Quick Tips For Newspapers & SEO

I’m doing a “brown bag” lunch talk at the Los Angeles Times today which means an informal talk on newspapers and how they can use SEO to improve their traffic. Since it’s informal, I didn’t make a formal presentation. But I did want to jot down a few tips to highlight, and I figured I’d use this blog post to collect them for reference today and for the future.

  • Think about your audience. Are you using the words in your copy they are using when searching for information. “Bailout” versus “bail out,” which are they using? Don’t be clever and call the bailout a “rescue plan” if no one is referring to it that way. Classic case from the New York Times: Asia’s Deadly Wave versus the tsunami (look at story section headline versus the HTML title tag). Want to research? Try some of these keyword research tools.
  • Copy Editors Rule. HTML title tags remain one of the most important “on-the-page” factors you have to influence how well you rank. Consider the top phrase or two phrases you want to be found for. Write a headline that works for that. If you can’t make it work for print-web combo headline, get your system to allow different ones for display on the page, display in print and in the HTML title tag.
  • Give Content A Permanent Home: Election endorsements should have ONE place they always live. New election? Archive the old endorsements to a new URL and the most current one goes up. Wildfires happen regularly? Same thing — one page that always keeps the same URL with the most current information.
  • Google Trends Is & Isn’t Your Friend (or No, Don’t Slug Everything Britney Spears!): By the time a topic hits Google Trends, the popularity may be passing. And if you do get all that Britney traffic, is it converting for your ads? Ideally, you’re ahead of the “trends” showing on Google Trends as part of your regular coverage. But the trends can help you perhaps anticipate future interest and how people will be searching. Get your content ready. And no, adding porn and other top terms to your stories isn’t going to help you.
  • Twitter as an institution and as individual reporters: Twitter drives traffic plus it helps people link to stories, which in term can drive search engine traffic. Your paper should be twittering, and individual reporters should be running their own accounts, talking about their own stories.
  • Befriend The Diggers: Digg’s a popular news site for the young audience that’s precisely not interesting in print papers. So get your content showing there. Assuming you’re not able to be buddy-buddy with the Digg execs to cut a business deal, get to know the top diggers, those who often submit stories that go popular. Friend them on Digg and keep them informed of stories you think will be popular. They have the network and the following to spread the word, in the same way people contact your publication with tips. If you can tip them that a particularly tasty story will go life with advanced notice, even better.
  • Stumble, YouTube, Flickr, Google Maps & Social Mediaize Your Content: Spread your content out beyond your boundaries and watch it come back your way.
  • For Management: What do you want this traffic for? What’s the conversion goal? Trying to sell more subscriptions? Traffic that converts when people click on ads? Trying to sell paid subscriptions? Answer shouldn’t be “just get traffic.”

Helpful Tools


Jeffrey McManus just published some interesting ideas in Free Advice: How to Save Journalism. In particular, I like his two key points that journalists need to be right in with the technology tools they use. Back in the day, you wouldn’t have someone typing for you. Get into it. Also, business and editorial do need to work together. Doesn’t mean selling out, but it does mean understanding what the market is for your content. No market, the content’s going to die.

Postscript: Also see this podcast I did with On The Record about newspapers, PR and SEO since this post was made plus Top 10 search engine optimization tips for online news start-ups at the Online Journalism review, which summarizes a talk I did to the Knight Digital Media Center