Four SEO Questions to Ask When You’re Co-Publishing with Another Newsroom

We’ve all seen it before — the sentence or short paragraph of text at the top of a major publisher’s site that announces the story below was produced by another newsroom.

Convincing a partner newsroom to share or co-publish a story can be a major win, particularly for smaller newsrooms when cross-promotion on a larger site can yield significant amounts of traffic, new audiences, and authority.

But only if done right.

I work as the SEO consultant for the Single Subject News Project at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, a research project funded by the Knight Foundation. We track a cohort of nonprofit, single subject sites’ analytics using Google and Moz.com in order to identify best practices for finding and growing online audiences. Throughout my time working with nine niche newsrooms, it’s become abundantly clear to me that the way they negotiate content promotions and partnerships with larger, legacy newsrooms matters for how they can grow an online audience of their own and increase search authority.

Below, find four points we recommend asking a publishing partner in the cross-promotion negotiation process.

1. Timing of post — can we post our story first?

  • The timing of publishing a story may influence authority. If it is your content, and you’d like Google to recognize it as such, you should try to post first (even if just one minute before your partner).
  • If your partner posts the content before you and they have a higher authority score or trust in the eyes of search, the Google algorithm may determine that your partner is the original source of the content.

2. Placement of text on page — can you place the partner language that mentions us at the top (or near the top) of your page?

  • Ideally your boilerplate paragraph should be above the fold on your partner’s page, meaning that if a user is viewing the content on a computer screen, they will see the partnership language before scrolling down. This is because Google has a page layout algorithm that looks at the layout of a web page and the amount of content you see on the page once it loads.
  • Placing content above the fold will increase your chances of a Googlebot crawling your keyword-rich link, which will increase your authority and traffic.

3. Links — can you use our boilerplate language that includes linked keywords?

  • Do not be afraid to ask your partner for links back to both the piece on your site, and back to your homepage. Next to your content, links are just as important.
  • Use your known keyword(s) as anchor text links (the clickable text in a hyperlink, relevant to the linked-to page that looks like this) and make sure your chosen keywords are relevant to your story, rather than just your organization name. This will signal to Google that you have authority with the keyword if your content partner links to it.
  • For an example on how this is all done right, check out the Hechinger Report’s cross-promotion with NBC of its story on school segregation. The boilerplate language included keyword-rich anchor text, an outbound link, and it was all “above the fold” on NBC’s site!

4. Nofollow tags — do you add “rel= nofollow” code to outgoing links?

  • If the answer to this is “yes,” ask your partner to remove this code so you can get link credit for your content. If they do use the code and can’t guarantee that they’ll remove it, it might not be worth pursuing a partnership with the site after all. Here’s why:
  • The nofollow tag is a way publishers can tell Google to ignore some of their links. Why would publishers need to do this? Doing so can help them reassure Google that they aren’t selling influence or involved in other schemes deemed to be unacceptable SEO practices.
  • For example, Wikipedia nofollows content, which means it blocks Googlebots from crawling the links that go back to a linked site. Therefore, linked sites do not get SEO credit for that link. (So, if you see Wikipedia linking to your content, do not expect to see an SEO boost.)

As an SEO consultant, I frequently work with clients who want “brand recognition” and are frustrated that their content is not being seen. More often than not, their strategy hinges on pushing their content to heavily trafficked sites no matter what their partners’ terms are.

In reality, I find that brand recognition and audience growth is borne out of strategies that include investments of time into building long-lasting, symbiotic SEO partnerships that can be forged through advocating for the items I outline above.

We know it can sometimes be tricky when working with a larger, legacy group to negotiate the ideal SEO-optimized partnership paragraph. If you need to make some hard choices, here’s what we recommend: prioritize your requests in the order they are listed above.

While these are just four things to keep in mind when engaging with a content partner, the larger point here is that SEO work often follows the logic that the “devil is in the detail.” It involves both retroactively making technical fixes on your site and incorporating SEO best practices into the workflows of your organization across the technical, editorial, and partnerships teams.