SEO for Newspapers


photo credit: Martini Captures

In preparing for our first meeting with our new client het Financieele Dagblad today Ramon showed me a few articles he’d found on Newspaper SEO, and while reading through them I thought: kind of ok, but not completely there yet. So I present you with my ideas on Newspaper SEO, based on my experiences with Wegener‘s 7 newspaper sites and other big sites.

The ideas in this article, by the way, are for a large part very similar as to how I’d SEO large blogs.

Basically, you can divide Newspaper SEO into a few categories:

  1. Template – URL optimization
  2. Content optimization
  3. Improving internal link structure
  4. Google News optimization

Template & URL optimization

This may sound like the simple stupid work, but it can reap huge benefits. When we improved the templates & URL’s for Wegener’s 7 newspaper sites, we increased search engine traffic by 40% in 6 weeks. So what you should do template wise:

  • Make sure the article title is in the <title> tag too, and include the category. <title> – <category> – <newspaper name> works best in my experience.
  • Move all javascript and CSS to external files. Better for your regular visitors too as the browser will cache those and not request them on each hit, saving their time, and your bandwidth.
  • Get rid of as much unrelated content as you can, and nofollow all links in the unrelated content that you can’t get rid of.
  • Make sure the article title is an h1, and that the CMS used automatically uses h2′s and h3′s for subheadings.
  • Move the content up as high in the template as you can, and the navigation down.

And with the URL’s:

  • Include those keywords, for instance, the post title and the category. Seriously, it helps too much.
  • Important: leave some numbers in the URL’s. Google news requires that “The URL for each article must contain a unique number consisting of at least three digits.” Stupid. I know.

Content optimization

When you’re working on big newspaper sites, the first thing you stop worrying about are keywords. In any other SEO project, I’d start by letting someone do what I like to call “the dirty work”: the keyword review. However, with newspapers, there’s just no use. Sure you could do a small one to consider how you’re going to do the navigation, but usually, there’s a 100 year history attached as to why a certain category is named that way, and you’re better off not even trying to rename it.

So for the most part, there’s no use in doing a keyword review upfront. You can’t tell what tomorrow’s news will be (and if you can, stop reading this article and go save the world), so you shouldn’t worry too much about those keywords. But, if you can get the writers, the journalists, to think of keywords when they’re writing stuff, and to use them in their titles, you’ll have hit the jackpot.

Most big newspaper sites, at least here in the Netherlands, and this goes for more newspaper sites in small and big language area’s alike, are amongst the biggest authorities on the web. If you write unique, keyword rich articles within a well optimized template, these articles will rank incredibly well. Well, that is, until they drop out of the first pages of the archives, which is why you need to work on structure.

Improving internal link structure

Newspaper archivesGetting front page articles indexed isn’t hard. The hard part about newspapers, is that they publish such huge amounts of articles (1 million articles large archives are actually pretty normal), that the problem lies in getting the complete archives indexed. This is the long tail theory in it’s sweetest form: you only have to get another two visitors to each article each month, and you’ll get them a pretty big amount of traffic.

Getting those archives indexed and still relevant isn’t the easiest job in the world though. There are a few methods, and I’d recommend using more than one:

  • Tagging
    If you can get them to tag each new article going into their database with 3-5 tags, and show them that the tag pages you create with these get actual traffic, you can probably persuade them to tag at least a part of their archives as well (all you need for that is a lot of cheap, intelligent labor capable of speaking your language, aka: students).
  • Files
    Another method is to make files about people, companies and specific subjects. For instance, if you’re covering KLM in an article, your first mention of KLM should automatically be linked to a company overview, and all your articles about KLM. Once you create this, not only search engines, but researchers too will love you.
  • Categorization
    Most newspapers have been doing this for ages, and when it’s there, I’d advice you to never take it out. You should look at the categorization with your SEO perspective though: sometimes it’s too flat, with all categories straight below the root, and sometimes it’s way too deep. In my opinion, most newspapers shouldn’t be doing more than 3-4 levels deep, and use tags for the extra specific archiving.

