SEO Optimized Writing for Journalists

At CCN.com, we rely primarily on organic traffic for our news stories. More than 80% of our traffic comes from Google. That’s why we place such an intense focus on optimizing both our site and our news articles for organic traffic.

We depend on a highly-dedicated team of editors and journalists who truly understand Google and organic traffic. This is a part of CCN’s core philosophy, and it’s something that we have been able to perfect over the past seven years in the news industry.

To learn more about our SEO competence and to dig into CCN.com stats, read this article.

What we’ve learned is there are no “SEO secrets” and no “tricks to crack the Google code” that will instantly launch a news site to the top of the search engine rankings.

The reality is far more straightforward. We receive more traffic when we produce high-quality articles. The reader stays longer on the page, is more engaged, and is more likely to come back for more news.

The Google search engine “knows” what the user really wants when they conduct a search. SEO isn’t about tricking Google’s algorithms into ranking your content prominently. It’s about helping Google understand that your articles provide the most relevant content about what readers are looking for. If journalists focus on SEO when writing, they will be rewarded with more traffic and higher relevance.

Below, we have highlighted seven of the most important guidelines to follow to write an SEO-optimized news story or blog post.

1. Show Google That Your News Articles Are Relevant

Probably the most essential principle for securing a high ranking spot for your articles on Google is relevance. By relevance, we mean:

Who are you, and how are you qualified to write about the topic you are covering?

If your degree is in cosmetology and you decide to write an opinion piece about central bank monetary policy, readers will question whether you’re qualified to weigh in on the topic. If you’ve never run a successful business, you shouldn’t be giving start-up founders advice on how to grow their revenue. Your readers will notice the discrepancy, and so will Google.

You should make this a hard rule. Only write about topics:

  • That your educational and professional background qualify you to discuss authoritatively.
  • That you are genuinely passionate about and have covered extensively.

You should also avoid writing about topics that fall outside of your niche. If you’ve been a sports blogger for the past decade, don’t publish your thoughts on the corporate bond market. Readers won’t find you credible, even if you do have a degree in finance.

If you decide to shift the topics you cover, you should be prepared to go all-in for an extended period (three to six months) before you see results. Don’t expect to earn massive traffic numbers until Google identifies you as an expert within your new field.

Another major issue that we see over and over: Journalists write about events happening all over the world. This is a dangerous practice that will threaten your credibility with your readers and harm your Google ranking.

If you live in the U.K., you won’t rank well for topics that target Canadian audiences. Write for readers who live in your home country. Don’t fool yourself into believing you can compete with journalists covering the same topic in their local markets.

2. Only Publish Timely Content

Why do people search for news? Think… Because something has happened and they want to learn more. For journalists, timing is everything.

You can write the best story ever written, but if you don’t time it correctly, it will generate little interest. You can’t publish a report 24 hours after a major news event and expect your article to outrank the thousands of other stories that have already been published.

Being a journalist is difficult. You must compete with many talented journalists and news sites, all of whom are racing to produce high-quality stories before the news cycle pivots and a topic that was trending hours earlier suddenly grows stale. You must stay on top of a news story’s evolving developments while still delivering a unique angle as quickly as possible.

All too frequently, we have to deny pitches and scrap stories that could have been top performers if they’d been filed just 12 hours earlier. There’s no reason to publish them if they’re not timely because no one is going to read them.

3. Make Your Articles Unique

It’s incredibly difficult to break a major news story, and it’s nearly impossible to do it consistently unless you have extraordinary connections. So instead of competing to report the news first, focus on making your articles different from the competition.

  • Approach the story from a unique angle.
  • Tie in relevant information from multiple sources.
  • Create other strategies to make your piece stand out.

The more unique your article is, the more attention it will receive from Google. That’s why journalists and editors need to use creativity and imagination when developing angles and structuring articles.

4. Drive Reader Engagement

Writing is a solitary craft, and journalists spend so much time behind a keyboard that it’s easy to forget a fundamental principle: You write for your readers, not for yourself.

The goal of every published article is to engage the reader and convince them to stay on the page until they have read the entire thing.

Here are some tips on how to engage readers:

  • Deliver bold opinions and use power words to help your readers develop an emotional connection with the story.
  • Carefully craft engaging titles and subtitles.
  • Write clearly, and keep your prose crisp. Avoid filler words.
  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short so that they’re easy to read.
  • Include high-quality media elements like images, videos, and social media posts.
  • Always proofread your articles to eliminate spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • Remember that a substantial percentage of your audience will read your articles on mobile devices.

Readers quickly abandon low-quality articles, and Google has become remarkably adept at identifying which articles and websites feature content that keeps users engaged.

Articles that receive massive traffic from Google almost never have low engagement scores.

5. Cover Trending Topics

No matter how strictly you adhere to the first four principles, you’ll never earn colossal Google traffic if you only write about topics that appeal to a narrow audience.

If you live in a town of 2,000 people, a piercing op-ed on the local mayoral race won’t yield results, no matter how hard you work to make it relevant, unique, timely, and engaging.

To generate the deluge of organic traffic you’re looking for, you need to focus on the trending topics that fall within your field of expertise.

This is one of the most difficult aspects of digital journalism. On rare occasions, you might break a story that becomes the source of a trending topic. Most of the time, you have to jump on a topic that is already trending and use your skill-set to make your coverage unique.

Here are tips on how to identify what topics are trending:

  • Check what’s trending on Twitter, Reddit, and other social media platforms.
  • Use Google Trends.
  • Subscribe to premium SEO tools like BuzzSumo.
  • Stay on top of what’s happening in your niche.
  • Set keyword alerts for relevant topics and actively search for news events that could start trending soon.

6. Stay on Top of Your Stats

Google doesn’t give you feedback on why one article generated record-breaking traffic and another performed miserably. It’s your job to evaluate why certain articles make it big and others flop.

Being vigilant about analyzing your stats will help you improve reader engagement and narrow your focus to topics that generate consistent traffic. Every journalist is different, and what works for one writer or website might not work for you. You must constantly experiment with your news coverage.

If you write for a news website that does not give you access to statistics on your own articles, you should demand that editorial leadership make these stats available. These metrics are a vital tool for improving yourself as a digital journalist in the 21st century.

This final principle is difficult for many journalists to accept, but it’s absolutely crucial: You must be willing to adapt your writing style to suit your audience. Remember: You write for your readers, not for yourself.

7. Always Verify the Accuracy of Your Content

No one likes fake news, especially not Google. You should always source your information properly and prove that your claims are supported by the facts.

Never publish a story if there’s a possibility of it being inaccurate. The more you can link to credible sources, the more credible you will be.

Treat your article like a courtroom argument. Use hard-hitting research to prove what needs to be proved, and never give your readers a reason to question the authenticity or authority of your articles.

After seven years in the digital news industry, we’ve learned that there is no “secret sauce” to instantly double or triple your website traffic. But there are strategies that we’ve used to dramatically increase the traffic that CCN.com receives from Google, and these principles can help you improve your news coverage too.

We have started an SEO academy to help journalists optimize their writing for organic traffic. If you are interested in joining, send an email to jonas.borchgrevink (at) ccn.com.