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SEO in the newsroom: Tips from the SEO for News meetup

An image of author George Nguyen accompanied by search-related iconography.

The relationship between news publishers and Google has long been contentious. For news SEOs, the opportunities for traffic only seem to erode, and when traffic is up for grabs, the search engine has been known to make publishers jump through hoops (e.g., AMP) to be eligible.


To share experiences and help peers in the industry navigate optimizing news for Google Search, some of the top SEO experts from across the news industry gathered on May 20, 2024, for New York’s first-ever News for SEO meetup, organized by Newzdash and Wix Studio.


Below are key takeaways from the event’s panel discussion, including:




Embed yourself into the newsroom


“Good SEO and great journalism are not mutually exclusive.”  — Jake Becker, Sr. Director, SEO at New York Post

During the panel, the experts agreed that embedding yourself into the newsroom and learning how journalists operate is crucial to prove your value and earn buy-in from the reporters actually writing (and potentially optimizing) the stories. 


“Take a step back and see what the journalists are doing, how they’re doing it, and learn a little bit from them. But at the same time, also think about where the opportunities and the gaps lie that you can actually assist with.” — Binti Pawa, VP, Audience Growth at Forbes

Successfully embedding yourself with the news team makes them more receptive to your ideas and SEO guidance, enabling you to scale SEO for your publication without asking for more resources.


Opportunities to collaborate with your news team might come in the form of daily standups or Slack channels where they discuss what’s on the publishing calendar. In these meetings, you can offer ways to optimize upcoming content or pitch your own story ideas, which might be exactly what some reporters need on a slow news day.


“We’ve been able to very quickly get integrated and then pitch those ideas,” said Binti Pawa, VP, audience growth at Forbes. “When they do get picked up, they actually perform. Now, this is where the key is: Showing those results, the performance—that’s huge because that’s where you’re going to get a buy-in.” 


The News for SEO meetup panelists at the Wix Playground. From left to right: Gabriella Iannetta, Louisa Frahm, Binti Pawa, John Shehata, George Nguyen, Jeremy Layton, Maddie Shepherd, Jake Becker, and Edward Hyatt.

Embedding yourself with the news team, however, can be tricky. “I’ve never come across a reporter who’s been like, ‘Okay, I’ll make that change. You’re not my editor, but right, that sounds like a great idea,’” Gabriella Iannetta, deputy head, SEO at The Sun, said.


One way to sidestep potential friction is to be flexible with your approach. 


“If you’re the reporter with the exclusive and you know it’s going to blow up, then let’s test it. Let’s try it out and then we can work on what that result was. Did it actually blow up the way you thought or was there something we could have done better?” — Gabriella Iannetta, Deputy Head, SEO at The Sun

“It’s easy being on the business side, but I think you have to absolutely be on the editorial side to get things done,” Iannetta added.


Once you’ve gotten comfortable with your publication’s editorial workflows and embedded yourself with the news team, the next step is to find ways to scale your success.


“My approach is to empower as many people as possible as thoroughly as possible to adopt SEO. Also when you think about it, the reporters are handling the coverage, they know the most crucial facets—the most important things and terms. If they’re the ones who hold the SEO knowledge, they’ll be able to optimize better than I can if I’m jumping in to write a headline really quickly with whatever I can get from the draft that they have.” — Maddie Shepherd, Director, SEO at CBS News

Another common approach is to relegate all SEO duties to a dedicated team. However, not only does this create silos, but “for the people in the non-SEO writing roles, it may give them an implicit pass to not optimize,” Jake Becker, senior director, SEO, at New York Post added. This dynamic can lead to even greater friction between teams (reporters may be unhappy with how the SEO team adjusts their articles, teams may try to ‘claim’ their wins, etc).


Provide initial SEO training and reinforce it


To become the most visible, reputable publication in your niche, you need to ensure that everyone who touches the website understands the impact that they can have on its SEO.


“I work with the HR team to give me the names of every new hire that will touch the company’s content. And I made sure, from the top, that it’s mandatory for any new hire to go through SEO training within three months—that changed the whole game.” — John Shehata, CEO and Founder at NewzDash

Quarterly SEO training for new hires allows you to shape the relationship early on and communicate that everyone who works on the website also shares responsibility for the publication’s search visibility. 


John Shehata moderating the news for SEO panel at the Wix Playground.

The education shouldn’t end at training for new hires, though. You’ll need to keep everyone updated on the latest best practices (which is easier if you’ve embedded yourself with the newsroom) and remind reporters of the SEO guidance you’ve provided.


