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some modern classrooms and newsrooms still do not recognise the importance of SEO and many journalists are relying on outdated training as there have been dramatic changes during the past few years.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

Going Part-Time To Pursue Journalism

Resume Email Template by John Adrin

Going part-time? Expect a lot of time to be spent sending email pitches (Pic: John Adrin)

By Helen Edwards

I’ve had a series of office jobs over the years, but I’ve always wanted to write for a living. Last year I had the opportunity to go part-time, and I grabbed it with both hands so I could devote more time to my writing. Prior to going part-time I’d already had several articles published in magazines, so I was confident I could build upon this.

It’s a good job I didn’t completely give up my day job, because I had just one article published in 2013 – and that was online rather than in a magazine. It wasn’t for lack of trying or ideas, and I followed the standard protocol:

• Research magazines which accept pitches from freelancers
• Pitch appropriately
• Tailor your pitch to the magazine’s style
• Find out the name of the Features Editor or equivalent
• Send an email outlining your idea (mention word-length and photographs)
• Explain why your idea suits their magazine
• Include a short biography

I would then wait a week or two before following this up with a second email – not pushy at all – always remaining professional and polite.

Was the same courtesy extended to me? In the majority of cases I never received a reply – bad manners as far as I’m concerned. I know that editors are busy, but how long does it take to reply and say, ‘Thanks, but it’s not right for us,’ or something to that effect? Not long at all. It would save so much of my time. Once I know a magazine isn’t interested in my idea, I quickly pitch it to another magazine. I’m never going to earn a living from my writing if the response rate is either zero, or if I receive a reply six months later as I did in a few cases.

Of course, a few editors were responsive and replied to me within days, sometimes on the same day. More often than not it was a case of, ‘Thanks, but it’s not right for us.’ Others replied to inform me they’d just commissioned a similar feature. In another case the editor liked my idea and said she would take it to the magazine’s next ideas meeting - although she never got back to me (despite me sending a follow-up email).

I read in Writing Magazine that to approach a certain weekly women’s magazine you should pitch to the appropriate editor (details often can be found on their website), and include the first line of your article in your pitch. The guidance suggested you will always get a response, and this was advice given by the editor herself. I followed this advice to the letter and guess what? I have never received a reply to any of the pitches I sent to that magazine.

The number of pitches I was sending tailed off as the year went on and I was thinking of giving up article writing as I was very dispirited. In desperation I found that adding, ‘Will you take a look?’ to my pitch sometimes elicited a response, although when I sent one article off (it covered Christmas time-saving tips), they said they did something similar last year!

My husband gave me some good advice. He said to try different markets and with this in mind I began sending pitches to websites. I became a YAHOO Contributor, and I have had two articles published by them to date. I have also had another three articles published on other websites. I’ve found that the people I’ve been in touch with via the websites have been much more responsive and helpful, and I’ve built up some new contacts as a result.

My earnings have been negligible as most websites don’t pay, but I’m not overly concerned about that at present because I want to build up my writing portfolio. Payment will be an issue in the future – I don’t want to write for free indefinitely.

Have you struggled to find work after going part-time? Or have you had some success? Get in touch if you’d like to write about your experiences. You can follow Helen on Twitter, @heedw

 

“Your Degree Can Open Many Pathways”

(Pic: Zimbly Anil)

Sick and tired of the lecture theatre? (Pic: Zimbly Anil)

By Gemma Horton

I can’t deny there are when times I sit in a lecture hall and I wonder why I am there. I wonder why I am studying for a degree which I do not intend to pursue. A law degree is something which I always thought I wanted; I thought it was the Holy Grail. But now I am not too sure that is true.

After my first year of university I began to worry that law was not the right fit for me, so I was faced with two options: drop out or persevere. I went with the latter, and I am glad that I did. The fact of the matter is this: your degree can open many pathways for you. I also learned that it comes down to self determination if you want to work in journalism.

Think of the degree you study and think of everything that it has taught you so far. Think of the work experience you have had – whether it’s in journalism or not, how can it help you? Working in a student law firm has given me invaluable experience about how to cope with different personalities; something I know I’ll eventually come across in the workplace one day.

