SEO’ing the news

As a lifelong newspaper lover and having just moved from a PR agency to an SEO team, one big facet of the changing impact of the internet on journalism continues to attract my interest – that of the influence of SEO on editorial. I wrote on Shiny Red about it at the beginning of the year and the debate’s continued as newspapers continue to struggle and change. Publications and journalists need and want their stories to be found and read, whether via readers searching for keywords, eg: ‘Bush’ and ‘shoe’, or checking in on news aggregators to see what’s hot. Stories must be optimally placed to be found by humans and search engines, with for some potentially controversial implications for editorial.

Talk of keyword stuffing and SEO’d headlines makes many nervous about the potentially detrimental effects on punning, creativity, wordplay, humour etc. A few good articles on this in recent months that are well worth a read – Charlie Brooker had a brilliant rant in the excellently titled – “Online POKER marketing could spell the NAKED end of VIAGRA journalism as we LOHAN know it” stating:

“your modern journalist is expected not only to shoehorn all manner of hot phraseology into their copy, but to try and position it all in precisely the right place. That’s an alarming quantity of unnecessary shit to hold in your head while trying to write a piece about the unions. Sorry, SEXUAL unions. Mainly, though, it’s just plain undignified: turning the journalist into the equivalent of a reality TV wannabe who turns up to the auditions in a gaudy fluorescent thong in a desperate bid to be noticed.

Perfect Charlie as ever, on another layer of annoyance in a stressed profession, but having seen the kinds of unique user targets many professional bloggers are set per post – without the benefits of a national newspaper platform – there’s no avoiding the issue. Shane Richmond at the Telegraph wrote in the British Journalism Review this quarter, and concluded:

“If an editor wants to devote resources to writing stories based on topics people are searching for, they now have the data that will permit them to do so. Giving readers what they want is a sensible strategy, even though the overall mix of stories within a publication has to be balanced. Different editors will make different choices, but they are editorial choices, not SEO choices. SEO is value-neutral. It doesn’t require you to dumb down, to fill your stories with the names of celebrities or to write 500 articles about Viagra every month. Even if you write about badgers, thermal dynamics or parachuting you will want your article to be seen by people who care about those topics. SEO techniques will give your article a better chance of being found.”

It’s about more, better readers ultimately – making articles as prominent as possible to search engines aggregating a story, or the audiences relevant to the article. If brands are busily trying to SEO what content they’ve got, then obviously it’s got to be a priority for those in the business of content production are too. What’s the point of creating great stuff if noone can find it?– is a question for both journalism and online PR.

Please note – one week in, this is not a perfectly SEO’d article! But I will be trying some things out on my own blog as I learn the ropes at Mindshare in the coming months.

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2 thoughts on “SEO’ing the news

  1. Great piece.

    I sometimes think that companies rely too much on SEO. Like suddenly if they’ve thrown a whole load of keywords into a post, their blog hits will go through the roof. Fact is, you might get the hits for that post, but if you’re blog is no good, no one will come back to read it again.

    I think keywords are important, and I’m learning that having a keyword heavy headline can be dynamite – but I won’t do it for the sake of it, sometimes it’s just a matter of tweaking what you’ve written. I think if I write well, and write compelling content, then a returning audience who talk about my blog and link back to it is much more beneficial.

  2. Hey Sian, thanks! Just starting to get my head round this stuff, and nice to hear from a professional blogger about it.

    You’re spot on about the balance – make those SEO tweaks but if there’s nothing of value behind it then it won’t work. It’ll be a one hit wonder. Whereas like you say if people like what they see when they get to you, they won’t need to happen upon you through search – they’ll bookmark you, pop you in their reader, want to be associated with you by linking etc.

    Cool to hear from you!

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