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SEO in Breaking News

The body has just hit the floor. We have a reporter on scene. How do we own this thing online?

Chris Parry

on 18 September 2014

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Transcript of SEO in Breaking News


The difference between good SEO and no SEO can be the difference between drawing hundreds of thousands of page views to a story and drawing a few hundred.

In financial terms, a 100k page-view story package is worth around $2000 in advertising for us. So the ten minutes it might take to properly SEO a story with traffic potential is most assuredly worth the effort.

But really killing it with a story requires more than just a snappy headline. 'Owning' a breaking news story that is, right now, evolving minute by minute and being grabbed by every news outlet at a time when you're the only person on the web desk and the incident being reported is happening in Chilliwack, miles away from you? How is that possible?

It's easier than you think. CLICK NEXT to be taken on a journey that will make you the big dog of breaking news and have all competitors cowering in your digital shadow.

Search engines like Google scan the entire internet and index every page they find so that you can find what you're looking for. That way, if you search Google for 'cat litter', Google will have plenty of options for you.

But Google doesn't want to show you results at random as it figures you'll stop using it if it's useless to you, so it grades each page in a variety of ways and tries to determine which 'cat litter' option will be the one you like best.

CatLitter.com will probably top the rankings, whereas a blog post by a 12-year-old in Nantucket that reads 'my cat Mittens is scared of his cat litter because I don't change it often enough' will likely end up on search result page #843209. Hopefully.

Google will analyze your copy and determine whether it should be linked to based on a lot of factors. Like these:
In layman's terms, please?
So how can Google tell if you're worth linking to? First, it wants relevance. Just because you mention the phrase 'cat litter' doesn't mean you're the guru of kitty clumps.
It looks at how often you mention the subject on your site and in your story. It looks at how many people are linking to you for cat litter references.
It looks at how popular your site is, whether you have lots of stories on cat litter, whether you mention related phrases,
do you have cat litter pictures, is cat litter in your domain name, how many months have you been talking about cat
litter, do you mention cat litter too often which would indicate you're trying
to game the system, etc etc etc
I'm a web desker at a news outlet. What does this mean to me?
I'm glad you asked. When you post a story to your news website, you're aiming to please two masters. The first is your readers, obviously, who want quality content. The second is the search robots, who want you to satisfy their algorithm.

If this sounds a little futuristic post-apocalyptic nightmare-like, that's because it is. The robots have taken over. Google is 'the singularity' that we've long expected to dominate the planet and enslave us.

Perhaps that's a little dramatic, but you MUST understand 70% of the people who read your story will get there through search rather than through your front page, and 70% of those will have clicked the top link in their search results to get there. That's where you need to be, if you want your story to be read by many.
Walk me through this:
In a newspaper, if there was a shooting in Richmond, you'd have limited space for your headline and a lot of surrounding context, so a short headline like "TWO DEAD IN SHOOTING" makes perfect sense.

The fact that it's in the local news section tells the reader it's a local shooting, the image shows you a couple of body bags and the caption describes the scene, the sub-head gives more detail, a fat pullquote might do likewise, the label above the story says 'RICHMOND', so the headline is just one factor of a large story being told on the page. You can see this at work in the Lance Armstrong story to the right; the headline is almost unimportant.

Online, your headline is a much bigger deal because it's the main way people will find your story.

