Top Ten SEO Tips For Journalists

Are you making the most of SEO? (Pic: Javi)

Are you making the most of SEO? (Pic: Javi)

By Tom Etherington

It wasn’t until the end of my second year at University that I decided to learn more about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and its importance to online journalism.

The practice of SEO, in case you’re unfamiliar with the term, is to improve a website or web page’s visibility and rankings in search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing. These ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ search results can actually generate more than half of a website’s overall traffic on a regular basis.

However, some modern classrooms and newsrooms still do not recognise the importance of SEO and many journalists are relying on outdated training as there have been dramatic changes during the past few years.

Here are some useful Search Engine Optimisation tips for journalists:

1) Use related keywords

Keywords are the various phrases that people type into search engines, ranging from “local election results” to “Kim Kardashian wedding”. It’s extremely important to include relevant keywords in your copy as it will help potential readers find your article more easily. Try to cover all the various terms and expressions that people may use when searching for articles about the specific topic or event you are covering, rather than repeating one specific phrase.

2) Avoid jargon

The most effective way of covering as many keywords as possible, without overdoing things, is by avoiding complicated language and jargon. Writers must consider what their target audience is typing into Google and use those specific phrases. This includes using people’s full names and spelling out abbreviations in full at least once or twice, such as using both “the Royal Bank of Scotland” and “RBS”.

3) Include keywords in headlines

The most effective way to optimise headlines for search engines is by thinking of an intriguing title that includes one or two targeted keywords. Don’t use something vague or inexplicable, no matter how funny or clever it might be. Some people believe SEO prevents online journalists from using traditional puns as the focus is on keywords, but there is no reason why news websites can’t find an effective blend of both.

4) Structure your articles

As a trainee journalist or journalism graduate, you should know about the Inverted Pyramid structure and how to prioritise information in a news story, starting with the ‘who, when, where, what and how’ aspects in the introduction. This is crucial when writing for online as you not only need to entice readers, you must also tell the various search engine robots what the rest of your page is about.

5) Sort your content

Another way of letting search engines know what your content is about, is by sorting it into an appropriate category and using relevant tags. For example, if you are about to publish a story about the General Election, a category might be “News” or “Politics”, while the tags may include “David Cameron” and “Conservatives”. Most online journalists will already do this, but you may not realise the benefit of it for SEO.

6) Consider technical aspects

There are a number of user experience and technical aspects that can also affect how websites perform in search engine results. Some of the most important things to do include formatting articles, optimising pictures and photos, writing unique Meta descriptions and page titles, and making sure your website is easy to use, navigate and understand.

7) Customise page titles and URLs

Most news websites automatically use a story’s headline as the title tag, which is the text that appears at the top of your browser window, and URL. However, it is important to rewrite these using keywords prior to publication as search engines look at both of these to see how relevant your article is to a specific search term.

8) Link to other articles

Search engines see hyperlinks like votes of confidence, in the sense that the more links a page has going to it, the better it will do. It’s important to get into a routine of including hyperlinks to sources and other relevant web pages in your articles, and you may get links in return.

For example, if you are writing about the latest development in an ongoing court case, it makes sense to give the reader some background information and link to previous articles on the subject, whether they are on your own website or elsewhere.

9) Optimise anchor text

When you include hyperlinks in your articles, use headlines or relevant keywords as the link text, also known as ‘anchor text’, rather than “click here for my previous article” or “for more information click here”. Search engines look at this text to work out how relevant a page is to those certain words.

10) Don’t duplicate content

Duplicated content is a problem when it comes to SEO, as search engines don’t know which web page is more relevant to a given search query. If you copy and paste from another website, or vice versa, Google will sometimes punish the site they believe has ‘copied’ another one. Journalists need to be particularly careful when it comes to press releases, and you should never publish these word for word.

SEO is a crucial part of writing online content and the sooner you learn these techniques, the better chance you stand of finding more people to read and share your articles. Who knows, you may even choose to pursue a career in the SEO industry like me!

Tom Etherington is a former freelance journalist now working in SEO at international digital marketing agency Silverbean. Follow him on Twitter at @tom_silverbean.

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