Anybody publishing content online for commercial purposes should be interested in SEO (Search Engine Optimization). However, SEO can be a challenging topic due to being the result of so many different smaller aspects. Some parts of SEO are technical – such as page load speed – whereas some parts are up to the content writer – in this case the journalist. This article focuses only on the standpoint of the journalist, things that the journalist should be interested in and why these things are relevant.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) background.
What is SEO?
In today’s world, “search engine” pretty much means Google. Google’s share of the search engine market is 88%, which means that when people go online and start to search for information, 88 times out of hundred, they will open up Google search. This means that Google gets to control what information is presented to the user. Stock markets evaluate that position worth over a trillion dollars. Source: statista.com
Google’s mission in search is to:
Deliver the most relevant and reliable information available
Google wants that the content is presented in the most user (and search engine) friendly way. Who defines what is user friendly? Well, Google… And that definition is a moving target. For example, when people started to use their mobile phones to browse the internet, Google announced that they will start to prefer websites whose elements fit nicely on a mobile(phone) screen. And after a certain lead time, they did. What it meant: if your site did not look good on mobile phone screens, Google would not present it high in the search results, and in practice, you would lose your visitors.
While we have been working with a number of media companies with the ambition to increase digital revenues, we have noticed that many journalists could improve the performance (the amount of readers) of their articles.
What Google does: they have lots and lots of (software ro-)bots that go through each website on the internet regularly, evaluating them against their then-current criteria of user-friendly ways of information presentation. Based on these criteria, the bots are figuring out if your site’s content is of high quality, reliable and easy to consume. Because we – the readers – want to end up on sites like that, don’t we?
Google is causing difficulties to entities who are not following their guidelines, however, they are not doing it to be mean. They are doing it for the better user experience of all internet users. And the reason why the criteria are constantly changing is because the world around us is constantly changing. Especially the tech world is undergoing constant and quick change.
As an outcome of all this, there is a whole industry of SEO consultants, who keep themselves up to date on the Google criteria (which is publicly published) of a good website. Then they help their customers meet the criteria as closely as possible.
Why does SEO matter?
If the Google bots conclude that the site (where your article is presented) is of high quality (compared to other similar sites), then Google will start to present your article among the first ones when a search related to the article topic is done. And vice versa, if bots conclude that the user experience is bad, no matter how fantastic the article is, Google will not recommend it to readers who search the topic. Actually, some lousy articles in a well-ranked site will be presented before a high-quality article in a site that has been ranked bad. And as you know, the safest place to hide a dead body is on page two of Google results – nobody will look there.
Why should I, the Journalist, care?
There are several factors that go into Google rankings. In truth, a big part of them are technical matters that an individual Journalist should not be worried about. But, the IT guys cannot do it alone. In order to succeed in Google visibility, there are a number of things that an individual Journalist should consider. The good news is that most of them are rather simple and easy, you just have to know them. That’s where this article comes in handy.
I do not have time for this, I need to work on my articles.
Let’s stop here for a while. Why do you write articles? What is the value of an article if it does not have readers? Even if the highest standards of journalism are met, if you don’t get the readers, is it worthwhile? Especially if clearly poorer articles are getting far better visibility.
In the modern digital age, how are Journalists valued? There are other metrics too, but the amount of readers for each article is automatically tracked (or if it is not, request a change on your systems). Would you not rather have more readers over less readers? At least the finance department has a strong opinion on this. Guaranteed.
We are a local media. People in our region come to read their news on our site anyway.
Do they really? So, you don’t also have nationwide publishers whose content is visible in your region? Or even international media, who rank high when somebody makes a google search. The younger audience has a tendency to look for relevant news from any source available. And more and more often they read articles which have been shared on social media by their peers.
We make our money from print, where all of this is irrelevant.
The print revenue is declining. In the future, there will only be media companies who successfully made the transition to digital. Others will not exist. The pace of the change can be argued, but this is the trend.
Get familiar with the topic. Reading this article is a good starting point. Once we understand the background of SEO, we can delve into practical actions, which you can read about in the second part of this writing.
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