I recently came across a problem while editing our template pages on WholeHogSports. The site had absolutely missed the boat for a decent bit of search engine optimization.
SEO is basically a quick and easy way to organize your information in byte-sized chunks so that search engines, the deaf and blind, and applications can understand what your pages are about without having to read an entire page of information.
It seems logical that, as journalists, we desperately need to make sure these words are precise, directing the most possible users to our information and beating the competition.
There are 3 main areas to focus your SEO efforts. One lets readers and search engines know the name of the page, another provides a description of that page and the final deals with the content inside that page, explaining images and providing flow.
Another very important thing to consider is how many sites link to your site and does your site link to its content well? If a human can’t get to the page, it’s very doubtful a machine can. The more links to your site and the more links you make to your content, the higher up the food chain you will travel.
The <title> tag is probably the most important piece of the equation. You must describe, in as few words as possible, what your content is about.
<title>NWAOnline – Northwest Arkansas News – Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville</title>
Now look how it appears in a Google search for “Fayetteville news”
While it’s not number one, it appears on the first page of that search. As Rebecca Lieb says in her book, it’s good to have a few keywords inside that title tag and goes a long way in securing basic searches for news.
For instance, on nwaonline.com, we include the story headline with the site name. That way, those stories will appear first in searches. Descriptive titles matter.
Now, getting the design desk on board to make SEO-friendly headlines for the website would be a pain for their print efforts, which opt for smaller words and bigger type.
Still, get descriptive, more than just the site name. This is especially true if your name has nothing to do with the way people might search for information on your site.
Check out a search for “hog news” and you’ll find WholeHogSports up top, though people probably aren’t searching for “hog news,” but instead “razorback news.”
The description is the chunk of information right under your title in searches. For instance, the NWAonline search shows “NWAOnline is the premier digital source for news in Northwest Arkansas. Featuring content from the Northwest Edition of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette…”
While this title is nice, it’s also too long, but I have my reasons.
We use the description tag to describe our news services online and add all of our daily print brands. So, when you do a search for “northwest arkansas times” we’re number 1.
The description tag also plays a major role in letting apps like the Facebook share button pull the information for a story you’re (as a user) trying to share with your friends.
It’s good to have an excerpt or lede pulled for news stories. Features and opinion copy benefit in having separate description tags, usually generated just for SEO and apps.
If your description tag is the same for all your pages, your sharing apps and Google won’t be able to figure out the difference between a story page and a homepage.
A good description would have the who, what, when, where, why. And I wish the main character’s name. But that only happens for celebrities in the news.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
Yeah, that’s hokey, but it’s important to consider how images and text will be interpreted by the blind or the seeing-impared.
One good thing to do is double-check that all of our images have an alternative attribute (alt for short).
This allows for a description (maybe even a caption!) of what is going on in the photo. It also lets search engines know what they’re seeing, since they still can’t yet see.
Flow is also very important. Depending on the structure of the HTML page, you might have some text appear separate from the surrounding text it belongs with.
A good way to check for this is to turn off CSS on your browser and view your site without any styles.
So there you have it. It’s a complicated subject that I’d be happy to discuss. Just bring me some PBR, a cigarette and a linotype.