In that case, "RICHMOND IKEA SHOOTING: TWO MEN DEAD IN DRIVE-BY ATTACK" serves your readers better as a headline. It tells more of the story, it adds keywords people might be searching for (
Richmond, shooting, Ikea, drive-by, attack
), it places the important keywords at the beginning of the headline, where Google pays most attention, and it's attention-grabbing.
So let's look at some bad SEO
The Windsor Star often reports on their local minor hockey team, the Windsor Spitfires, but because they cover the team so often, they assume the reader knows them by the shortened 'spits' term. And maybe they do.
But what would you search Google for if you wanted Windsor Spitfires news?
'Spits' or 'Spitfires', or 'Windsor Spitfires', or 'Spitfires news' or 'Spitfires blog' or 'Spitfires results' or 'Spitfires hockey' or 'Windsor hockey' or...
Here's a Google search for the term 'spits'.
No sign of hockey. No sign of Windsor. Bad SEO.
First of all, this is not an attention-grabbing headline.
Using 'photos' twice in four words is a bummer, and Google may look at that as an attempt to 'keyword stack' or cheat by mentioning 'photos' a ton of times to get to the top of searches for that word, which hurts your search ranking.
And, unless there's a ton of people searching for 'L-P' in Google, using that shortening instead of 'Leader-Post' (or, better, "Regina Leader-Post") is another fail. On top of that, it's not exactly an exciting hook for readers. Considering this is an ongoing photo gallery and not a throwaway brief, it makes sense to get it right. How about, as an alternative:
PHOTOS: The best news images from Regina Leader-Post photojournalists
Let's look at a breaking news story and see the SEO elements at work.
This headline is a pretty good SEO grab. The author has figured out 'Richmond Ikea shooting' is the phrase most will search for on Google, and that phrase is right up front.
Also, the sentence isn't too long, the good keywords are at the front of the headline, and additional keywords are there.
Searches for the following will all bring a good result:
Richmond Ikea shooting
Richmond shooting
Ikea shooting
gang shooting
Richmond RCMP
Richmond Ikea
Targeted shooting
The editor has tweeted and recommended the story to get it out there quickly in the hope it may go viral, and others have since retweeted. These are counted by Google as 'inbound links' and considered a vote of confidence. The 'authority' Google believes this piece possesses goes up when that happens, and it also helps to get the story out on search engines sooner.
Usually one version of a news story will get social media pickup and be shared often. The first story to hit social media will often be that story so it's important to post quickly, share, then fine tune.
Thankfully, a Sun reporter was on the scene and took photos of this event, so the editor has included not just one image, but several. In fact, six - enough to put together a photo gallery.
A better caption with more information would help.

By using 'METRO VANCOUVER' as the dateline, we've managed to register Vancouver as a keyword variant, which will double potential views.

Photo galleries turn one page view into one page view per photo, so there's value in not just offering up a lot of images, but pushing people to them. For mine, a link at the top of the story saying "SEE PICTURES FROM THE RICHMOND IKEA SHOOTING HERE" would push people in the right direction. That the site uses tags to fill a 'related links' area to the right of the story, just drives it home.

Also good here is that, in the opening sentence, all the keywords are repeated in great context.

This tells Google we're not just putting a word in a headline, this is an IMPORTANT word to us.
This is a big local story, and we have a lot of context to add to it if we make the effort to do so.
Just a few weeks back (at the time of writing), the story of a runaway monkey with a fur coat in the parking lot of this Ikea was world news for a week. While that story isn't related to this event, the location is the same, which is excuse enough to dig up all the old photo galleries, videos and stories around that viral event.
Even outside of the Ikea Monkey, the related links here are pretty weak.
Sure, you want your links to Twitter and Google Plus and apps to be around, but they don't provide 'circular navigation' - that is, when someone reads a story and says 'what's next?' and clicks on something else related to the story or topic that they came for. This can generate multiple page views per story instead of one, which means more ad revenue.
We like ad revenue.
Clearly, we've determined this reader is interested in this shooting - perhaps they'll be interested in other shooting stories. Perhaps they live in Richmond and we can point them to a Richmond news page. Perhaps they want more pictures. We need to feed the machine.
Just about every big story will get some video coverage eventually, but while you're waiting for that process to play out (and it can take hours), why wait?

A quick search on Google for 'richmond shooting' find this piece of raw video from a shooting a week earlier, also in Richmond. It's not the most scintillating video I've seen, but it's another piece of the package with which you can keep people on the site.

