A guide to optimising your news site for SEO
Google News still tends to be a great source of traffic for publishers, and with the advent of Accelerated Mobile Pages — and a few key changes to the product — it felt the time was right for a post on the product, including some tips on how to treat breaking stories, a lowdown on Accelerated Mobile Pages and some advice on increasing — and sustaining — visibility across the platform.
Before we get started it’s important I point out that Google News really is only for, well, news sites. News-focused blogs may well make the cut but if you have a ‘News’ section of your company website I’m afraid Google isn’t going to list you — if this sounds like your setup you’d probably be best to focus efforts on more traditional search optimisation, sorry.
FIRST UP — IS YOUR SITEMAP IN PLACE?
You’ll need an XML News Sitemap to ensure Google can actually list your content. News sitemaps are similar to standard sitemaps but with one big difference — they only contain articles published in the last two days. Google will still scan your standard sitemap for overall content but will scan your News sitemap separately and keep each article on Google News for 30 days as standard.
If you’re not get running a News sitemap, take a look at Google’s introduction to sitemaps — this will take you through the basics and includes a number of links to sitemap creators. If your site runs on WordPress I’d recommend Yoast’s News SEO plugin, which costs $69 per site and creates a sitemap Google will love after spending a little time configuring the product. For the likes of Craft, Drupal, ExpressionEngine or more bespoke content management systems it’s worth taking a look at Google’s documentation or getting in touch with us for a chat.
SUBMITTING YOUR SITE TO GOOGLE NEWS
Once you’ve got a sitemap that follows Google’s guidelines, head to Google News Publisher Centre to submit your site — prepare a brief description of your site and be prepared to wait for approval — it can take several weeks. Once you’re live, it’s time to look at how to optimise your site to attract News traffic…
ACCELERATED MOBILE PAGES
Depending on which CMS you use you may well need a bespoke plugin built for AMP, although plugins are available for some systems (we recommend Automattic’s plugin for WordPress).
While lots of content is stripped from pages, ads served on certain networks can still be shown — most notably Google Adsense, Doubleclick, AOL AdTech and Amazon A9, with more on the way — a full list is available here.
STANDOUTS AND EDITOR’S PICKS
Google News now allows you to select certain stories from your site as “Editor’s Picks” to appear on the Google News homepage. Google’s aim is to help their users discover new sources of news and as part of this aim they allow users to set preferences — if your publication makes it into their preferences you’re much more likely to gain clicks from the News homepage.
To participate you need to create a custom RSS feed with up to 5 chosen stories. The feed needs to include your logo, an authors name and must always contain three articles. Google allows older stories to sit in the feed but it only shows the feed if an item has been added in 48 hours. More information can be found here.
The Standout tag works in a similar way, but on individual stories. You can only use this on 7 stories a week, but using this tag in your setup allows you to signal to Google that a story is original content from your team, giving it a higher chance of ranking on the site.
AND FINALLY, SOME TIPS ON EXTENDING YOUR REACH
Google crawls certain news sites more often that others, and one big factor appears to be the amount of articles it finds on each crawl, so posting plenty seems to have an effect on how quickly your articles are listed. As with SEO as a whole, however, avoid attempting to game the system — posting fewer articles — but of a higher quality — is, in the longterm more beneficial to rankings than firing out low quality stories.
Getting listed quickly helps increase your chances of attracting users as a story breaks, but how should you run a breaking story that updates during the day? The best approach is not to create a separate article for each update, but instead update the original article each time. What’s important, however, is that Google knows you’ve updated the story — and you do this by updating the title of the article. Google is essentially looking for one URL that serves as the best possible source of news on any given subject, rather than lots of separate articles. This helps for search traffic away from Google News, too, as these sorts of articles tend to work better across search engines too.