Andy Crestodina’s lowdown on journalism SEO for local publishers

by Denise ChengMIT Center for Civic Media

Andy Crestodina’s premise: I love NPR. Therefore, I want to help save the news industry.

“I’ve been looking for you guys and I finally found you. I was looking for a room where I could teach some web marketing skills … because if journalists have this in their back pocket, I think it will make a big difference in the long run.”

Crestodina switched careers to web design in 2000, and soon after, he realized that to help his ecommerce customers, he needed to drive traffic to their site. Twelve years later, he gives presentations on search engine optimization and also writes web marketing poetry to celebrate discoverability online.

Now the strategic director for Orbit Media and an avid blogger, he shared his tricks for driving thousands of click-throughs to content. Because this talk was focused for indie news publishers, let’s call it journalism SEO.

There are three parts to SEO, he emphasized. Incoming links to your content, key words on the page and aligning your word choice for an article with key phrases. Ideal key phrase incorporates a phrase that has high search volume, low competition and is relevant to your topic. So how does this look? Michelle Ferrier of Locally Grown News volunteered a story on deadline, one about local food.

1. Pick a few key terms you’d use if you were looking for information on your topic. Crestodina recommends about a five-word key phrase.


2. This screenshot isn’t related to local food, but it’s the same idea: Check on Google Keywords to find out how the key phrase ranks (ignore the competition column; this has to do with placing bids on AdSense). You don’t want to go up against groups like Wikipedia or brands with a lot of horsepower. Target words that draw just hundreds of searches each month.

3. For extra measure, check out the regional spread for the key phrase on Google Insights.

4. Scope out your number one competition. Crestodina recommends Open Site Explorer, which allows up to three free sleuths per day. In Ferrier’s case, the competition was OrganicFood2You.com


5. Look at your competition. Take note of the title page. Google pulls from the title page and scrubs it for relevance to key phrases. It also scrubs story headlines (h1 tag for you nerds) for relevance. These are all opportunities to use a key phrase. Crestodina also recommends incorporating key phrases 3-4 times into your story.

Do not try to fool Google, Crestodina stressed. If the terms are not on the page, do not try tricky ways to get Google to rank your content higher. In other words, metatags are out. But! Metadescriptions still count for something, so for those of you on WordPress, install an SEO plugin. For those on Drupal, scrub through this module description to see if it meets your needs.

Also in the Land of Google, the search engine giant (SEG) is starting to experiment with semantic searches, or looking for terms that relate to a user’s search terms even if the page doesn’t actually have the user’s original search terms. To see what Google thinks is relevant, put a tilde (~) before the search term.

Nearing the end of the session, Crestodina gave a few quick tidbits:

  • Put your company’s name at the end of your title (i.e.: Andy Crestodina’s low-down on SEO for local journalism « Block by Block). This gives more emphasis to the key phrase (in this case, I haven’t optimized).
  • In Google Analytics, you can sort the rankings of inbound search terms. For posts that are already published, look at the terms between 11-13; they indicate that the content is showing up on the top of page two for search results. Tweaking those accordingly can increase your discoverability.
  • If you’re on Google+, you have additional tools at your fingertips
    • Google Authorship – By linking your Google+ account with your pieces, Google also pulls your profile image into the search results. Links with images imply credibility, and Google claims it increases click-throughs by as much as 150%. Crestodina details how to activate this.
    • Google Webmaster – Once you’re logged into Google+, you can navigate to Webmaster, which will show and graph out rankings for every post you’ve written and linked via Google Authorship.

Prior to the meat of the session, Crestodina asked how the journalists in the room felt about SEO.

  • David Boraks of DavidsonNews and CorneliusNews hates SEO. In his experience, SEO steals revenue from publications, downplays the importance of web advertising. Some potential advertisers even said to him, “my SEO consultant told me not to advertise on your website.”
  • Jeremy Iggers of Twin Cities Daily Planet pointed out that it drives up traffic but not retention.
  • Ruffin Prevost of Yellowstone Gate described SEO as an arms race. There are constant loop holes and changes ready for exploitation.
  • Even if you have a module that comes up with relevant links across your site, Andy still advocates internal linking by hand. Results can change over time with the auto generator.
  • And I couldn’t resist. Drawing from my past as the citizen journalism coordinator for The Rapidian, I asked whether SEO was realistic for sites that feature citizen journalism content. Many citizen contributors are first-time and eager publishers; should SEO really figure into their and their editors’ work?

Crestodina does not believe in compromising the integrity of the content—he’s written a blog post about it—but he does remind that “we need to find our own audience, we need to build it up ourselves and write things in a slightly different way—researching key phrases—so we know what people are searching for.”

Finally, if you aren’t convinced of how much Crestodina values SEO, check out his nod to World Poetry Day.

Check out the raw notes on MIT’s Etherpad..

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