All three of the above methods allow you to compile a list of related links to articles on each article, you should really be doing that.

Preventing duplicate content

One important issue with newspapers is removing duplicate content. I understand that people want to track how many visitors came from their RSS feed, but there are better ways to do this than using ?source=rss in your links and not redirecting them out… Another case of duplicate content I often encounter is when articles are placed in multiple categories, and have a URL in each category. You should pick one category as the main one, and redirect all the other entry points to that main URL.

Block your internal search results, as they probably look way too much like your tag pages. Also block sort options, or make sure you’re not changing the URL to sort a page the other way around. That’s what sessions and cookies were invented for.

Article pagination is evil

Yes, I know most newspapers make money on page views. And yes, I understand that article pagination is a great way of creating more page views. The problem is, that most articles were not written to be paginated. If you know an article is going to be very long, and you want to paginate it, divide it into different sections, with different keyword rich titles, and loosely tie them together.

A note on forced account sign-up

There are still quite a few newspapers out there who force you to sign up to be able to look at their archives. Of course, this is less than ideal. However, you could consider opening up the first one or two paragraphs and the title, and getting those spidered, and I bet you’d get traffic and conversions off of that. This is how Aaron Wall does it, for instance, on his relatively new SEO training site.

Google News

There are some specifics in newspaper SEO that are different from “normal” SEO. Where in normal SEO projects I’ll usually count how long it takes to index new content we put up in days, in newspaper SEO projects I will count that in minutes. Why? Because being first is hugely important for Google News.

Now I understand from some of my friends in the US that Google News, as in news.google.com, drives a lot of traffic. Here in the Netherlands it does not, but: normal search results for “hot” items do. And since Google has started incorporating Google News results into it’s web results , there’s a lot of traffic potential there.

So basically, you should get your content indexed as soon as you can. To do that, you should create a Google News XML sitemap, and continuously update it.

Google News & Images

A news results will look something like this most of the time:

Image Google News example

Now where do you think most people will click? I have no hard data lying around to support this, but my guess would be that the image would be the most highly clicked area of the result. And here’s the trick: the image actually goes to another article then the first of the three news results! So when working on these articles, you should also really consider optimizing the images. Lisa Barone does a great job of telling more about the how and the why in her article More Signs Google Hearts Image Optimization.

Conclusion

Newspaper SEO is obviously a lot of work, but it has huge benefits, and it’s a lot of fun. So if you’re working on similar projects, chime in, and add your advice in the comments!

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50 Responses

  1. Lex van DommelenBy Lex van Dommelen on 22 February, 2008

    Thanks for this post. I think that it’s a stupid thing what google demands before a website is indexed on google news. Especially this line:

    `For example, if your main news article is always located at http://www.google.com/news/story1.html, we won’t be able to include this URL every time the content changes.´

    This means that the most recent post on a average wesbite won´t be indexed if I am correct…

    Again I have to say nice post!

  2. JRBy JR on 22 February, 2008

    I’m still relatively new on the topic of SEO but I must say I’m starting to get the hang of it. I have a couple of webprojects going exactly where I want them to go. Visiting(and learning from) your site has definitely helped out in that department.

    I’ve been a reader of your blog for quite some time now, but thusfar never left a comment. But with such an insightful post I just had to. It’s always great to get a good insight on interesting stuff!

  3. gerbenBy gerben on 22 February, 2008

    @Joost,

    http://www.twinklemagazine.nl/reistag.aspx (in dutch). Why use Students if you have visitors to do it for you?

  4. Nick BurcherBy Nick Burcher on 22 February, 2008

    Newspapers are having to learn about SEO / Search techniques very quickly. A number of major titles have traditionally relied on subscription for revenue, but have recently abandoned this as they feel there is more money to be made from higher traffic for free content.

