On June 25, Murray Dick, information officer at the Centre for Investigative Journalism, takes our one-day course on search engine friendly journalism: the principles of writing for the web; monitoring and managing your online presence; and developing metadata.
In the next in our series of interviews with the trainers, Journalism.co.uk asks Dick for his top tips on writing for the web and improving SEO:
What are the best starting points for a journalist looking to optimise their content for search engines?
Journalists competing for search engine ranking on generic news stories face a paradox when it comes to the possibilities of SEO.
On the one hand, the ways journalists have traditionally organised and written news, using the journalist's checklist, and writing declarative copy in an active voice, are both fundamentally in tune with SEO principles.
But on the other hand, search engines favour unique copy - which is hard to achieve with the majority of stories run in online newspapers (whether at a national or local level).
This is where pagerank comes into its own - it is something all journalists can influence (albeit by degrees). A good place to start with SEO is to keep up a rolling campaign of link-reciprocation with high quality (and relevant) sites. But also ensure that your content is available across as many aggregators as possible to reach the widest possible audience.
What are the key challenges, in your experience, of getting a journalist to starting thinking in an SEO-friendly way?
Some journalists feel that priming content for search engines is a reductive and mechanistic exercise, sucking the fun (and art) out of headline writing. After all, who's ever heard of an index (or an algorithm) 'getting' a pun?
But this needn't necessarily be the case. Providing your site is well connected online (and by this I mean in terms of quality links, rather than a large quantity of links), and providing you compensate in other areas of SEO (such as capturing the aboutness of your copy in appropriate keyword, description and abstract text), there's no reason why journalists can't continue to indulge their creativity in journalism online.
After all a reader won't be confused by a headline if there is supplementary (description) text outlining what the story is about in clear, declarative language.
What SEO unfriendly feature do you most frequently come across on news websites?
The most common failings I've found fall into two categories; the under use and misuse of SEO.
In terms of under use, it is not uncommon, for example, for regional titles to carry generic text inputted by developers, within key HTML tags - rather than the keywords (or text) they should be using to capture the aboutness of each particular story.
That said, there are often practical limitations inherent to the CMSs (bespoke, and off-the-shelf) used in many newsrooms.
In terms of misuse, keyword stuffing and 'spamdexing' are not unheard of in online UK news.
Optimising your content by pulling in celebrity names and popular cliches will only take you so far. The simplistic metrics currently used to measure success (those from the Audit Bureau of Circulations Electronic) have a limited shelf-life, and advertisers will increasingly demand evidence of access to key demographics.
And more importantly, consistent use of SEO red herrings will eventually take its toll on the trust your readership places in you.
A full list of Journalism.co.uk's courses can be see on the training pages. For more information or to book a place, contact ed at journalism.co.uk.