue to use this author bio for future stories and decommission the pen name bio.
The ideal situation would be to 301 redirect the pen name to the real name, especially if there are any links (both internal and external) connected to the page. However, if the conflict of interest is still an issue, or the pen name cannot be connected to the real name for legal/safety reasons, then delete the page (use a 410 if you can).
It will take some time for the page to build up authority, but it’s certainly worth the effort to establish trust with the real author.
What's the ideal ratio of organic search traffic to other surfaces? Discover traffic can drive growth, but what's healthy?
The answer to this question is an emphatic, it depends. Every publisher has a different ratio of organic-to-Discover traffic, along with other surfaces like Google News. There’s no industry-wide benchmark to strive for.
Some news organizations see a huge proportion of their traffic come from Discover. These publishers tend to cover lifestyle, gossip, entertainment, sports and recipes, where it’s common to see aspirational headlines or stories to distract people. Hard news sites, meanwhile, report more organic traffic than Discover. In recent months, some publishers have experienced a complete drop in Discover — and even Top Stories — traffic.
The most important thing to remember is this: Google Discover is volatile and should not be relied on for consistent traffic. It is a bonus.
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Google news and updates:
💰 Google and the Canadian government reached an agreement earlier this week that will see publishers paid upwards of CAD$100-million annually.
Google responded to the agreement, saying it is “pleased” the government has “committed to addressing our core issues with Bill C-18, which included the need for a streamlined path to an exemption at a clear commitment threshold.”
🤔 Danny Sullivan: How to rank on Google (according to someone from Google).
🤯 Cyrus Shepard: Google’s index size has been revealed.
More news and updates:
📜 Fernando Maciá: The impact of Google’s SGE on SEO and search traffic.
🆘 Blair MacGregor: How to think about expanding your brand’s footprint in a post-HCU world.
📲 Glenn Gabe on Twitter: CNN is beta testing CNN Shorts, short-form vertical video on its homepage. Variety reports that completion rates for the mobile briefs are up 36 per cent.
⌨️ First Round on Twitter: A product director for Google Bard explains how the company was able to ship its AI tools so quickly.
🥪 James Brockbank on Twitter: 12 simple ways to demonstrate E.E.A.T.
🤖 Kristie Hines for SEJ: A look back as ChatGPT is officially a year old.
🍔 James Brockbank: 11 author page examples that beautifully demonstrate E.E.A.T.
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