It costs a lot of money to get a user to come to our site, so it makes sense to get the most attention, page views and time out of that person as possible before they go back to ICanHazCheeburger.com and look at pictures of cats.
He wants you to write for everyone, not just locals. That means less 'Canucks' or 'Nucks' and more 'NHL's Vancouver Canucks'.
Less 'Sedin' and more 'Henrik Sedin' or 'Daniel Sedin'.
Less 'Canucks vs Wings' and more 'Vancouver
Canucks vs Detroit Red Wings.'
Less 'Sask.' and more 'Saskatchewan'.
Less 'Clark' and more 'BC Premier
Christy Clark.'

Assume the reader doesn't have
context to work with. Don't be
Inside Baseball. Assumed knowledge
is the devil's handiwork.

You have a global audience. Yes, local
news is important for local readers, but
foreigners click on ads too. And locals like stories from other parts of the world.

Google wants to give readers the latest version of that story you're working on. This means if you post your story and never return to it, you're no longer interesting.
If the story is important, search for it in Google every 15 minutes and see if you've fallen off the top of the results.
If you have, add an image, add some background, add a police comment, throw in a YouTube clip, rewrite the headline = all of these things send an alert to Google that you've updated the story, and that means, as far as search is concerned, it's a NEW story.
When crime hits, often there's no photographer on the scene, and maybe there isn't one around for miles. You could assign one, but you'd be waiting around with no art while the rest of the world is running off with your story.

You need art. It's important.

Step one: Search Merlin and Southparc for images from previous stories. Nothing? Do a Google Image Search. Look for public domain images (publicity shots will do), maybe a Twitter image someone has taken (ask if you can use, be courteous). Failing that, look to the maps.

Just type in the address of the event into Google, it will give you an overhead map. You can use a screenshot of that map as your art in a pinch. You can also click the 'more' link and select 'streetview' to get an up-close street level image you can use.
Adding background can be an important way of 'getting the story back' on Google. But how can you add value while you're waiting for the reporter assigned to the story to do a write-through?
Where does that extra content come from?
1. Search Southparc for earlier stories on this topic. Use whatever you find, with credit if necessary.
2. Look at other media - has someone got a quote you missed? Attribute them properly, but use the information. "Police told News 1130 there were five vehicles involved."
3. If there has been a press release or scrum by the cops, use the information others got out of it, even if you weren't there. "Police have informed the media the assailant was wearing biker leathers."
4. Look for witnesses posting to social media. "I just saw 6 guys get shot outside Ikea!" = someone you should contact.
5. Call the cops. They have spokespeople who will sometimes help. If not, call the station, or other emergency services nearby (ambulance, fire, search and rescue, coast guard).
6. Google the address, look at the Streetview image associated withit, and note the businesses near the scene. Call them all and ask for anyone who saw what went down. Failing that, call nearby homes.
7. If the event occurred at 3980 Fraser Street, Google that address and see if someone has posted it somewhere online, maybe on a Craigslist ad, maybe with a phone number. Maybe there's a strata council in the building and their details are posted online.
8. Go to http://www.scanBC.com and listen to the local police scanners online.
9. Just write. Rework the lede. Find stats ("This is the sixth BC shooting fatality this year"). Ask for witnesses.
How do you build authority on Google, and in the Google+ social networking site? Twitter presence will help. Lots of articles will help. And Google Authorship will help.

Google is now linking stories written by a given author to their Google+ details. You get a picture with your story listing, and you get people flowing on to your Google+ account, which makes the search engine trust you more.

That means they'll hold your search results higher than random folks. This is a good thing.
If you haven't got into Google+ yet, it's worth doing. It's not as big as Facebook, but respected Google+ accounts get better search results. http://plus.google.com
To link your content to your Google+ profile, go to https://plus.google.com/authorship and follow the simple directions.
Google uses 'clusters' in collating news search results, meaning, if you're looking for news on Lady Gaga, it will look through all recent news mentions and then group those mentions based on relevant subject matter.

For example, if 200 articles talk about Lady Gaga having a wardrobe malfunction (what are the chances?), those will be 'clustered' aside from another 120 that review her latest album, which will be separate from the 30 talking about how she's stealing Madonna's schtick.