If you know for certain that you don’t want to specialise in your degree but go into journalism, it is important to think of the skills you have learned and use them when applying to roles or internship.

But it isn’t all about the degree. Degree’s are incredibly helpful, but doing extracurricular activities is what really impresses on the CV. I only found this out at the beginning of my second year (after spending my first year sitting around playing ruthless games of Monopoly and catching up on Game of Thrones).

Now I am a deputy editor for the University’s newspaper and it is this type of experience that employers want. Even if you’re not sure that journalism is for you, take a look at whether or not your university offers any chances to write or edit for its newspaper.

It’s better to take a chance instead of sitting in with a cheap takeaway. Besides, it shows determination and career focus if as you are carrying out extracurricular activities whilst studying for a degree.

Summer interning is definitely going to consume most of my time over the coming months and put a dent in my bank account with travelling, but any experience is good to have. Experience away from university and in the real working world is invaluable. Regardless of whether you gain work experience at your local newspaper or down at a big magazine in London, it is experience and shows self-determination to potential employers.

I think it’s important not to be disheartened if you go to university and your degree isn’t everything that you had hoped for. I know that out of the one hundred and fifty people at law school, not every single one of them is going to go on and become the next top barrister.

I also know that simply having a law degree won’t help me to secure internships in journalism, but extra-curricular activities and prior experience will. So the next time you find yourself sat in a vast lecture hall, wondering why you turned up; remember that it is all part of building your CV and making you more employable in the long run.

Gemma Horton is a law student at the University of York. For more from her, check out her blog – Confessions Of A Hopeless Law Student

Adapt Or Die: Journalism & The Internet

"Typewriter & Camera" by ʏɑƕ

A journalist’s tools are always changing (Pic: “Typewriter & Camera” by ʏɑƕ)

Written by Harry Parkhill

“Data-driven journalism is the future,” says a man famous for changing the world as we know it.

At 34-years-old Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web and so began the internet age which dominates our lives today. Berners-Lee thinks journalists need to be data-savvy, and I agree.

The days where news comes largely from people chatting in bars and hearing inside information has, to an extent, vanished. Today, most news breaks on Twitter; bite-size nuggets of information to be easily consumed without the need to spend an hour poring through a lengthy newspaper.

The era of newspapers themselves is almost over; the majority of national papers have suffered an ever declining circulation (The Guardian is, this year, an odd exception to the rule) and magazines have endured a year-on-year decrease in sales due to a proliferation of online competitors.

In a world where anyone can publish free-to-access content, the written word is no longer something you have to pay for. If I want film reviews of movies yet to be released in the UK I can go to American blog sites months before Total Film has the chance to print a glossy (and pricey) magazine review. So why should I fork over the money?

In a conversation I had with Empire Film Magazine’s Online Editor, James Dyer, he spoke of how he got such a highly contested job working for Empire simply because he had all the skills necessary to run the website on his own (if, for some reason, his colleagues vanished).

“Digital skills are very much in demand,” Dyer says. “You should be able to edit audio for podcasts and edit video for interviews. It behooves you to know this stuff. Do you need to know HTML? Probably not, but is it a good thing? Yes.” He certainly has a point - with constricting budgets, someone who can cope with as many aspects of journalism as possible is in high demand.

According to Berners-Lee, journalism is now more about searching through data to find anomalies and more interesting facts than ever before. The internet is full of information. There’s an impossible amount to wade through, so anyone who can locate the interesting facts that are hidden away is someone who will almost certainly find work.

More than that though, data can be correlated in fascinating ways by tech savvy journalists. One LA Times reporter, Ken Schwencke, has developed an algorithm to write news reports automatically. It uses feeds from a US Geological Survey website in order to generate automatic stories about Earthquakes. To some it may be a worrying sign of a world in which computers replace humans but it is undoubtedly an ingenious way of streamlining the process of news reporting. It’s quicker, impartial and leaves room for human journalists to do more detailed and, dare I say, more interesting newswriting.

But is it the future of news reporting? Twitter has already revolutionised breaking news by bringing in the instantaneous spread of information, and so it’s only a step further to automatically correlate that information and publish it. But how will the next generation of aspiring journalists begin to make a living from journalism? Why are scores of students across the country spending thousands on journalism degrees when there are so few career opportunities afterwards?

