In the past, journalists have had to wrestle with the dilemma of writing with flair versus obeying the SEO Gods. Recently, there seems to have been a push from Google to reward great content and downplay the importance of SEO ‘tricks,’ but there are still plenty of good practices to follow. This post aims to rebuild journalist confidence by offering simple tools and advice to make digital content soar in search engine rankings once again.
SEO has come a long way since it became a mainstream tool over a decade ago. In particular, a journalist’s task of producing keyword rich text on a metadata rich website has evolved to needing to be engaging and socially sharable.
In order to do this, Google changes its search algorithm up to 500-600 times per year. While most of these changes are minor, there are larger updates released every few months—including Google Panda (February 2011) and Google Penguin (April 2012). Among 30+ measured signals, web rankings are now reliant on the quality and uniqueness of content, speed of the website, visual design, trustworthiness, user experience and satisfaction, social media use, and the amount of time users spend on the website.
Since these items are not traditionally thought of as SEO issues, this brings us to ask—is SEO dead? Apparently a lot of other people are asking the same thing.
Randy Abramson, Director of Products and Operations for the Office of Digital and Design Innovation (ODDI), doesn’t think SEO is dead—but does believe that Google Panda has radically changed the future of web design and journalism. “Google Panda was an effort for Google to prevent ‘black hat’ SEO methods (such as over-cramming keywords or link farms) from ranking well in Google Search,” notes Abramson, “Having clean sitemaps, crawlable metadata and links is key, but there is now a stronger emphasis on having content that people spend time with and share.”
For example, as a journalist, if you write a high quality, unique article and readers are engaging with the material by spending time on the page and sharing your work, Google will more likely take this into consideration to raise your page rank over just a catchy headline that provides page clicks.
The Office of Digital and Design Innovation is actively working on web design tasks in order to make journalist content more Google Panda and user friendly. ODDI has prepared a strategic checklist to address the new form of ‘white hat’ SEO. The checklist includes such things as:
- Creating and submitting crawlable site maps
- Adding the proper site and page metadata
- Having descriptive URLs
- Making sure images have <alt> tags
- Implementing the correct redirects on old pages
- Monitoring download speed and performance for newly designed sites
- Displaying crawlable metadata around rich media objects like video and Flash presentations
- Re-designing pages that highlight sharing features and are viewable across all devices and platforms
In fact, ODDI is currently preparing to launch re-launch the Middle East Voices website in cooperation with the VOA English team. “We couldn’t have been happier when they told us that they wanted a ‘mobile first’ design,” said Abramson. In addition to including the SEO strategies listed above, Abramson mentioned that ODDI was “able to create a light weight ‘responsive’ design that quickly adapts the interface depending on if a user is viewing the site on a desktop, mobile phone or tablet”.
So, what’s the best way to keep on top of all these rapid SEO changes? ODDI recommends that SEO strategists should keep a close eye on blog posts that Google and other SEO-specific sites put out. “Google wants users to find the most satisfying results in their product and they’ve done a lot of work to make sure creators know how to technically create great experiences,” said Abramson.
The Google Webmaster Central Blog, in particular, provides documentation around creating mobile compliant experiences and how to speed up the download time on web pages.
By staying on top of all these changes, your websites will likely obtain better ranking results and be much more effective in increasing audience impact.
(Thank you to Randy Abramson and Rebecca Lundregan for their contributions to this post.)
(The foregoing commentary does not constitute endorsement by the US Government, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA, MBN, OCB, RFA, or RFE/RL of the information products or services discussed.)