Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for News and News Sites

At CCN.com we have focused on creating unique and astounding news stories since 2013. For seven years we have experimented with content, site structure, engagement features, team structure, and monetization. Our growth has predominantly been empowered by Google search traffic (organic traffic).

As we have grown and come to depend on organic traffic, that has obviously become one of our most important focus areas. Our main goal with CCN.com is to create thoughtful and relevant news stories that people love to read, including provocative op-eds and opinionated pieces. Giving the world a new news source that is independent and that has no political agenda. We see ourselves as the protectors of freedom of speech.

We allow all sides of a story, as long as it is abiding our Code of Ethics. In order to do that we rely on extensive traffic to make the ends meet.

Depending on Google’s organic traffic is a game of chance

While we’ve come to rely on it, depending on Google search traffic is tough. Google regularly pushes new core algorithms that might affect our site in ways we can’t apprehend. On June 5th, 2019, we were hit hard by a new core update by Google. We lost more than 70% of our “normal” search traffic overnight. Our income plummeted by more than 50%, a distressing reality brought on by a perplexing algorithm tweak.

As you can see from the image above from Ahrefs.com, our site got hit hard during Google’s core update in June 2019.

Our team became somewhat desperate. We could not understand what we had done to de-rank that much on Google. We had no manual ‘actions’ or red-flags against our site. CCN.com’s domain rank was (and is) very high. We had better content, well-researched articles, a bigger team. Our headcount was at an all-time high and our monthly costs of operating CCN.com were touching from $100 000 to $200 000 per month.

CCN.com briefly went out of business

On June 10th, 2019, I wrote an editorial saying CCN.com was shutting down due to the Google core update. At that point, we were losing so much money due to the drop in traffic that we simply did not know how to cope. Despite this, and after a small break for the entire team, we decided to get back at it. Improving the site, the team, and the content. We, and especially I, could not let this project die out.

The revamp of CCN.com

From June to December 2019, we implemented thousands of changes to the site, to the team, and to the way we work. We were about to exhaust all our resources to pinpoint what went wrong and try to get some of the traffic back from organic search.

To our surprise, we have been able to rank as #1 on multiple search terms on Google since January 13th, 2020. After Google’s latest core algorithm update, our site has seen a dramatic increase in search visibility and search traffic. We have hit record after record in January, and some of our news stories have been read by more than 800 000 unique users within 24 hours, unprecedented figures for our news site.

Since Google’s January 2020 core update, our site has surpassed any previous level. Source: Ahrefs.com

Being de-ranked by Google..

I’ve felt the pain, first-hand, site owners and site operators experience after they are de-ranked by Google. Subsequently, I’ve decided to start a new project in combination with CCN.com. We are setting up a dedicated SEO-team to analyze and help news sites across the world. No single factor should decide whether or not a news site loses 50% or more of their organic traffic overnight. In a just and fair world, news sites would not have to deal with the technical aspects of their site but instead focus on creating quality content. Let’s let the content decide what kind of interest a site generates.

Do not listen to all the SEO blogs!

Since the changes and improvements that we’ve experimented with and eventually implemented are considered a trade secret, we will not publicly blog about them here. Other SEO-agencies love to blog about SEO tricks to generate traffic to their site so they can sell you their expertise, at a premium. From what we and I have learned, many of the SEO guides that you find on popular SEO blogs are not working for modern-day news sites. Some can even harm your news stories from ranking well. And: most, if not all, SEO blogs are not made for news sites but for eCommerce businesses.

And then you have those “SEO Experts”

After our massive de-ranking on Google, we got hit with an inflow of offers from so-called “SEO Experts.” I did include some of the “SEO Experts” in our work (some took more than $300 per hour!) I quickly realized that they had no clue whatsoever. They were basically engaging in a guessing game. No inputs provided by the “SEO Experts” we were in touch with made any difference. These experts do not own or operate a news site. These experts own an SEO agency, and primarily lack the know-how of operating a news site or ranking it. As a site operator and owner, I would listen to a fellow admin or a webmaster who has a news site that ranks amazingly well on Google.

Become a part of our News Media Alliance

We are willing to share our findings, to analyze and monitor news sites, and to create a knowledge base and a discussion forum for news site owners and operators. I firmly believe we will stand stronger in a platform that will benefit us all. We will openly share what kind of services we use, and the plugins we found helpful. FYI: We run a WordPress hosted site on WP Engine.

If you are interested in getting onboard, do feel free to send me an email to jonas.borchgrevink@ccn.com -> no strings attached.

Jonas Borchgrevink
Founder and Director of CCN.com