Search engine optimisation (SEO) can help an article appear higher up on Google search and bring more readers to the publisher’s website. It is also becoming a crucial skill for journalists but with every publication approaching it differently, it can be hard to know what to focus on.
Some SEO tools and programmes used by news organisations are too expensive for freelancers but there is still a lot you can do to improve your SEO skills from home if you are looking for opportunities where it is needed.
SEO journalists typically do not write about one set topic or area. Malvika Padin, an SEO journalist for a range of titles, says: "Anything that people are searching for, we write about. That could be something on the news, or breakout searches that are one-offs. There's a framework to it, but it’s very varied."
She adds that working with SEO can be a great way to start a career as it allows you to "experiment a little bit with various different topics" which could help you discover a talent or passion for a beat you had not previously considered.
Journalists often make great SEO copywriters, says Jill Starley-Grainger, journalist and head of content at Proof Content. She explains that as long as you understand the parameters, it is no different than working with any other brief. The quality of writing that journalists can bring to clients helps it perform well, as readers spend more time engaging with high-quality pieces.
If you are looking to build your skills and knowledge, there are many free online resources. The Beginner's Guide to SEO, from Moz, is a comprehensive collection of almost everything you need to know. The first few chapters might be all you need to develop an understanding of SEO.
If you need a more practical, test-based introduction, Google Digital Garage’s Fundamentals of Digital Marketing course is also free to access. It is business-oriented but still useful and a good introduction to SEO. Should you have a budget for training that is more specific to journalism, take a look at the NCTJ’s Journalism Skills Academy or Journalism.co.uk’s very own Essential SEO skills for media professionals.
Knowing the most important SEO terms and their meanings is a great place to start. In most cases, you will be given a list of ‘key phrases’ to write around or include. Keywords and key phrases are the terms that people enter into search engines.
"You need to find out which one is most important and try to create a headline around it," says Starley-Grainger. Making headlines and subheadings SEO-friendly helps pages and sites rank higher on Google and other search engines.
It is also not just about the words on the page, links are crucial too. If your article’s page does not include any links or other pages for a reader to click on, it is known as a ‘dead-end page’ and will not stand a chance of getting on searches’ first page of results.
Though you might not be able to access the tools that large organisations can afford, there are still free tools out there that will help you hone your SEO skills. Google Trends can help you spot keywords and phrases that are currently popular, while Google Keyword Planner will help you choose the right keywords if you are looking for something specific. You can also analyse keywords with tools like Ubersuggest and Answer the Public to find out what people are searching for.
Keyword Sheeter is another tool that pulls in a ton of Google autocompletes for any research term and helps you discover topics you may not be thinking about.
Finally, there is no topic that has not got a dedicated newsletter, and SEO is no exception. Check out the SEO for Google News and WTF is SEO?, two great emails that help publishers make sense of the topic.
As you set out on your SEO journey, do not forget the most important rule: always write for people, not for the search engines. Not only that is the whole point of good journalism, but Google is also quick to spot and downrank "over-optimised" content.
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