1. SEO is a huge source of recommendation
  2. SEO is not a black box
  3. Title tags, headings, and urls are the most important things to get right
  4. Followed by Meta Descriptions, Stand Firsts & Section Links
  5. How to optimize images
  6. Classification & networking
  7. This is how you carry out a “final inspection” after the publication
  8. Conclusion

While an SEO professional's job is to know how to optimize searches and a journalist's job to write stories, they both have the same end goal: driving traffic to their editorial website.

I have found that it is of great benefit for SEO professionals to offer their fellow journalists basic SEO training, guides and regular office hours so that both SEO and editorial teams can be successful in this endeavor.

Prioritizing these activities has two advantages:

  1. It shifts the responsibilities of SEO pros from reactive cleanup after the post goes live to proactive work on advanced SEO strategies (as the editorial teams have turned their backs on the basic elements).
  2. It gives journalists more power to market their content to new audiences that they would otherwise not discover.

In this post, I'm going to cover seven things journalists should know about SEO – from how it works, to the benefits of prioritization, to some basic best practices for bookmarking their future writing.

SEO is a huge source of recommendation

According to recent research, 68% of surveyed adults in the United States get their messages at least sometimes from news websites and apps, and 65% said they get their messages at least sometimes from search.

A 2021 research study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 65% of adults in the United States get their messages. At least sometimes from search engines.

Taken together, these statistics emphasize the substantial rewards for journalists for prioritizing SEO while writing an article.

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But this reward does not come without an effort.

It's really important – and really competitive – to get one of the top 10-12 "blue links" on page 1, and even harder to get a "Top Stories" position.

When journalists write with SEO in mind, they are helping themselves to find it.

SEO is not a black box

There are many outdated ideas and misconceptions about how SEO works.

Search engines like Google essentially act as a matchmaker between users and relevant content. In order for the algorithm to match well, journalists literally have to think about the keywords they are using.

If you're feeling at a loss, ask yourself, "What are the ideal keywords people will use to find this article?"

Crisp headlines and puns may be great on other channels and in print, but they only confuse search bots when trying to match.

Google bots act like a The Google algorithm acts as a "matchmaker" between relevant content and users and shows what, in their opinion, best suits the users' requests.

Title tags, headings, and urls are the most important things to get right

One important note before we dive into these best practices: No website will ever do everything perfect for SEO.

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However, these three elements are the most powerful elements that require editorial search engine optimization optimization.

Title tags

This is the most important text, as it will appear in bold in search results. Some title tag best practices include:

  • Include the primary keywords of your article.
  • Make it unique and below 77 characters including spaces.
  • Be as clear, concise, and literal as possible (what keywords do users re-enter to find content like yours?).
  • Use names of important people, places, and events that they naturally fit.
  • If possible, avoid punctuation marks, especially double quotation marks (“).Example of a well-optimized title tag from FOXSports.comThis is an example of a well-optimized title tag from foxsports.com

Headlines

The headline should ideally be written exactly like the title tag and the only H1 tag on the page.

Example of a well-optimized headline on foxsports.comThis is an example of a well-optimized headline on foxsports.com

Urls

The URL should also match the heading and title tag – and you can optionally remove conjunctions within the sentence.

Example of a well optimized URL on FOXSports.com

Followed by Meta Descriptions, Stand Firsts & Section Links

Meta descriptions

This is the description in the search results and is important as it should encourage clicks on the story.

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Some best practices are:

  • Use this area to summarize the story in 1-2 sentences, including the same keywords used in the title tag and headline.
  • If possible, start your description with an action verb to encourage higher click-through rates.
  • Stay within 177 characters, including spaces.
  • Add secondary keywords that users are likely to be interested in. like date / time / place.

Example of a well-optimized meta description on foxsports.comThis is an example of a well-optimized meta description on foxsports.com

Stand Firsts

Stand Firsts are the brief summary you see in some news articles between the title and the body of the piece.

They should be marked as the H2 of the page and appear immediately after the heading.

It often makes sense that this fits the meta description perfectly.

At the very least, it should be complemented by using the same primary and secondary keywords.

Example of a well-optimized meta description from FOXsports.comThis is an example of a well optimized booth first from foxsports.com

Section links

These are the links from the home page and the main section pages back to the article.

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There are two advantages: users can find the content more easily, and we send stronger signals to search engines that these are important pages on the site (since they are less separated from the home page).

More quick tips here:

  • The link text (anchor text) for these articles should match the heading of the article itself.
  • If the design template contains a preview text, it should match the stand-first / meta description and be clickable.
  • The image should be optimized so that the JPG name corresponds to both the heading and the alternative text and is also clickable.

Example of a section link on foxsports.comThis is an example of a section link on foxsports.com. It's also a great example of a website not doing everything "technically right" for SEO. Due to the layout of the website / use of story cards, we are unable to include the full headline in the section link. In a large company, there will always be internal tradeoffs between stakeholder UX preferences, different channels, etc. However, this means that there should be more emphasis on elements that you can control.

How to optimize images

The images in an article are a great way to improve search engine click-through rates.

There are three parts that journalists should optimize for:

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  • Size: Google strongly recommends that images are at least 1200 pixels wide and fall into one of these three aspect ratios: 16 × 9, 4 × 3, and 1 × 1.
  • Alt text: This is the text that will appear on websites when you hover over the image. The text should match the heading of the article.
  • .jpg file name: This is the actual filename of the image. It should contain the primary keywords of the story and can also be the same as the heading.
  • Caption: Should describe what happens in the photo in 1-2 sentences, using primary keywords if necessary.

This is an example of a hero picture on foxsports.comThis is an example of a hero picture on foxsports.com

Classification & networking

classification

It is important that each article is properly classified to ensure that the breadcrumb trail and relevant automated links are placed in the right place.

In the following example we can see that this article is neatly “filed” under Stories and then under NBA. This gives users and crawlers the assurance that they are in the right place for "NBA Stories".

This is an example of proper item classification on foxsports.comThis is an example of proper item classification on foxsports.com

Networking

Networking is important so that people and bots can spend more time on site.

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Best practices include:

  • Link to contextual pages.
  • Add a few "featured" links at the bottom of the page to other relevant stories people might want to read next.

This is an example of contextual car links on foxsports.comThis is an example of contextual car links on foxsports.com

This is how you carry out a “final inspection” after the publication

Give Google about 15 minutes after your article is published, then do a website search for a query that you want your page to rank on.

Having your post ranked number 1 is a quick way to tell if you did a good job optimizing for that keyword. Here's an example:

To do a site search, just enter To do a site search, simply enter "site: {Sitename.com} {keywords / keyword phrases}".

Conclusion

Funnily enough, as I was closing this article, I came across a LinkedIn post from Louise Story, Chief News Strategist at the Wall Street Journal, which read:

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"You can only move the needle in SEO if everyone from your reporters and editors to your product managers and engineers is focused on it."

This sums up my opinion pretty well: SEO is not just the responsibility of SEO professionals. It really takes a village.

Search engines are not a black box, but use a crawl-based algorithm to match content with user queries.

By focusing on putting keywords in the “right” places, journalists can help themselves expand the reach of the content that they have carefully created.

I hope my article can serve as a bookmark for editorial teams, as well as an overview for SEO professionals who want to train their staff in the basics of editorial SEO.

More resources:

Photo credit

Photo 1: Pew Research Center
All screenshots by the author, March 2021.

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