SEO for magazines, newspapers and media sites: processes and tips

06/12/2007

Education & Training | by Danny Meadows-Klue

Search engine optimisation is critical for driving traffic and raising audience numbers. Every website wants to increase users and page impressions, but for media sites this is at the heart of their business model. The problem is most publishers fail to give it the attention it needs.

For the internal team’s SEO needs, there’s quite a bit to balance out between look and feel the readers see and what Google needs to deliver the indexing publishers crave. In general media groups face an additional challenge of stakeholder alignment between IT, editorial, marketing and advertising sales. The second challenge is resourcing: skimping on SEO is strategically dangerous for the whole business because the risks and effects are disproportionate: get the SEO right and millions of casual viewers can stumble into your content. Get it wrong and you’ll have to generate all those ad views from just a tiny (albeit loyal) audience. It’s as core a part of the engine of web publishing as the content itself, and yet consistently most media firms fail to prioritise it.

Back in 97 I was one of those guys, having to figure out why the audience growth on the newspapers I was working on didn’t behave the way it should have, or at least the way I felt it should have. Great content, great brand, great freshness, great innovation; but only ‘good’ audience growth. SEO was the answer, but tough to diagnose; then even tougher to explain to stakeholders. Since then it’s been a first port of call in the diagnostics for any online media business we’ve been called in to sort out.

That’s why there are some special tips we developed for media firms. They’ve become a process roadmap for getting it right…

  1. Understand the scale of the challenge by running diagnostics using the engines themselves
  2. Map out the workflow, process and the stakeholders so there’s a clear picture of the landscape
  3. Analyse the weakspots and scope out framework for fixing it
  4. Involve the stakeholders in the discussion; all of them
  5. Get the senior management buy-in (time as well as money or agencies)
  6. Be particularly careful with what the CMS can / not deliver, the role of the publishing platform, and how editorial workflow process can be adjusted to incorporate what’s needed
  7. Go soft on the timelines unless you’ve done this before with these technologies and teams
  8. Get the analytics and metrics right at the start to give the baseline performance
  9. Use specialists when you need expert knowledge, but under very tight accountability
  10. Look for those test areas of ‘exposed’ and ‘control’ activity that you can use to benchmark activity and success in
  11. Implement in a test phases and then test the implementation; looking for how you can refine this and learn from issues that are stumbled upon
  12. Once the models right, throw the heavyweight resources behind it – extra bodies, agencies, analysts – and push through the changes quickly so the team can see results and then move onto the next task
  13. As always use Digital’s 4Rs: Review, Revise, Reflect and Rebuild; the plan may be needed again for the next media product

Every media group will want to do things in their own way, but this forms a useful starting point the discussion, and by thinking about the process it builds a much stronger and resilient strategy. The model works for the small sites as well as the large, and although it’s tempting to leap into ‘solutions mode’ by starting to write new page tags or changing the writing style, a more strategic approach is what really pays off.

Let me know if you find it useful; and please share your perspectives on what’s worked well if you’ve had to wear those shoes.

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