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There are little to no courses available that bridge the gap between online marketing, or journalism for the web out there, and those with formal training often find themselves scratching their heads when they break a story online, and yet some other random bozo / blogger on the web outranks them for it. With online media establishments creating bucketloads of content a day, you’d have to wonder why some aren’t maximising on that advantage more.
The process of getting a story out there on the web is vastly different, and the methods faster than traditional media by some margin. So what advice would I give to journalists looking to drive traffic with their writings, or indeed to a publication which is looking to grow?
If breaking news is important in traditional journalism, its importance is multiplied online. There are obviously a number of things you can do to increase the reach of a particular story, but probably the first place you need to go to is twitter. I’ve noticed a number of news publications that use twitterfeed (rss posting to Twitter or Facebook) to launch their content. Whilst this is a step in the right direction, in my opinion, its not the best way to do things.
Primarily you are losing out on potentially a couple of minutes whilst the RSS feed and twitterfeed kick in, and by this stage, particularly if your news outlet has any direct traffic, you are likely to find that people will be sharing the breaking news in their stream – rather than yours. Sometimes users link to the story, sometimes they don’t, but ultimately THEY are the ones then receiving the retweets or shares, whilst your automated feed is still delayed.
Being first to launch the story in your social streams, simultaneous to the news going live on the web ensures that any retweets or shares which occur are more likely to be attributed to you, and in turn increase traffic, and brand presence.
Many journo’s do this really well already and its common sense really. Writing content which is popular (and topical) in the public domain already is a great way to drive traffic. Pick any thing which is on television, with a buzz around it at the moment, and do a search on Google.
The first thing you will see are news results, published just minutes ago. If its a really hot topic, Twitter and Facebook feeds are pulled into the mix. When Google spots rising terms (see Google trends further in this article), it will match relevant content to those terms. Be the publication that fills the gap.
There are a variety of tactics, that technical staff should be aware of for news publications. It should be relatively easy to get listed, especially if there are multiple journalists employed.
Content which is snappy, easy to digest, and feels a little more magazine esq. in nature, appeals strongly to a social audience, and gets shared online in a variety of places. Many publications fail to identify exactly what content will do well, or how to craft content that fits within a social context.
The other side of the coin is that often, little or no effort is put into marketing the content, and getting it under the noses of the linkerati. Take a look at how some other major news publications have seeded their content, and the nature of the writing. Both the Telegraph and the Guardian have a presence on Digg and know how to market the content they produce.
Stop writing clever headlines
Yes, I know it fills your heart with pride when you write clever pun filled grabbing headlines about world events, and you probably listened intently when they taught you how to write them at Journo school – but the web doesn’t care. You should consider carefully what people are likely to search for, and write your headline around that. Squeezing a few keywords into the body of your article when appropriate won’t hurt either.
The web gives you an opportunity to make an article interactive, and a little bit more interesting to your audience than traditional print. You’ve got the usual candidates e.g images, or Youtube videos. But there are alternatives that you can use to add value to content.
Presentations, Audio recordings , Flickr Slideshows, Spreadsheets , Word Documents , HiRes documents or pretty much any other document you can think of can all be embedded alongside your article to add extra value. If you are going head to head with another publication on a similar story, the one which provides something over and above will be a factor taken into account when someone chooses to share it.
Linking out to other sources which provide additional information only helps to provide search engines with indicators that your own article has value, and provides your audience with more incentive to share your content. If you are hoarding link equity, you are hurting your search positions.
The BBC for example only as recently as March of this year started to link out to other sites on the web. They still don’t do this properly in my opinion, as they separate external links out into their own section of the article, rather than keeping them embedded within the natural flow of an article. The impact of this is lower clickthrough’s to other publications around the web, and search engines are potentially providing less weight to the links around the main article, due to page segmentation.
One of the main ways to improve natural search engine positions is to link with the relevant link text to other articles internally which helping to lift the other articles on your site for the keywords you are trying to rank for.
The only way to do this is to either make your journalists aware of those keywords and phrases, or teaching them how to work out what they are likely to be.
Get Analytics Training
It’s pretty vital for journo’s to know what is working on a website and what isn’t, keeping track of individual articles written by individual journalists by tagging and segmenting traffic is a great way to introduce competition between them. At the very least they should have read access to the statistics
Setting up monthly exports which highlight target phrases for the coming month can help to keep journalists at the very least aware of online marketing goals.
Revisit old content
Some content on your site will be seasonal, and be relevant at different times of the year. It’s important to work out if you have rankings which are showing increases in traffic and if so revisit it if and when it needs refreshed.
For example, elections occur at different times of the year, but older content which may be ranking naturally should be either 301 redirected into the new section or rewritten to improve bounce rates.
You can spot this content easily by using Google Analytics new Intelligence tool, which should show bursts which are out of the ordinary.
Use Google Trends
Writing around trends can have a massive impact on traffic, and simply having the right article on the right day can make a serious difference to traffic. Have a look at how the Guardian take advantage of the Google doodle. The traffic coming in for these is obviously worth writing for around such trivial topics, as people click the logo, and automatically receive a pre populated search. Due to the QDF effect, articles which have been published on that day receive preferential treatment, bouncing them to the top of the results.
There are a number of ways to keep up with trends online. These tools and Google insight for search provide a wealth of data for journalists to take note of. I’d recommend that journalists keep an eye on this for two reasons. Firstly it will show what topics are starting to get hot, and secondly it will help teach journalists to think in more simple terms when writing article headlines. You can see what the way people compose search phrases at present, and indeed shape the language they use online to more closely mirror these patterns.
If your publication frequently piggybacks on celebrity news, Bing xRank unfortunately was shut down in October 2010, but for other insight into celebrity hot topics, Yahoo’s OMG, provides the next nearest thing. Both hot topics, and people in the celebrity sphere change on a daily basis.
Get yourself on Google+
Google have announced today that they are now using the same content creator update recently rolled out to the SERP’s to and applying it to Google News as well. Well worth implementing this inside your content management system as well as getting your profile built out and completed.