The top results in those clusters will get the most clicks, and the top results usually go to:

1. Big news outlets
2. News outlets that dominate the news category
3. News outlets close to the location of the news
4. News outlets that post about that particular niche a lot

You can't make your outlet bigger than it is, nor can you move it to California, but you can dominate a niche.
In 2009, when the TV show Jon and Kate Plus 8 was in the headlines every day, The Sun made a
decision to 'own' that ongoing story.

It wasn't local, and we don't normally do TV news, but we found a huge number of people searching for news on the couple and decided to wade in.
As you can see by the results page on the right, we managed to dominate every single news outlet on the topic for months, and we did this by the following:
Posting daily stories on the topic
Putting relevant search terms at the front of the headline (see highlighted to the right)
Building monster-sized story packages that kept people clicking
Referring to our own earlier stories with in-story links
This resulted in a total of 4.4 million page views for Jon and Kate stories, not to mention an amazing amount of backlinks
and mentions in other media.
Be first out of the gate
Share with social media ASAP
Package it up with multimedia/related links
Keep readers clicking with internal links
Use many images - older photos are fine
Update often, any way you can justify
Add background to the story
Ask for reader tips/witnesses
Find popular niches and build into them
Build your social media profile
Research trends and find untapped possibilities
Predict what stories will be big going forward (Superbowl, court cases, elections) and 'plant the seed' with Google by building your authority in that topic ahead of time
Owning a breaking story is great, but breaking stories aren't always 'blood on the street' affairs. Sometimes they're stories where there's a ton of reader interest but which haven't made it into the news cycle yet.

The Jon and Kate Plus 8 'Jon is cheating on Kate' story is a good example of this. We'd seen some gossip sites talking about rumours there were problems afoot for the couple, and we saw Google searches rising for the show. So we waded in, got there before the other news outlets, and rode victory after victory for the ensuing 6 months.
So how can you find a rocket to ride to page view nirvana?
THE BUZZSAW (http://www.natnotes.com/sun/buzzsaw.html)
I created this page o'widgets a few years back, pulling trending information from Google, Yahoo, TMZ, Sports Illustrated and more so you can see, at a glance, which stories are on the rise in the news cycle currently. It's more indicative than predictive, but worth following.
Also, Omniture
If you don't have access to Adobe's Omniture stats system yet, talk to management and make it happen.

At best, we can hook you up with an account so you can see all our stats in one place, including what stories are hot and what search terms people are using to get to us (see to the right).

At worst, we can have the system send you out a report every few hours.

As you can see, there are a lot of keywords in these results that show 'second level' search interest - in other words, things that people are looking for that might not be breaking news per se, but might be worth writing about. These 'long tail' search terms can bring traffic for weeks.
When you want to know what's hot on Google, maybe try asking Google.
Google Trends shows you what is being searched for right now across the world.
If you look often, you'll find a lot of untapped material worth jumping on.


Look for highly searched
phrases that haven't yet
made the news.
If you spot something you'd like to explore, use the Google Trends site to analyze the topic.
Type the keyword you're interested in into the search box and you'll be taken to a page that shows you user interest levels over several years, related terms (very handy for headline keyword-stuffing) and where that interest is coming from.
The example to the right shows rising interest in 'movies', especially from India and North America, but mostly in the area of 'free' and 'online' movies. Gear your piece to fit into that topic and you could find a big wave of traffic finds you.
Remember, this stuff works for your blogs too.

Thanks for reading.
By Chris Parry,
Director of Editorial, Stockhouse.com
Senior Partner, This is a Test Consulting
Admittedly, you don't always want to tie your headline down with a large amount of ungainly keywords.
Thankfully, Southparc now has a way of inserting a secondary SEO-focused headline that only search-bots see.
The 'SEO TITLE' box above should be used on every story and should include any keywords
you can't fit into your initial headline.
Google enjoys these.
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