    Search Engines are obviously key to driving higher traffic and content optimisation is therefore important. Some UK newspapers are trying to re-train journalists to encourage them to write in an SEO / keyword optimised way. However, many writers still seem to struggle to produce keyword rich content. The organisations that can adapt best to the discipline of writing in SEO friendly fashion will be the winners.

    There are also good opportunities with Paid Search as a method of tactically driving traffic. Newspapers could promote articles with topical ad text and then change it in line with changing news. In the UK it is not particularly common for titles to use Adwords and most newspapers receive less than 2% of their traffic from Paid Search. (The Sun newspaper is the exception and according to Hitwise they have been receiving 12% of traffic from paid Search ads.)

    To prove my point I ran an experimental Paid Search campaign on Super Tuesday to show what a missed opportunity it was for UK press. I wrote up my experiment here: http://www.nickburcher.com/2008/02/super-tuesday-search-big-missed.html

    I think newspapers need to get a balance between driving traffic from Natural Search and Paid Search. Ultimately more visitors = more advertising revenue (if the content is good enough) and clever use of SEO techniques and Paid Search will benefit newspapers in the long run.

  5. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 22 February, 2008

    Hi Nick, thx for your extensive comment! My experience with the newspapers I’ve worked with so far is that they’re VERY afraid of stopping to rely on subscriber income and switching to advertising, let alone paying to get people on their site.

    Basically it’s a 180 degrees turn for them: going from people paying to visit their site, to paying to get people to visit their site.

    It’s very uncommon in the Netherlands for newspapers to advertise at all… Even for their own subscriptions… We have a long way to go, but I must say I’m happy to be a part of it :)

  6. Michael ClarkBy Michael Clark on 23 February, 2008

    I wonder why newspapers don’t include article URLs at the end of each article. They would need to link their typesetting system to their blog system. Something as simple as http://www.example.com/article/12345 at the end of each article in the paper would be a big help to readers.

  7. tomBy tom on 23 February, 2008

    i’m a in-house seo for a media company that owns newspapers and you just echoed a lot of what i have been preaching to the company i work for, specifically the ‘files’ or ‘topic’ pages.

  8. Brent D. PayneBy Brent D. Payne on 24 February, 2008

    I just started with Tribune on February 14, 2008. I have a lot of work to do. ;-)

    This is a great article for me to refer to when I am trying to convince people at Tribune what needs to be accomplished.

    You are dead on with your advice. I am going to be needing some consultant help . . . email me if you are interested.

    Nice post . . .

    Brent D. Payne
    SEO Manager
    Tribune Interactive

  9. AleydaBy Aleyda on 24 February, 2008

    Great post Joost! I used to work in the web area of a very traditional newspaper and I felt indeed the “fear” when we were going through the redesign process I was leading… There were still some people that thought that the solution to increase the “printed paper” circulation was to make the online news site opened just for “subscribers”.. crazy! At that moment I asked: And what about the competition then? … newspapers have a long way to go as with Internet they have way more competition and their printed business going down! I think that there are many possibilities for newspaper site monetization… beyond typical ads!.. but that should be a comment for another post :) Thanks for the post!

  10. jaybongBy jaybong on 25 February, 2008

    I work in-house for a large media website and this is spot on – if a little vague.

    Would be interested to know exactly how you structured the internal architecture? When I did it I sort of made it up as I went along as there is really not much info on SEO for sites with 50,000+ pages.

    I set up a tag/category system with around 500 tags (on niche people, places etc) originally to funnel page rank down to the articles, while trying to keep it as flat with as much PR going the end pages as possible. Seems to have worked out pretty well but it’s hard to compare as there is so little info on this out there.

