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What we learned at NESS 2.0 (part two!)
NESS: The conference so nice we had to recap it twice. Read on for a look at the Top Stories landscape, approaches to Live journalism, internal linking and more.
Last week: We highlighted lessons on new tools available for technical audits, paywall SEO, content workflow for SERP domination and much, much more.
This week: The state of Top Stories, approaches to Live journalism, internal links for evergreen and the future of SEO.
As the Global VP of Condé Nast and the founder of NewzDash and GDDash, John had some really interesting insight into Top Stories and news boxes. Using NewzDash.com, John analyzed 55-million URLs that showed up in Top Stories in the U.S. mobile SERPs over the past few months.
There is a strong correlation (but remember: correlation does not mean causation!) between news authority on Google News and the Top Stories carousel. You don’t need to be in Google News to be in Top Stories, but most of the dominant publishers are in both.
According to John’s findings, 22 per cent of news queries generate multiple news carousels – which are very competitive.
People Also Ask appeared on 95 per cent of queries
Organic appeared in 100 per cent
Top Stories appeared in 92 per cent
Videos, excluding short videos, appeared on 51 per cent
Twitter appeared on 44 per cent
Visual stories appeared on 31 per cent
The Publisher host carousel almost 0 per cent
The death of AMP: Non-AMP URLs are reaching almost 50 per cent of the share in Google mobile Top Stories. We’re seeing a pattern… Just like Barry Adams, John recommends making sure your Core Web Vitals are solid before eliminating AMP. Expect a bit of a decline in Top Stories visibility before it returns, possibly stronger than ever. Manage your expectations.
Live: Google will recognize multiple “live” experiences in Top Stories – the live file with Schema markup and the “live” pill; and “non-live'' live articles, where they don’t actually have a live blog but provide frequent updates. Google treats each type differently, but will provide a variety of assets (see more in Claudio Cabrera’s talk below).
People also ask: An astonishing 20 per cent of all People Also Ask answers belong to Google and Wikipedia!
Videos: YouTube owns 90 per cent of all search visibility for long videos. For short videos, 43 per cent of all short videos appear in U.S. entertainment-related queries. The largest short videos search visibility goes to Facebook, but TikTok’s rise is prominent.
Visual Stories: Around 6 per cent or SERPs in mobile U.S. are visual stories, and predominantly sports stories so far. This is higher than expected and signals a higher priority on visual storytelling.
John then analyzed the top 1,000 highest performing news articles on Google mobile search, within the top stories worldwide for January to September 2022.
From that, the analysis showed what you see in the screenshot below:
Of these 1,000 pages, 76 per cent had spelling errors and 3 per cent had missing canonicals. Additionally, 18 per cent had “same as” Schema, something John thinks is going to become important in the future.
The above screenshot looks at the factors that affect ranking in Top Stories versus Google News. A reminder: you don’t need to be in Google News to rank in Top Stories, but it definitely helps.
The big takeaway is: Google has deprioritized Live journalism in search results, in favour of more diverse results pages.
In the past, SERPs included more Live coverage, such as live blogs, but now localized content and secondary keywords (with carousels focused on subtopics) see higher visibility.
During a major weather event, the SERP is now more likely to feature local outlets and secondary events than a set of Live assets.
That means supporting assets – including breakout stories focused on secondary keywords – are increasingly important to your overall coverage of the event. As a result, publications should rely less on the live blog to their power coverage.
Claudio uses a tree analogy to consider the overall coverage for an event. Every news event is like a tree, where the main event is the trunk (i.e., your live blog), and each branch is a secondary asset (breakout stories for secondary keywords, maps, timelines and evergreen or reader-service content). The changing landscape of SERPs puts greater importance on your coverage as a package over a straight focus on the live component.
Given the importance of these secondary assets, build capacity into your staffing for live coverage:
Who manages the blog, and do they have authority to assign a breakout? (Maybe they should!)
Are your visuals or graphics desks on board to push out quick visualizations as support for the Live, or as breakouts?