“Repetition is the most important thing. That could just be if you see even a small mistake—a kicker at the front of the headline that shouldn’t be there [for example]—send individual Slack messages or individual emails. Explain to them, ‘Okay, Google sees the first 60 to 70 characters of a headline, we want to put this higher up in the headline because it’s more likely to get crawled and more likely to be seen.’” — Jeremy Layton, US Head, Editorial SEO at Daily Mail

The potential pitfall here is that you’re relying on people who aren’t necessarily accountable to SEO KPIs to implement optimizations. To motivate your reporters, Jeremy Layton, US head, editorial SEO at Daily Mail, recommends putting the results of your recommendations (and their implementation) front and center. “If we change a headline, I’ll highlight the minute the headline was changed and lines will go up,” Layton said. “So if you just show them how important it is, people will slowly start to buy in,” he added, emphasizing that it’s best to get personal with your approach to motivating your reporters and journalists.


Optimize the stories that really matter to your audience


News publications are distinct from marketing blogs or industry publications, for example, because of their breadth. So, news SEOs need to decide whether they’ll divide their attention evenly across all the news content or concentrate their efforts on certain categories or types of stories.


“I would love to hit every single story, but that’s just impossible.” — Edward Hyatt, Director, Newsroom SEO at The Wall Street Journal

When deciding where to focus, the panelists largely agreed that the publication’s audience and branding should guide the way. 


“Rather than advising and recommending optimizations for every headline, we’re targeting what we think will do well,” Becker said.


“We’re not trying to reach everybody—we’re trying to reach people who will read the Wall Street Journal for this topic that they care about, so we stay as focused as possible on that,” Edward Hyatt, director, newsroom SEO at The Wall Street Journal, said. “That means we don’t touch every single story, but we stay sort of narrow on those key topics and those key stories of the day.”


AI adoption varies across news publications


News SEOs have started realizing the potential of AI in the workflows leading up to a news story draft, but attitudes about the technology and levels of adoption vary.


“The way our SEOs have been using AI, it’s been more about prompting them, helping them with headline optimization or building out content briefs—again, guided and not simply like, ‘Here’s what’s getting pushed out to us, so I’m just going to push it back to our writers.’” — Binti Pawa, VP, Audience Growth at Forbes

During the panel, “guided content” was a term used to describe ethical and reliable uses of AI in content creation. The panelists agreed that AI is suitable for basic (albeit time-consuming) tasks, such as:



Outside of news stories, AI has the potential to scale your publication’s reach via more traditional SEO strategies, like directly answering user questions. “No matter where this AI era takes us, I know that it will only be valuable to us to continue to tap into that and to serve those utility needs, whether it’s ‘How to watch (keyword),’ or ‘What does (this) mean?’ or ‘How does (blank) work?’” said Louisa Frahm, director, SEO at ESPN.


Even with AI’s potential benefits, some of the panelists emphasized caution as part of their roles. “For the company I work at, we’re happy not to be pioneers in wholesale changes into AI workflows,” Becker said. “I think my first rule is to be cautious as well,” Hyatt added.


Tactical tips for increasing your writers’ E-E-A-T


The audience at the news for SEO meetup at Wix Playground.

By now, everybody has author pages (including this publication) as a means of conveying their writers’ E-E-A-T. When asked how they help their authors showcase E-E-A-T, the panelists responded with the following examples:


  • Helping one of their premier columnists set up a Google knowledge panel.

  • Instilling a sense of ownership over particular news beats to motivate journalists while centralizing their expertise on one topic.


  • Highlighting reporting location in the byline (e.g., “Jennifer Cannon reporting from TD Garden in Boston, Mass.”) to take advantage of the priority that Google gives to local reporting.


  • Hiring an editor with deep subject matter expertise (depending on your publication) to ensure a high standard of trustworthiness across all content.


  • Creating “roundtable” content or articles where multiple authors can come together in one concise resource.


  • Encouraging your journalists and reporters to share their news article via social media platforms.

More takeaways from the latest SEO events


Stay up-to-date with the latest guidance from experts at live industry events:



In the second half of this year, you can look forward to recaps from MozCon, BrightonSEO in San Diego, and more SEO meetups hosted at the Wix Playground in NYC.


 

george nguyen

George Nguyen is the Director of SEO Editorial at Wix. He creates content to help users and marketers better understand how search works. He was formerly a search news journalist and is known to speak at the occasional industry event.


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