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While it’s an SEO professional’s job to know how to optimize for search and a journalist’s job to know how to write stories, both have the same end goal: to drive traffic to their editorial website.

To help both SEO and editorial teams succeed in this endeavor, I’ve found that it’s hugely beneficial for SEO pros to provide foundational SEO training, instructional guides, and regular office hours to their journalist comrades.

The benefit of prioritizing these activities is two-fold:

  1. It transitions the responsibilities of SEO professionals from a reactive clean-up after the post goes live into proactive work on advanced SEO strategies (since the editorial teams have got your back on the foundational elements).
  2. It puts more power into the hands of the journalist to help market their content to new audiences who wouldn’t otherwise discover it.

In this post, I’ll cover seven things that journalists should know about SEO – from how it works, to the benefits of prioritizing it, to some foundational best practices to bookmark for their future writing.

SEO Is a Huge Referral Source

According to recent research, 68% of U.S. adults surveyed get their news at least sometimes from news websites and apps, and 65% said they get their news at least sometimes from search.

A 2021 research study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 65% of U.S. adults get their news. at least sometimes from search engines.

In tandem, these statistics emphasize the sizable reward for journalists to prioritize SEO while an article is being written.

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But this reward doesn’t come without an effort.

It’s really important – and really competitive – to secure one of the top 10-12 “blue links” shown on page 1, and even more difficult to capture a “Top Stories” placement.

When journalists write with SEO in mind, they are helping give themselves a boost within search.

SEO Is Not a Black Box

There are a lot of outdated ideas and misconceptions about the way that SEO works.

Search engines like Google essentially act as a matchmaker between users and relevant content. To help the algorithm make a good match, journalists need to think literally about the keywords they use.

If you’re feeling stumped, try asking yourself, “What keywords will people ideally type in to find this article?”

Punchy headlines and plays on words may be great for other channels and in print, but it just confuses search bots when trying to make a match.

Google bots act like a 'matchmaker' between relevant content and users – surfacing what they think best matches users' queries.Google’s algorithm acts as a “matchmaker” between relevant content and users – surfacing what they think best matches users’ queries.Google bots act like a 'matchmaker' between relevant content and users – surfacing what they think best matches users' queries.

Title Tags, Headlines, and URLs Are the MOST Important Things to Get Right

An important note before we get into these best practices: No website is ever going to get everything perfectly right for SEO.

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But these three elements are the most impactful elements to optimize for as it relates to editorial SEO.

Title Tags

This is the most important piece of text as it is seen in Search results in bold. A few title tag best practices include:

  • Include your article’s primary keywords.
  • Make it unique, and under 77 characters, including spaces.
  • Be as clear, concise, and literal as possible (again, what keywords are users typing in to find content like yours?).
  • Use names of important people, places, and events where they naturally fit.
  • Avoid punctuation where possible, especially double quotes (“).
    Example of a well optimized title tag from FOXSports.comThis is an example of a well-optimized title tag from foxsports.comExample of a well optimized title tag from FOXSports.com

Headlines

The headline should ideally be written the same as the title tag and should be the only H1 tagged on the page.

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

URLs

The URL should, likewise, be the same as the headline and title tag – and you can optionally remove conjunctions within the sentence.

Example of a well optimized URL on FOXSports.com

Example of a well optimized URL on FOXSports.com

Followed By Meta Descriptions, Stand Firsts & Section Links

Meta Descriptions

This is the description seen in the search results and is important as it should encourage a click through to the story.

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A few best practices include:

  • Use this space to summarize the story within 1-2 sentences, including the same keywords used in the title tag and headline.
  • Start your description with an action verb, when possible, to encourage higher click-through rates.
  • Stay within 177 characters, including spaces.
  • Include secondary keywords that users are probably interested in; such as date/time/location.
Example of a well optimized meta description on foxsports.comThis is an example of a well-optimized meta description on foxsports.comExample of a well optimized meta description on foxsports.com

Stand Firsts

Stand firsts are the short summary you see on some news articles between the title and the main body of the piece.

They should be tagged as the page’s H2, and come straight after the headline.

Often, it makes sense to have this perfectly match the meta description.

At the very least, it should complement it 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 stand first from foxsports.comExample of a well optimized meta description from FOXsports.com

Section Links

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

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The benefit is two-fold: users can find the content easier, and we send stronger signals to search engines that these are important pages on the website (as they are fewer degrees of separation from the homepage).

Other quick tips here:

  • The link text (anchor text) to these articles should match the headline of the article itself.
  • If there is preview text in the design template, it should match the stand first/meta description and be clickable.
  • The image should be optimized with the .jpg name being that of the headline as well as the alt text, and also be 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 getting everything “technically right” for SEO. Due to the layout of the website/use of stories cards, we are unable to include the full headline within the section link. There’s always going to be internal tradeoffs between stakeholders’ UX preferences, different channels, etc. at a big company. But this means that there should be greater emphasis on items within your control. Example of a section link on foxsports.com

How to Optimize Images

The images in an article are a great way to improve the click-throughs from Search Engines.

There are three parts that journalists should know how to optimize for:

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  • Sizing: Google explicitly recommends that images be 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 appears on websites if you mouse over the image. The text should match the article’s headline.
  • .jpg file name: This is the actual filename of the image. It should include the primary keywords of the story, and can also be the same as the headline.
  • Caption: Should describe what is happening in the photo in 1-2 sentences, using primary keywords where relevant.
This is an example of a hero image on foxsports.comThis is an example of a hero image on foxsports.comThis is an example of a hero image on foxsports.com

Classification & Cross-Linking

Classification

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

In the example below, we see that this article is “filed” neatly under stories, then NBA. It helps give users and crawlers alike assurance that they have come to the right place for “NBA Stories.”

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

Cross-Linking

Cross-linking is important for helping people and bots spend more time on site.

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Best practices include:

  • Link to contextually relevant pages.
  • Add a few “featured” links at the bottom of the page to other relevant stories people may want to read next.
This is an example of contextual autolinks on foxsports.comThis is an example of contextual autolinks on foxsports.comThis is an example of contextual autolinks on foxsports.com

How to Perform a “Final Check” After Publishing

Once you have published your article, give Google 15 minutes or so and then perform a site search for a query you’d like your page to rank on.

If your post shows up as #1, this is a quick way to tell if you did a good job optimizing for said keyword. Here’s an example:

To perform a site search, simply type in "Site:{Sitename.com} {keywords / keyword phrases}"To perform a site search, simply type in “Site:{Sitename.com} {keywords / keyword phrases}”To perform a site search, simply type in "Site:{Sitename.com} {keywords / keyword phrases}"

Conclusion

Funny enough, as I was wrapping up this piece I stumbled across a LinkedIn post from Louise Story, Chief News Strategist at The Wall Street Journal, that read:

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“You can only move the needle on SEO if everyone from your reporters and editors to your product managers and engineers focus on it.”

This summarizes my sentiment quite well: SEO isn’t just the responsibility of SEO professionals. It really takes a village.

Far from being a black box, search engines use a crawl-based algorithm to match content with users’ queries.

By focusing on getting keywords in the “right” places, journalists can help themselves to extend the reach of the content they took such great care to create.

I hope my article can serve as a bookmark-worthy resource for editorial teams, as well as an outline for SEO pros looking to train their co-workers on the fundamentals of editorial SEO.

More Resources:


Image Credits

Image 1: Pew Research Center
All screenshots taken by author, March 2021.

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