Are your top opinion writers on standby to contribute analysis and context?
Planning is an essential part of live coverage. Secondary files – which are how you will win the day on the non-live conversations happening around a news event – are very effective to fulfill the totality of a reader’s need.
Consider your entire coverage line, not just the live asset.
Also covered in this session:
Updates should be substantive: at least 100-150 words. Remember Christine Liang’s note about paired updates from NESS 2021? Do that for your live blogs, too: Update the headline, image and sub-headline, along with your text updates.
The headline you use at the time of publishing effectively locks in keywords you will be competitive for – so craft wisely!
Get the live asset on the homepage and section pages quickly – those pages are powerful and confer the most authority to the blog. Internal links are also key: link between all assets where possible.
Get updates from big-name reporters (your experts). Give readers good reason to stick around (and have those reporters tweet and link to the live).
When to go live:
For planned news, publish early; several hours before the event starts.
For breaking news, publish quickly. A blog is easier to update quickly. Start when you have confirmation and build the file out as it evolves. Plan early updates. A high cadence of updates will help build up the frequency signal.
Running through a faux case study, Pontus explains how you can find the best opportunities to include contextual links on your site with a custom search in Screaming Frog, a site crawler and log analyzer tool.
The custom search function on Screaming Frog lets you crawl for anything in the HTML or text when crawling a site. That means you can literally search any keyword or multiple keywords or keyphrases, and where it shows up on your site already. Those are all potential linking opportunities.
After pulling URLs with at least one mention of the target keywords, Pontus ran it through a link analysis tool (think Ahrefs, SEMRush or Majestic). From there, you can get an understanding of the strength of the URLs currently on your site by looking at the backlinks (links from other sites), the number of referring domains and the URL’s rating (also commonly referred to as the URL’s authority).
You can then take this list and implement internal links from old articles to new articles and start with the highest rating – aka links with the most backlinks.
And the theme of linking best practices? It depends.
Auto internal linking: It depends. As long as the anchor text is clearly defined, it can be very useful, but focus on the strategy – what do you hope to do with these links?
Keeping your reader on the site: When deciding whether to approach the strategy of targeting topic pages or connecting previous journalism, it depends on your goal. If engagement is the name of the game, maybe consider linking to the previous story. But if you’re hoping to rank higher for a certain keyword, linking to topic pages is a good approach.
Tips to push best practices in the newsroom: Getting the entire organization to understand the linking strategy can be difficult, but finding common ground with the newsroom is important. A hybrid approach of recommending some stories or hub pages that can be linked to while giving autonomy to the writer can be helpful. It’s all about the greater good.
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF SEO
Joost de Valk, the founder of the much-loved SEO tool Yoast, spoke about the evolution of SEO and where it might go in the future. Beginning in 2006 (remember the early aughts? Era of Paris Hilton, TomKat, etc.), this is the time Joost began developing websites,blogging, and ranking in search with a
.info domain. By 2007, he was establishing his profile as an SEO, and in 2010, he founded Yoast.com.
Initially working primarily as a consultant – and performing audits for many sites – he developed a clear understanding of SEO. Those lessons went into the development of many SEO tools and plugins, with Yoast Premium coming online in 2014.
Joost provided a top-level overview of Google updates in the last decade, but underlined the key to better ranking is creating a good website and experience for readers.
The goal of Yoast is to help make technically better sites that create better content. For Yoast, that includes a readability analysis and the new inclusive analysis check.
Quality journalism is massively important – what readers return for – but content needs to be first understandable by machines (i.e., Googlebot).
Schema or structured data (like the FAQ or HowTo blocks) helps search crawlers more readily understand your content.
If your website is good for users, it will rank better. But that's only the case if the technical implementation is correct, if Schema is in place and if “the machines” can understand the content.
The value proposition Yoast, as Joost articulated, is making technically better websites so the content we produce is more readily accessed by search bots. One of the tips he shared was to find and eliminate useless URLs.