  11. Internet Marketing JoyBy Internet Marketing Joy on 25 February, 2008

    These are nice tips on how to SEO newspaper sites..^^..I don’t have a newspaper site, yet. but I’m sure these tips will pretty come in handy..^^

  12. DictinaBy Dictina on 25 February, 2008

    Hi,

    I’ve also worked as In-house SEO Manager for a media company, mainly newspaper based, and I agree with Nick that training journalist (but also web developers and system managers) with be crucial. My experience shows me that if you can work with them side-by-side and then show the managers a couple of success stories within their sites you’ve the battle won. So I would add a 5th category: SEO Evangelization

  13. Jean-GuyBy Jean-Guy on 26 February, 2008

    I am also doing SEO for a large media company that owns several newspapers, I have shared this article with my team, I think its spot on. Might need some more details in terms of Google news optimization. It’s also important to note that Google news while being important is only 13th when it comes to online news aggregators.

  14. JakeBy Jake on 27 February, 2008

    Jean-Guy@ What are the top 12 online news aggregators?

  15. Nick BurcherBy Nick Burcher on 29 February, 2008

    Another challenge is headline writing. SEO friendly, keyword rich headlines do not make good newspaper headlines and good newspaper headlines rarely work well with Search Engines.

    The Guardian wrote more about this a few months ago Search for the perfect headline

  16. DictinaBy Dictina on 29 February, 2008

    Umm, there’s a workaround for that. You could have 2 fields, one for the headline, to write a journalistic style headline, or even to automatically drop there the print paper headline and one for the to write a “boring headline for Google”. That’s more work for the journalists but in some cases it could be interesting

  17. Remco WesterikBy Remco Westerik on 3 March, 2008

    A question for you Joost about pagination: what are thoughts about the stylesheet and javascript option SEOmoz mentions in Problem with pagination?

  18. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 3 March, 2008

    @Remco: although I understand the problem, I consider it a non-issue. For instance with Wegener, I have proven that the benefits from going for the best SEO solution result in more page views then the extra page views from one long article do.

    Next to that: as long as most newspapers (heck most websites even) here in the Netherlands are not able to sell all their ad-inventory anyway, there’s no real reason to do paginated articles.

    Of course the best solution, if you didn’t have to be all white hat, would be to cloak this. You could make a page 2, 3 et. and just cloak redirect it all to the first page, and cloak the entire content of the article onto the first page…

    If only our hats weren’t so white…

  19. Remco WesterikBy Remco Westerik on 3 March, 2008

    @Joost: thanks for your thoughts and sharing your results on that one

    Good to hear that you are still totally 100% white hat, I hope you treasure and cherish those white hat principles I tought you ;-)

  20. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 3 March, 2008

    Hi all, I’ve had some requests to do more with Newspaper SEO than just this post. Would those of you interested in any other form of sharing about the subject please drop me a line at joost at this domain with “Newspaper SEO” in the subject?

  21. JohnBy John on 6 March, 2008

    Great post.

    Is there a reason why headlines should be instead of ?

    I’ve also seen several references to having the headline in the title before the newspaper name. Does having the headline after the paper’s name really make a big difference?

  22. DictinaBy Dictina on 7 March, 2008

    Hi,

    Well if you follow the journalistic guidelines, what’s more important, and differenciates one article form another, that’s the title, comes first. However, I always kept the source name in the title for branding puerposes, but always after the title.

    Besides, from a user point of view, if your headline is too long for the SERPs it gets cut and less words would be shown. There are chances that the searched keyword wouldn’t shown up nor be highlighted in and you would get less clicks. Then, if your newspaper has a long name, you’re dead.

  23. JohnBy John on 7 March, 2008

    thanks Dictina,

    What about h1 over h2 for article title? What’s the reasoning behind that?

