SEO is significant for many websites, but it is the lifeblood of news organizations everywhere. If you’re looking for examples to optimize web content to rank #1 on search engines, then there’s no better place to look than reputable news sites.
News sites are filled with written works and must organize them carefully. Since traffic is essential to their business models, each news site employs various hyper-effective SEO tactics to make its way to the top of the competitive SERPS.
With literally millions of articles covering trending topics such as the coronavirus pandemic or surges in the stock market, how do sites like Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal consistently come out ahead? These reputable news sites use various optimizations to keep their content at the top of search engine rankings; by learning from their SEO practices and implementing them, it’s possible to replicate their success. Here, we examine some of the strategies they employ to drive traffic to their site.
1. Tailor Articles to Keywords People Are Using During News Searches
An adage is “the customer is always right.” In this case, whatever the customer types when looking up news stories is “right,” and it’s critical to match your articles with popular keywords.
While there are fancy ways to optimize for news search keywords, one method anyone can do is to use the autocomplete feature on Google.
For example, if you were trying to write an article regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the keywords you may want to use is “illness.” To test if this would be a solid keyword, type “illness” into Google Search, and the autocomplete algorithm will return some predictions. In this instance, autocomplete would show that people have tried to look for:
- “illness anxiety disorder”
- “illness definition”
- “illness synonym”
- “illness is considered a behavior stressor”
- “illness in india”
- “illness vs disease”
- “illness symptoms”
- “illness meaning”
- “illness in spanish”
Autocomplete lists these terms in order of popularity, and none of them are related to the news. From this exercise, we can conclude that illness would be a terrible keyword regarding SEO. If we repeat the exercise with keywords like “Covid-19,” “Pandemic,” or “Vaccine,” Autocomplete suggests “news” as a follow up in the top 10 suggestions for all of these words. This is why when relevant, Bloomberg attempts to include these keywords in their article headings.
While it seems apparent people don’t type “illness news” when looking for Covid-19 information, other keywords might not be so obvious. If you’re writing an article about the availability of the Playstation 5, is it better to use “in stock,” “on sale,” or “price?” Doing a quick Autocomplete test will let you know for sure.
2. Write Clear and Concise Headlines
While sites like Buzzfeed and pop culture social media groups on Facebook have popularized long, descriptive headlines, those don’t work for most web content. Even though search engines now use additional metrics to determine page rankings, page titles are still crucial within their formula.
More often than not, your content’s headline will be the page title. For optimal indexing, between 2 to 22 words are ideal. Shorter than that, and it’s not a title at all. Longer than that and Google will truncate the rest of your title — eliminating the end of your headline.
Integrating statistics with specific numbers and data into your headlines is an effective marketing strategy. According to Orbit Media, research has shown that headlines that contain numbers get 73% more engagement. As it turns out, our brains are both fond of and receptive to numbers. While words require a great deal of brainpower to process, numbers are easily digestible, allowing for more fulfilling engagement. When possible, use the actual numeral instead of typing out the number. Instead of writing “Five Tips to Lower Your Grocery Bill,” use “5 Tips to Lower Your Grocery Bill.”
And while this isn’t always doable, try to use odd numbers when crafting titles that contain numerals. For some reason, humans find odd numbers more convincing than their even counterparts. When doing a step-by-step guide, avoid having more than nine steps. The brain struggles to process ten or more items that follow the same train of thought.
Having puns and jokes in your title may seem cute, but they’re confusing to both readers and search engine algorithms alike. Stick with the basics and use a descriptive yet succinct headline.
3. Stay up to Date and Push for New Updates
News organizations historically have battled continuously for “breaking news” and getting the fastest inside scoop. This ideology hasn’t changed at all in the digital age. News sites regularly update with new articles every time new information comes out. When there isn’t any further information, then articles filled with speculation and hypothesis start filling up their content.