Also noted in this presentation:
Share your knowledge. The universe rewards sharing.
All marketing is useless if your brand isn’t memorable.
What is an automated article: News items written or assembled by a machine, not a human from the beginning – not rewriting content, scheduling stories or other ‘automations’ we might already be using. The driving motivation for automated content, often, is to produce content without the need to pay for a human producer.
However, as Carolyn notes, if a computer creates it, a computer and readers will detect it (and punish your publication as a result). Automated content will only ever be as good or useful as the data provided.
Creating automated content that is indistinguishable from human-produced, real content is not possible eternally, nor at scale. This content is not going to have a lot of staying power, nor will it be a link magnet, or perform super well in search.
It could potentially be useful as filler or recirculation on your site. Sports recaps or local real estate sales stories could lend themselves to automation as the format is standard.
Using automatic is not an approach that will work in every newsroom. Not every SEO tactic works for every newsroom; however, it is useful to know what you might encounter in search results.
OPINION WRITING FOR RANKING
We will have to rewatch this one two, three, maybe four more times. But semantic search was huge in this talk where Koray broke down how Google leverages opinion-based articles for ranking.
Google cannot, of course, analyze every single opinion article to decide whether it is trustworthy and does not spread misinformation. Search engines will differentiate opinions in different ways depending on what is on the page.
The main takeaway: Stay in your fixpoint. This is the area where you can have a strong opinion piece on a topic rank, but still be considered truthful.
Adaptive search is used in this situation, where certain words before or after keywords will give the search engines more confidence in what the story is about.
Important: A fact from today might be inaccurate information tomorrow. Google – and readers – are trying to parse through all of the information to figure out what is fact. But as we learn more, the information may change.
If certain opinions are repeated multiple times, search engines will begin to render that as fact.
Search engines will try to understand stories with more details – using numbers, metrics, dates, measurements are known to be more precise.
But what happens when there are two conflicting “truths”? Google will use safe or indirect answers so it can avoid any embarrassing situations, or it will switch answers.
You can use these information gaps to try to help provide your readers information, but be wary – safe or indirect answers tend to be preferred in these situations.
Use question-format headlines as a shield against algorithms if you’re going to question what is considered the “truth range,” which questions what is reality.
Certain words will decrease the certainty of an article such as “will,” “can,” “might,” “may,” etc.
This talk had so many vital findings that you definitely need to buy the videos and watch it for yourself. It’s fascinating how search engines interpret the truth.
✨ Key insights from NESS: Five points to remember ✨
Core web vitals are hugely important. We know technical SEO is the foundation on which all editorial efforts are built. Removing AMP is fairly low risk if your mobile site is solid and you have great CWV.
Implementing the correct Schema helps communicate essential information quickly and clearly to Google. Ensure it’s in place across the board.
Internal links are key. We say this every newsletter because it is true: Internal links drive readers to more of your best work, help establish your topical authority and ensure Google properly understands your site structure.
Long, boring headlines need to go. The maximum visual limit for headlines is 70 characters. Top Stories maxes out at 95 characters. The absolute maximum is 110 characters for the text to be valid for structured data.
Don’t overstuff your pages. As Claudio said, don’t force every asset (video, graphic or otherwise) into every story. Be intentional: Add the asset to the story it is most relevant for.
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.
The Associated Press is hiring for multiple openings, including Audience engagement and SEO specialist.
The Chicago Sun-Times is hiring for multiple roles including an SEO and Audience analyst roles.
Does ‘SEO’ exist for TikTok? Understanding the TikTok algorithm
Trisolute News Dashboard: SEO impact of Google's 'Helpful Content Update(s)' in 15 countries
SEMRush zero-clicks study: After a Google search is complete, the most common type of query on desktop is Images. Click for many useful reader habit insights.
How to use meta tags for SEO: Best practices for page title and meta description tags.
Glenn Gabe on Twitter: Remember the big algorithm update? Seems like Google might be rolling it back.
Ken Indig: Aggregator strategies for integrators
Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley