Quick and dirty tips on optimizing your story for search engines

Mar 06 2013

In an extremely competitive media environment, it’s becoming crucial for journalists to master the methods of making their stories more marketable.

I will set aside tricks from the journalism side today (like inventing crazy enticing headlines or finding a good scoops), but instead talk about one old-yet-still-viable technical trick that journalists often disregard.

Proper search engine optimization of your story enables search engines like Google or Bing to analyze it the right way and cater to as many web-surfers as possible. Proper SEO won’t give a story an immediate reader boost, but could help it to sustain notable level of visits in months (if not years) to come.

So SEO is a nice thing to do. Some people use advanced SEO techniques and specifically adapted keywords to gain significant flows of traffic to their commercial sites, but let’s not go that deep in the detail. I’ll assume you’re not going to rewrite the story so the search engines would love it. But even without an ability to heavily edit the text, there’s still a stuff you can do.

To perform the optimization, you might need access to the HTML code of the page with your story. However, most people have certain SEO options included in their content management systems, so you don’t need to go really low-level. Here we’ll cover the free version of the “All in One SEO Pack” plugin for one of the most common site engines around – WordPress.

When it’s added to your WordPress site, on each of the post pages in the admin console, you’ll be able to see a designated box in the bottom called “All in One SEO Pack,” with a couple of text fields: title, description and keywords. Don’t underestimate their value: fill them in!

Put a full, unabbreviated and super-detailed name of the story in the “title” field. You don’t need to be flashy here; just informativeness counts. So instead of the main headline for your story (“Obama Raises STEM Issues Yet Again”), do a more detailed headline using more nouns (“President Barack Obama Talks STEM Education in the US For The Third Year in a Row in His State of the Union Address”).

Write a brief summary for the “description” field. Try to do it manually and summarize your story in a few sentences; copying and pasting your first couple of sentences won’t always work, especially if you start with an anecdote for the story.

Think of a dozen or so nouns that relate to your story. Don’t use too many or too few; about ten will just work. For the example above, my keywords should be something like “STEM,” “math,” “science,” “technology,” “engineering,” “president,” “US,” “Barack Obama,” “State of the Union,” and “education.”

A couple of other quick and dirty SEO tips:

- Add descriptions (“alt” text) to your images. Search engines cannot easily process images to get text
- When possible, detach text from images (i.e. have the text from a text-heavy infographics piece on the page itself)
- Do the same with Flash: Add information from a Flash video or interactive to the body of the HTML page itself.
- Sometimes, it might be a good idea to use some common misspelled words and typos for your keywords, along with correct ones (i.e. “Barack Obama” and “Barak Obama”)
- Ask your friends and colleagues to add links to the story on their sites, with relevant clickable text (“A great story about the abortion rights in the EU”). Help them with links to their stories as well. Links on social networks don’t work very well in this case. Sorry.

This is really basic and easy to do, but still useful – and it’ll help your story live longer and attract more readers.

Read more:

- SEO for journalists
- From the Editor’s Desk: SEO for journalists
- Top 5 SEO tips for media owners and journalists
- Google!

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