To improve their performance in Google Search, local news organizations should focus on high-quality service journalism that meets searchers’ needs, not on trying to game the system.
That advice came from Anthony Moor, a longtime digital news leader and Silicon Valley executive who recently became principal of content marketing firm StoryCraft. Moor presented his advice on search optimization for news sites to both groups of Local Media Association’s Chief Content Club during their June meetings.
“We talk as much as we can about classic search rather than Google News,” Moor said. “Google Search is the internet, really.”
With 63 billion monthly visits to Google Search and comparatively low 540 million to Google News, “if you want to reach people where they are, you want to be on Google Search,” he added.
And where Google News users tend to browse, Google Search users tend to be action-oriented, mission-oriented, higher intent people, he said.
“There are three things they want to get done: Do something, know something, go somewhere,” Moor said. “And 50-80 percent of queries are to know something.”
How can local news media address this search behavior? They should start by knowing what not to do, he said, and that includes any attempts to game the system. Google Search algorithms have matured to a point where they quickly ferret out and penalize SEO tricks such as keyword-stuffing and paid backlinks.
“Focus on what you can control, not hacking Google,” Moor said. “Be strategic. Use Google Search for new audience acquisition only, and provide high-quality information services to convert visitors to supporters who come to you directly in the future.”
That means service journalism, especially topics on which a news organization already provides expertise, and developing a strategy for writing and presenting that content to meet searchers’ needs and answer their queries.
“There’s a big difference between news and service journalism,” Moor said. “The latter is evergreen, write once, build audience over time. With news, we spend a lot of time writing a whole lot that is valueless after 24 hours.”
Moor recommended conducting keyword research to help identify service-oriented topics of high local interest in search. Then, he laid out five steps to developing searcher-friendly content on those topics:
- Put a stake in the ground on a topic where you’re an expert (for example, he used a hypothetical Indianapolis city guide service, “Living in Indy”)
- Bolster your claim by creating related search engine optimized content around the topic
- Provide searchers with calls-to-action that meet their broader goals and your business goals
- Market your topical authority with study, enterprise or investigative pieces around the topic
- Rinse, repeat
For Step 2, search optimized content begins with article structure. Moor recommends authors “signpost” articles for easy scanning; provide a synopsis near the top that answers the query that would lead searchers to it; use sub-headings, bullet or numbered lists, and pull quotes as appropriate; and provide next steps for the searcher at the end.
He also suggests “asking for your due” – a newsletter sign-up, form fill to request more information, or other loyalty-gaining response from visitors.
Establishing search credibility on local topics benefits a news organization beyond the extra traffic and potential loyalty from searchers.
“Yes, it is designed for consumers, but also designed for pick-up by other news organizations that should cite you,” Moor said. Unlike the paid backlinks of old, these links from other credible sources help build a news site’s own search credibility.
“So this is the twofold thing,” he said. “You’re (1) creating high-quality content that answers consumers’ needs, and (2) generating backlinks to your content through studies and investigative pieces around a topic.”
Each month, LMA’s Chief Content Club groups convene by web conference to exchange and discuss important strategies, management methods, tools and techniques for local news organizations. CCC members hear experts, such as Anthony Moor, lend advice on topics critical to content leaders’ success. To join CCC, please fill out the application. For details about Chief Content Club, please contact Jay Small, LMA’s chief innovation officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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