Wall Street Journal, for example, has a daily article dedicated to signaling out a few key stocks to watch. While not every website has something as valuable as the stock market to do daily updates on, creating consistent articles that follow a repeating pattern is an excellent method of generating more traffic.
During the recent Inauguration ceremony, of which the main event lasted 2 hours, Bloomberg released seven different front-page articles. As the trending moment unfolded, articles were immediately sent out, with periodic updates through the day (generally every few hours) on the existing pieces. Bloomberg could have decided to consolidate more information within each article instead of having a new bit for each moment during the day. Still, each update causes Google to index their site more frequently.
Search engines expect websites to update their information periodically. Updating the content on your blog essentially promotes it again, leading to additional traffic and shares. Each update creates a better impression since crawlers are much more favorable towards newer content, increasing your click-through rate, which improves your rankings.
Updating content also has excellent ROI. While creating fresh content is a great way to increase inbound traffic, new stuff is often hit-or-miss — not to mention the cost in both time and money to research, write, and edit new content. In contrast, updating an old article can be a bit like reselling your “greatest hits.” Written pieces that were already successful can be put back on the map. Editing and adding to existing content also generally takes less effort than writing an entirely new article while still more or less giving you the benefits of publishing a brand new item.
4. Add Photos and Videos
Humans are visual creatures; therefore, it makes sense to add visual elements whenever possible. Browse the Wall Street Journal’s front page, and you’ll see that there are a plethora of images throughout their headlines. A majority of the articles contain a video relevant to the content within the report. Sustaining audience engagement is a cornerstone of news sites, and they show a simple truth — visuals are no longer “nice to have,” they’re essential.
If your website has a video, Google can crawl the Youtube and MP4 videos embedded within your site’s articles. Before you stick any random video in your content articles, follow Google’s video content guidelines. Use videos that are:
- Original and Unique: Every part of the video, including the music, text, and images, should either be owned by you or used with permission.
- Accountable and Contextual: Context is vital for compelling video content. Having titles, brief but clear descriptions, and some necessary information about the video goes a long way with audience engagement.
- High Quality and Consistent: Videos should have crystal clear audio, sharp images in focus, and relevant dialogue. Having videos that don’t follow these properties can be distracting and detract from the user experience.
When using images, having a photo or graphics is more effective than merely including a logo. Purchasing a photo or stock image can be a roundabout method of forming visual content when there isn’t any relevant one on hand.
Not sure if graphics or photos are worth the effort? Twitter themselves have stated that tweets that contain images have 35% more retweets than their imageless counterparts.
Jeff Bullas, a social media strategist and internet blogger, notes Facebook posts with photos have 37% more engagement than posts without. Buzzsumo, a content strategy hub, found that posts and articles with images generate 2.3x more traffic.
5. Include Natural Links and Redirects
Use links in your posts to direct your audience to additional content. Referencing another piece of content will drive traffic to this related content and enhance the reader’s experience.
This article on the stimulus vote contains three links to other relevant stories and ends with an “up next” section allowing for continual reading. While news organizations will almost certainly have dozens of similar articles to reference, your website may not have a wealth of similar content. It’s fair to use these links in your piece to redirect your audience to additional content — this can include:
- Photo galleries
- Sidebars or small blocks of information relevant to the article
- Landing pages for companies you’re referencing
- Product purchase pages
Be careful with linking pages that aren’t relevant. Links to content that aren’t editorially relevant are considered “unnatural links.” Unnatural links are a tactic used by unethical sites.
The practice is to simply stuff links and redirect all over content to increase user “engagement” and drive up spammy content to rank better. These are a violation of Google’s Quality Guidelines and a quick way to get penalized by the search engine. Influence from Google aside, having irrelevant links can cause the reader to have a poor experience and increase your website’s bounce rate.
6. Optimize Website Structure — Make It Easy for People to Find the Information They Want to Read
News sites have a unique problem — their sites are quite large, and their content is always rapidly growing. For them, optimizing site architecture is essential for creating a robust user experience and allowing a search engine to crawl through them effectively.