There’s more to the future than journalists who can correlate information and analyse data. For a long time, the internet simply provided a digital version of the content people were already used to reading in magazines and newspapers. But more recently the increase in average internet speeds (and the introduction of 4G) has allowed for the internet to become way more than just a platform for the written word. Videos, sound-bites or music and photos have already become an essential part of modern websites, and online journalism is changing rapidly to find new, exciting ways to present the information it has to offer.

This last year has seen a significant increase in the number of parallax-scrolling articles – longform pieces of writing that include various other bits of media and are generally interactive. These lengthy essays are revolutionary in terms of the style and technology behind them. The New York Times’ article Snowfall in 2012 was the first significant article in this style but soon other similarly styled articles were appearing around the web – this recent BBC article on Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue being another example. These longform pieces are the perfect kind of online content because they combine all the media the audience wants from their news. Naturally, journalists and editors alike are desperate to have their content displayed in this style.

Crucially though, to produce articles like these requires time, effort and a knowledge of how to code; writers from the previous generation of journalists were never taught the skills required to create these multi-media internet traffic magnets. The only option has been to hire in ‘tech’ people to do the coding and writers to do everything else. In an industry where budgets are shrinking, this false economy won’t last long. The journalists will need to know how to do complex coding and the ‘tech’ people will need to know the law, how to gather information and how to write succinct prose. In short, why pay two people when you can pay one?

It isn’t just these longform parallax-style articles though. The increase in smartphones and tablets has caused an incredible rise in the number of people accessing the internet via something other than a traditional computer. An incredible 50% of people now use their mobile phone as the primary access point to the World Wide Web. Journalists could easily assume that this bears no relationship to their job of writing something and publishing it but it can make an incredible difference to views (and therefore advertising revenue and wages). If a site can’t easily be accessed on a mobile phone then many users simply give up and return to Twitter or Google to find something else to satiate their needs.

The Guardian’s website has recently been redesigned to cater for this audience with a new responsive layout (this means it adapts to the size of the screen without compromising how easy it is to read) but it is one of only a few of the national newspapers to have done this. Are the others doomed to fail because of their slowness or reluctance to adapt? It’s possible, with the growing number of ways to access news (both broadsheet and tabloid style), that those who do not adapt will be left behind.

However news organisations decide to move their publications forward, they simply have to employ people who have been trained to know how both the news and websites work. People who can create a mobile phone app as easily as write a news article are now in high demand – as much as people who could write 200 words per minute in shorthand used to be. The hacks of Fleet Street are becoming less and less relevant unless they themselves adapt to the new world order and learn the skills which are becoming essential for modern journalism.

Over the last century journalism has changed dramatically and repeatedly, so the skills of those who practice it have also had to change. Whether it was the move from written news to audio and visual news or a shift from typewriters to word processors, journalists have always made the transition. There’s no reason why they won’t this time but they need to do it fast. The news that Cardiff University & Goldsmiths in London are to offer combined courses on computer science skills and journalism is a start – the first few pebbles which will cause an avalanche of graduates all hungry to take over the media… and this time, they’ll have all the skills necessary to do just that.

Harry Parkhill is studying journalism at Winchester University and writes for Hpwinchester.blogspot.co.uk. For more from him, you can also follow him on Twitter, @earivir

How I Got My Glamour Internship

Ellan Savage at the Glamour HQ

Ellan Savage at the Glamour HQ

Ellan Savage recently completed an internship at Britain’s leading Women’s magazine, Glamour. She reveals what she learnt from the experience…

How did she get that?

This question is one I’ve heard a lot over the past few months.

It’s a question I have in fact asked myself a few times. When my internship at Glamour Magazine was confirmed I was genuinely waiting for the moment it would all fall through; the moment someone would email and say “Sorry, we can’t have you anymore”. Luckily that didn’t happen and last month I had the opportunity to work in the shiny magazine headquarters for four weeks.

Recently my classmates from the London College of Fashion and I had the pleasure of returning to the offices for a tour and a chat with the features team and there was one question which resonated round the room: What do you look for in your interns?