  24. PaulBy Paul on 8 March, 2008

    Joost- I just sent this post over to my sister who is part of the web marketing team for the Denver Post. Hopefully, your words of wisdom do not fall on deaf ears. ~Paul

  25. DictinaBy Dictina on 10 March, 2008

    Hi John

    I would prefer h1 for the headline, as it is the most important part. But I’ve seen that there’s people that prefer h2 over h1 (perhaps because they already use h1 for the logo or the branding in their templates?) or because they feel that a h1 could somehow be considered a bit spammy

  26. IanBy Ian on 18 March, 2008

    Hi all,

    I have enjoyed reading the interesting article, but I have a question regarding Google news site maps. I am a bit unclear as to what the exact advantages you have by adding a news site maps. Are your stories more likely to appear on Google news, or within the search results when a news phrase is searched? Or is it just ensuring the stories are being indexed? Any clarification on this would be much appreciated.

    Ian

  27. SEOBy SEO on 27 March, 2008

    Very much agree that if you can teach SEO to Jounalists of any newspaper would be great as SEO is a very rapidly growing industry

  28. Jesper JørgensenBy Jesper Jørgensen on 1 May, 2008

    Hi Joost

    Nice research. I will keep a mental note for the day I will have to SEO similar sites.

  29. StevenBy Steven on 22 June, 2008

    Thank you! I’ve been looking for detailed information on newspaper SEO. I was wondering if you’d address the issue of subdomains. Is it ever a good idea to have travel.newspaper.com where that site aggregates all the best travel articles from the newspaper in a good looking portal? I know Matt Cutts no longer favors subdomains but in this example it would be relevant for the user, no?

    Thx!
    Steven
    New Media Strategist
    http://nyherald.com

  30. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 22 June, 2008

    @Steven: well… I’d either make it into a different site, or a sub category rather then a subdomain, I’m not a huge fan of subdomains myself. OTOH: it does work, and people understand it, so why not…

  31. StevenBy Steven on 13 July, 2008

    It seems the problem with a news blog is the time/date stamp that google looks at – if its old news, Google seems to bury it pretty fast – even if it might be the most relevant information. Thus, does posting PAGES vs Posts have any SEO advantage? Are pages better permalink wise,

    e.g.: domain.com/page-title
    vs.
    domain.com/page-title/123.html
    Thx!

  32. SEO TipsBy SEO Tips on 31 August, 2008

    Excellent article and completely agree with the points made – RE the comment above I’m also not a massive fan of subdomains, I pick a subdirectory over a subdomain any time.

  33. DictinaBy Dictina on 22 September, 2008

    @Ian: When we uploaded the news sitemaps we experienced a boost on the number of articles appearing on Google News. Traffic from this source also increased.

  34. samBy sam on 20 April, 2009

    Great post. very good seo article. Thanks

  35. SEO TrainingBy SEO Training on 29 May, 2009

    Newspapers need to be focused on SEO as much if not more than the rest of us. The content is usually unique and comes in droves. How can they optimize it? Your suggestions are excellent. I feel as though the only way to truly optimize their content is through careful management of distribution. All content should optimize in-bound linking and use the proper structure when doing so. Over time this can pay huge dividens.

  36. capital2010By capital2010 on 19 July, 2009

    Great post. very good seo article. Thank you very much

  37. SarahBy Sarah on 9 August, 2009

    It means if we make a site about SEO and Google news, the site will be preferred by Google and it means that the site can easily get traffic and can quickly and easily get PR. thank you for the great information

  38. Denver SEOBy Denver SEO on 17 September, 2009

    Thanks for the post Joost, doing work for 5280 magazine in Denver and this definitely applies.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Mark Glaser recently queried me about improving the SEO of PBS’s MediaShift. The tips and advice I gave him apply to most blogging and media websites. The piece was well balanced, with information from Poynter, and he mentioned Joost’s great article on Newspaper SEO. [...]

  2. [...] Mark Glaser recently queried me about improving the SEO of PBS’s MediaShift. The tips and advice I gave him apply to most blogging and media websites. The piece was well balanced, with information from Poynter, and he mentioned Joost’s great article on Newspaper SEO. [...]