Having tags and categories is what allows these sites to have strong readability. One crucial aspect of website structure is depth, or in other words, “how many clicks is it going to take to get from the front page to a piece that I want to read?” It’s critical to keep this number low since search engines crawl sites by going from one link to the next, but information architecture that’s too flat makes it difficult for readers to find the information they’re looking for.
This is the top section of the front page of the Bloomberg news website. Notice how the site features a “Quick Links” section. Bloomberg features its most popular sections directly at the forefront of the page for users to have an overview of what topics to browse. After a quick scan, readers can effortlessly jump to whichever section they find most interesting. Given Bloomberg’s primary demographic is readers of financial news, the site also imprints the daily shifts for major stock market indexes.
Read through any Bloomberg article, and you’ll notice a section that appears called “Most Read.”
Click on a Wall Street Journal article, and you’ll see the same thing. The only difference is that they differentiate between news articles and opinion pieces.
Both of these organizations also recommend follow-up articles for the reader towards the end of each page. Most of the time, written pieces don’t have a long life span. By adding these “here’s what to read next” sections, online traffic can consistently flow to other articles and relevant news pieces. Websites have to continually battle for user attention, so a seamless transition from one article to the next can keep readers engaged on your website and minimize bounce rate.
Both these news sites also utilize subheads. Subheads are an effective way of including additional keywords that aren’t in your heading. Including bold, italic, or underlined text will help you:
- Bring attention to critical points within your content
- Break up the monotony of constant text and allow sections of your article to be more easily digestible
- Allow for skimmers to have a general understanding of your text
By adding subheads, they also provide additional information to your readers about what the article will be about and let them decide whether or not to continue reading. These tend to clear up content, make reading less tedious, and allow for a better reader experience since skimmers can more easily decide whether the article is relevant. Use subheads whenever possible.
7. Tailor Content-Length to Audience & Topic
There’s a general idea that written content should be “short and sweet.” A cursory sweep through Bloomberg’s many articles shows that this is clearly not the case. Items range anywhere from less than 400 words to giant pieces clocking in at just under 10,000 words.
Making your content as short as possible leads to problems with Google’s assessment of the “quality” of your article. In 2011 Amit Singhal, a Google Fellow, released a post detailing how to build a high-quality site. Site quality algorithms are a complex topic. While he isn’t able to disclose the exact ranking signals used (which would lead to unethical gaming of these metrics), he was able to showcase some “questions” that Google asks to determine quality. Questions such as:
- Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
- Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
- Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
- Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
- Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
You can read the full report by Singhal, but the basic premise is here. Having a short article isn’t necessarily great if the content doesn’t provide enough value relative to its peers, doesn’t contain original content, wouldn’t be considered authoritative, or is short and unsubstantial.
Keep these questions in mind when developing high-quality content. Low-quality content doesn’t only affect that specific piece — harmful content will impact the entire site’s rankings. Removing low-quality pages from your website or improving the content by merging shallow articles with others to create a more substantive post could eventually lead to higher rankings.
These news giants are regularly changing and optimizing their SEO, but many of their practices haven’t changed in years. We can see a few lessons that can apply to any website designed to push content from analyzing their landing pages and written articles.
- News sites are regularly trying to push up-to-date content and update old articles
- The site’s architecture is paramount to a good user experience which leads to higher SEO rankings. These websites make it easy for a reader to find what they want to read, get there quickly, and continue reading after they’re done with a piece.
- They use a wealth of SEO best practices such as adding visuals, varying content length, crafting impactful headlines, and interweaving links to improve their rankings.
Bloomberg and Wall Street Journal have dominated rankings for news terms. As you build your sites, rather than focusing on one particular SEO tweak or adhering to a specific algorithmic quirk, use these methods to create lasting, evergreen content.