The Glamour team told everyone that I was probably the one who could answer that best so here’s what I can tell you about how I got the internship, what I learnt during it and how I made use of the opportunity.

TIMING

On the website it states that Glamour often fill their work experience slots up to six months in advance and this is true – I know when they are next booked up until and it’s a long wait.

When I applied I was fully aware that this might be the case (this is normally the way things work on any major commercial publication) so I gave them specific dates that I could come in and asked if anything would be available then. Bear in mind  I applied in October for an internship in March.

My advice then is state (in your email as well as a your cover letter) when you would like to come in. If you are wanting to do the internship over your university holidays then tell them the dates you’ll be free. If you are 100% free and could pretty much work whenever they asked you to then tell them that – let them know you are happy to work on short notice because people do cancel last minute.

CV/COVER LETTER

I’ll let you in on a little secret here: the Glamour offices get around 200 – 300 applications per week for work experience. This means that most of the time your CV will be read first. If they are impressed by that then your cover letter will be read but ultimately if your CV isn’t up to scratch, chances are your cover letter might not even get looked at.

So what to put on your CV?

It depends where you apply obviously but for a major magazine you need to have previous experience elsewhere. I had my local newspaper, my student newspaper, two online fashion publications and a popular teen magazine on my CV, as well as office experience and a degree in fashion journalism. Be aware that this isn’t unusual – in the same way you would work your way up in paid employment, you need to work your way up in unpaid employment.

In terms of your cover letter my only advice is make it short and interesting. Don’t just repeat what your CV said because that will come across as dull. Tell a joke or a funny story (my cover letter had an anecdote about a nightmare experience transcribing an interview when I was working on the teen mag). Give them a reason to remember who you are.

CHASING UP

Most big publications state clearly on their website that they don’t get back to anyone who is unsuccessful – the pure volume of applications means it is difficult to do so. So what’s the rule with chasing up an application?

For me one email and one phone call would be your maximum. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to pick up the phone and remind the employer that you applied but don’t ring more than this. Being pushy and ballsy is important but if you hassle someone who is already hugely busy the most you’ll get is an interview with no real intention of hiring you afterwards.

BE COMPETENT

If you manage to get the internship (hooray!!) then don’t just see it as something to put on your CV – these people may recommend you for other jobs in the future, they may ask you to come back for work (I’ve just been asked to be an assistant for the Glamour Women of the Year Awards over the next couple of weeks) so do everything you can to impress.

That starts with being competent. This sounds ridiculous but it is so important. Answer the phone when it rings and when you do, don’t just pass the call to someone else. Try and get all the information you can and pass on messages. Be fully prepared to do remedial tasks like filing or transcribing and be happy about doing them!

BE INDISPENSABLE

Don’t act like an intern but know your place.

If you act like you’re on work experience and need someone to hold your hand during your time in the office then everyone will get fed up of you fast, so act like you’re part of the team. Chat to people, say good morning, join in if it’s someone’s birthday or if people are having drinks.

At the same time though understand that you are an intern so if someone gives you a task that seems boring or not important then it’s because someone needs to do it and you are at the bottom of the ladder.

OFFER YOURSELF UP

My biggest piece of advice is DO NOT sit at your desk and wait for the team to come to you because, chances are, they won’t. They are busy and able to function without an intern around so try and make yourself so useful that they don’t want you to leave because they can no longer function without an intern! Send emails, go up to people, ask everyone and anyone on the team if you can do anything. If everyone says no then use your initiative and come up with something; suggest feature ideas, organise the cupboards, put together a handbook for the following intern.

MAKE TEA

I’ve heard so many people say to me “You know no other interns offer to make tea”. It became a running joke in the office that if anyone needed tea I’d probably already be making it so get off your high horse (if you are on one) and make tea and coffee.

This isn’t just a stupid intern task, it gets you talking to people, it gives you the opportunity to chat and get to know everyone. I’m not sure why interns think it’s degrading to make tea anyway, on the rare occasion that I didn’t offer tea up to everyone then someone on the team would do it and that would be anyone from the features assistant to the associate editor. No one is too good to serve a round of tea.

Do you have an internship experience you would like to share? Get in touch! Ellan blogs at thelittlelondongirl.co.uk. She’s also on Twitter, @littlelondongee 

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