A report earlier this year from Outsell suggested that more than half of us now go forgo the traditional morning newspaper in favor of going online for our news. This is up 33% on previous studies and interestingly, means that sites like Google News are a destination within themselves, rather than a click through from a Google web search. The same study also found that just under half of readers scan the headline and news snippets but do not click through from the news page to the web destination to read the full story.
With an increasing audience, it’s essential that Google News is not overlooked in your search engine optimization strategy. And, your news story must be interesting enough to warrant a click through rather than the cursory glance a large section of the audience seems to favor. So, how do you optimize for Google News and how do you ensure your news item is in the 50% of stories that are clicked on?
To be successful, you must understand Google’s news gather process. Google uses three stages to find, gather and display news items. The first stage is the same as for any new web page – Googlebot crawls through your web site to find new news URLs. You can aid this process by creating a specific News sitemap. This is a useful tool if you often update the news area on your site or if you plan to ramp up your article coverage significantly and want to make sure all news related content is indexed as efficiently as possible.
When crawling news on your web site Google will still respect the robots.txt file or HTPP exclusions you specify so you can still upload news before you want to announce it, and exclude the search bots from accessing the page until you are ready for them to do so.
When the news is gathered, Google then sorts the content into its various sections, scanning through the content and picking up on keywords just as it does in ordinary content, to determine what the news is about. This allows it to sort and file according to its news classifications; business, sci/tech, sports etc. The news will also be classified according to region and then filed USA, UK etc as appropriate. Having decided which category to file the news story under, a process called aggregate editorial interest is worked on the news item itself. This is a ranking process whereby Google decides how much editorial interest outside of the original publication source a story has. A national or international news story such as presidential elections will have a large amount of interest with other newspapers, whereas a story about the closure of a local business would have limited external editorial interest. Based on these factors, Google decides how to cluster news stories on the home page and which to rank 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc just as it does with its organic search results.
A second ranking algorithm is then applied to determine where to rank individual stories about the same topic within the topic cluster. To be the top story on a particular topic, the news should be fresh and original. If other outlets are referring to the original news item as a citation for their own story, this has the same effect as having lots of inbound links to a standard web page and will help to push the news item up to the top of the cluster. Keep this in mind when distributing a news item and be sure to send it to as many relevant recipients as you can think of.
Be aware of Google’s preferred Google News best practice. As with their organic search, Google has a pre-determined ‘best practice’ preference when it comes to ranking news stories. The first is that if you decide to use images with your news story, make sure that you use a JEPG file extension (Google News doesn’t like other file formats). Including a picture is a good way to make your news story stand out and can lead to click throughs rather than simple headline scanning. These images should be located near the start of the story and not be a clickable link.
When you post your news item on your site, make sure that you follow the standard procedures for search engine friendly URLs. In its Google News advise, the search engine states that URLS should be permanent, unique and at least three digits long. News publishers will usually assign a numerical ID to each story on their site and Google is familiar with this tagging procedure. If you can’t follow this standardized format, use a News sitemap to ensure all news on your site is identified as such as the Googlebot.
When creating traditional optimized content or posts for a social media marketing campaign, you’ll be used to linking to other pages within the site, providing useful third party external links and adding extra content such as comments and feedback. While this is good practice for some aspects of optimization, it is not looked upon favorably by Google News. To ensure your post is indexed as well as possible on the News homepage, keep article text plain with no links or superfluous text extra to the story.
If you’ve been using press releases as an SEO or link building tool, you’ll be familiar with the importance of dates and titles. A date must be included in the article body, between the title and the text to allow Google to determine how new / old the news is. As freshness is one of the criteria for good news placement, simply adding the correct date will allow for a much better position. Similarly, the title above the date should follow the same guidelines as tactics as you’d use for any other form of online content optimization and be unique, relevant, and descriptive. If you’re looking to be included in Google News for particular keywords (i.e., those being used as part of your wider search marketing efforts) be sure to include them in the title field. A descriptive title will help with click through rates so be as creative as possible while still providing clarity as to the content of the news piece.