The journalist’s guide to driving traffic through SEO

Let’s start with the basics:  What is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) can be defined as the process of improving the amount and quality of traffic from a search engine to a particular story or website.

Daniel Petty of the Denver Post told a packed house at the SPJ/ONA JournCamp in Phoenix that most Web traffic for news sites comes through “a side door,” such as an article page vs. the home page.

“If you need more proof that SEO matters,” Petty says, “The State of the News Media 2012 found that 32% of people get news digitally through a key word search.”

As the embedded video indicates, what matters in SEO for your stories are the key words you choose for your headlines as well as the links to and from your story.

“What’s also important is the website’s reputation for fresh and engaging content,” says Petty, “and that’s where news organizations often have an advantage over other online competitors.”

Key words are basically the words someone enters into a search engine to find content, so coming up with the words that are most likely to be used in a search is important, but generally not that hard.

“Usually I rely on a gut check,” says Petty.  “Or you can use the ‘Google suggest” feature to help you out.”

Petty also recommends spending time with the Google Adwords Keyword Tool to see what words or phases surrounding a particular topic are geting searched most frequently.

When writing headlines for SEO, Petty says specific is always better — you need to tell the online reader what the story is about. Petty recommends using full names of famous people, and using place or location names as often and reasonably as possible.

Another piece of advice is to use at least 40 characters and less than 70 in your headlines – anything more than that will get truncated with ellipses by Google.  And remember, spaces and punctuation count as characters.

However, Petty says the best journalists have a SEO secret weapon.

“Good content is the key to getting found.”