SEO for breaking news
This week: SEO for live or breaking news. This a topic we’ve covered before, but given the news cycle of the last three years, a refresher is always worthwhile.
Hello, and welcome back. Jessie here, back from the first – ugh – truly cold and windy winter weekend in Toronto. I was holding out hope we could skip right to April. Nope! Please send warm thoughts and/or recommendations for boots. I think this is finally the year I upgrade from winter running shoes.
This week: SEO for live or breaking news. This a topic we’ve covered before in three parts, but given the news cycle of the last several years, a refresher is always worthwhile.
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In this issue:
Planning for breaking news
Content for live news
Planning for and reacting to breaking news
Preparing for breaking news sounds counterintuitive. How can you plan for news that is, by definition, unexpected? Preparing for breaking news is really about laying the groundwork. That way, when news breaks, you’re putting best practices into play, quickly. Audience and SEO editors should be continuously monitoring search data and providing clear guidance for on-page text.
Build up your search instinct. Looking at search data every day will help you understand patterns/trends in how and what readers search for. Think about what you would search, too.
That way, when the story breaks, you’re already in the habit of looking at Google Trends to see how readers seek out information. Then, look for key breakout search terms that could work for your audience.
“Breakout” means interest in a search term grew by more than 5,000 per cent in a specific time period. Consider those keywords for headlines, URLs, within your body copy and in decks/meta descriptions.
Consider what the audience is looking for: If your audience is national, adjust the filter for a general scope. But if it’s in your backyard, make sure you cover it with a local lens.
After handling the initial breaking news files, consider the rest of your coverage. That might include:
Live blog coverage: Publish a Live quickly and refresh with substantive updates often (at least 100-150 words). The headline at publication locks in keywords you can be competitive for, so craft wisely! Look to your publication’s reporters to keep the content fresh, and check in with your opinion writers for context and analysis.
A high cadence of updates tells readers – and Google – that it’s worth returning to this piece and keeping it in Top Stories.
Identify breakout stories from secondary keywords that can help your publication continue to tell the story. As highlighted by Claudio E. Cabrera at NESS, Google has deprioritized Live journalism in search results in favour of more diverse content (meaning: more secondary topics and local news).
Think: Explainers, analysis, ‘What this means’-type of content. Move quickly to find those content opportunities, instead of placing all emphasis on a single Live or the main file.
Use search to inform other content types: Timelines, maps, galleries or other formats readers want can be signalled from search data. Query attributes – phrases like “watch,” “live,” “map” or “photos” – are clear indications readers want a visual element to better understand the story. Include a gallery, video, live stream or other visual and interactive elements where possible.
Explanatory reporting: Use keyword research to identify the main W5 (who, what, when, where, why) questions being asked in search. Answer those high-volume questions in explainers or an FAQ. This journalism often appeals to top-of-the-funnel readers – and by fulfilling that reader need, they’re better able to consume the more in-depth reporting or analysis we link out to.
Evergreen content: What service journalism already exists on the topic? Evergreen or durable content is a great pair on the homepage or section pages.
Create a hub or topic/tag page to collect stories on the breaking news event where it makes sense (i.e., if the event is big enough for your editorial goals). Topic pages make all of your reporting available in one place and signal to search engines that your organization is committed to continuing coverage. Then, use internal links to connect the dots.
Internal links are the unsung hero of SEO. They drive internal traffic, increase recirculation rates, as well as help search engines understand your website’s structure and find new articles. Effective internal linking builds topical authority. Ensure news files link to the topic page, related stories and Live coverage, as well as evergreen or service content – and vice versa.
THE HOW TO
Technical SEO considerations for live news
Technical SEO can sometimes take a backseat in a breaking news environment. Confirming and posting a story is first priority, but once you have time to breathe, check the following technical SEO considerations:
Are new files being indexed quickly? Use Search Console’s URL inspection tool to confirm a page can appear in Google Search results. Also, remember that your homepage – your primary landing page – is the most powerful page on your site. Adding breaking stories to the homepage quickly can help with faster indexing.
Pro tip: Sometimes there’s a lag in Google’s URL inspector saying your page has been indexed. Confirm by Googling with the site operator (
site:yourwebsite.com) or plug the URL into Google to see if it shows up. If it does, it’s likely indexed.
Are redirects implemented properly? Maybe you publish a short file, wire story or a piece based on outside sourcing – but then redirect it to a more fulsome piece. The best practice is to use a 301 redirect, as it passes the link’s full equity to the new URL. However, be mindful to avoid creating too many redirects, which could cause redirect chains (a redirected story redirecting to another story that redirects elsewhere, and never actually rendering a page).
SERPs for breaking news can be very competitive – and every bit of effort counts. Review your technical SEO during live news, and quickly resolve any problems as you spot them.
Monitoring and reporting
For on-page elements, Google Trends and other keyword research tools will indicate what readers are looking for. The next step is using SEO reporting tools to identify the queries you’re ranking for in search as well as how you’re showing up.
Google Search Console provides day-after analysis, while other reporting tools (like Trisolute News Dashboard, Newzdash) can provide real-time data. Chartbeat, Parse.ly or other tools can provide real-time referrer data, too.
After a news event, internal reporting helps evaluate the success – and opportunity gaps – of our coverage. You provide a clear understanding of your team’s successes, but also the improvements that can be made the next time.
For reader-service pieces informed by search data, was Google the top referrer for traffic? How does the traffic for that piece compare to other stories, or against your overall site average? Did it drive significant subscriptions?
For stories where on-page text was informed by keyword research, which queries drove the most traffic? Were those your targeted keywords? Did you rank in SERPs for your target keywords?
Other useful metrics to consider:
Organic traffic from search: How many readers – both raw total and per cent of overall views – arrived from search? How does that compare to the site-wide average?
Ranking: For the keywords you targeted, did you rank in Top Stories? What was your search visibility – the per cent of an available pool of clicks your outlet receives – on main keywords?
Competitor analysis: Where did your competitors do well? In comparison to other outlets, what were your content gaps? Did they file more quickly, cover different questions or find a more unique angle? Answering these questions in a post-mortem can inform your approach for the next breaking news event.
Backlinks: Use an SEO tool to measure how many other outlets cited your news coverage. Five or more high-quality links from notable sites is a success.
Internal reports inform the newsroom about performance, opportunities or potential roadblocks you encountered. Use it as an opportunity to highlight your successes, then uncover – and work through – any stumbling blocks so you’re better prepared for the next event.
The bottom line: Breaking news requires audience and SEO editors to put best practices into action quickly. Start with keyword research to understand the questions readers are asking, and to inform the content type or format that best serves user intent. Review your technical SEO to make sure pages load quickly and are readily indexed.
THE JOBS LIST
These are audience jobs in journalism. Want to include a position for promotion? Email us.
The Boston Globe is hiring an SEO/social editor.
Daniel Smullen: SEO for news: Complete Top Stories keyword research guide.
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