Digital and SEO strategies are always in flux. As big tech companies like Google or Facebook change their algorithms and policies, webmasters must adapt accordingly to remain relevant and keep their content visible.
Between January 2017 and 2018, the referrals to publishers from Google News increased 50%. It is a valuable platform for websites that broadcast news content.
But recently, Google updated how it analyses news articles and recalibrated its search algorithms to improve the quality of results for its users. Google’s bots now use more complex algorithms to make their assessments of webpages. They are now paying more attention to click-through rates and factors beyond just single keyword phrases, such as how users interact with articles, how natural the language in content is, alongside the speed of page loading times on mobile devices, in line with its AMP drive.
In the wake of this, several sites across the web have reported that their pages no longer appear in Google News search results, or their websites have been rejected from the platform altogether. Even sites which had featured on Google News for years, with great performance and more than 500,000 users per month, were dropping off the radar.
In light of this, you might have some burning questions. What are some of the main obstacles other Google News users face? What does this mean for your news website? How can you proactively adapt your content strategy to put your pages in the best possible position to remain visible in Google News search results?
The online conversations about recent changes to Google News currently centre on the following problems:
- Google News is rejecting websites.
- Users are having to reapply to be listed in Google News.
- Google will not offer feedback on why sites are being removed.
- Once removed, sites will not feature in Google News for 60 days.
- After this time elapses, reapplication does not guarantee successful reincorporation into the platform.
- Publisher websites are seeing significant decreases in the volume of web traffic as a result.
- It remains unclear if the site removals are because of flaws in the publishers webpages, or an error on Google’s part.
These are significant challenges for webmasters in 2018. What can you do to ensure that your news content remains visible to your target audience?
In short, you need to adapt your content creation, website management and SEO strategies. Below is a breakdown of some of the changes that you can implicate today, so your news remains visible tomorrow.
- Ensure that news content is actually news
Cover topics, events or recent developments that are valuable to your readers. Avoid using your news content as a thinly veiled advertising campaign, marketing device or as a medium for excessive keyword stuffing.
- Be timely
If Google sees that your website is current and at the forefront of your news field, this comes across as valuable to its users. Publish in a timely fashion to convince Google that you’re an authoritative source.
- Avoid sweeping coverage
If your news content is too broad, this will reflect badly on your indexing score and likelihood of appearing in Google News search results. Identify your niche and what is most valuable to your visitors, then cover them selectively and confidently.
- Embrace editorial
Google News warmly welcomes editorial grade content on specific or specialist topics for relevant queries. However, avoid evergreen because static content jars on a news website.
- Don’t duplicate
Duplicate content confuses search engines because the same or similar content appears in multiple locations (URLs). If this occurs, Google won’t know which URL to show in search results, which will hurt your ranking.
An example here will be useful. Say ‘keyword x’ appears on http://www.example.com/keyword-x/ but the same copy also appears on http://www.example.com/article-category/keyword-x/.
Use the Google Search Console to identify duplicate content. Work with your content team, agency, or website managers to follow the various technical approaches to avoid it happening in the first place or to fix it if it has already happened.
- Write original content, avoid plagiarism
Rehashing the work of other journalists or news outlets will negatively impact your site’s reputation and runs the risk of attracting copyright lawsuits. Google has no interest in republishing news articles that have been written a dozen times already.
- Wield reliable sources
Convince Google that your newsfeed is reliable by using credible sources. Data, reports, pertinent quotes and other impactful elements to your article must come from trustworthy sources. Attribute them properly in line with the above point about plagiarism.
- Craft keyword-rich headlines that capture story topics
If you incorporate a keyword-rich title that pertinently addresses the subsequent story, you’ll reap the rewards as this is perhaps the most crucial on-page ranking factor. Include them at the beginning of titles to ensure maximum impact.
- Avoid repetition in titles
Google frowns upon spamming keywords, particularly in titles. Make sure they’re relevant to the titles as a whole and the body of the news article as well.
- Root titles in the present, even if events have passed
The present tense is vital for news titles: “CIA denounces military junta”.
But even if you are reporting on events that have already happened and need to use the past tense, strike a balance: “Car crash leaves four injured, driver rushed to hospital”.
- Write in the active voice
In titles and the body of news content, wield the active voice rather than the passive voice. It is more compelling and immediate. See below:
Passive: The bill was signed in to law by Congress.
Active: Congress signed the bill into law.
There are certain exceptions to this rule, particularly in science or tech sectors: “The survey was conducted by MIT” or “The iPhone X was revealed yesterday”. But even these can be improved: “MIT conducted the survey…” / “Apple revealed the iPhone X yesterday.”
- Use natural language
Ever since 2015, Google has been working on AI technology that learns like a human to ‘read’ content. It analyses frequent combinations of words, grammatical tendencies and localised syntax in searches. If you generate content that speaks in natural and organic ways for your target audience, this could help improve your search ranking.
When in doubt, read it out (loud).
- Quality matters, but so does quantity
The priority for news outlets should be generating stellar content that adds value to its readers. But, volume is still important when Google assess your news site: aim for two news articles a day. If bots see a large amount of articles in a crawl, it appears that they are more likely to crawl your site, more often.
- Add a Google News sitemap
A sitemap is an XML format list of the pages on your site. It lets search engines know when your website changes. While the impact this has on your search ranking might be minimal, it does mean that Google will index your site faster because it allows for a more efficient crawl rate. This can lead to more of your site being crawled, potentially increasing the visibility and presence of your site in Google’s index.
There are numerous tools at your disposal that can automate the sitemap creation process.
When you have your sitemap to hand, submit it to Google Search Console – ideally every two weeks, if not monthly.
- Demand attention with compelling snippets
Draft commanding meta descriptions because these will feature under you URL in search results. Yes, Google increased the length of meta descriptions recently, but it doesn’t mean you have to fill them to capacity.
While meta descriptions aren’t an official Google ranking signal, they do influence how likely a searcher is to click-through to your site when they skim through a results page – which is an important ranking factor.
For certain types of news content, consider rich snippets which offer additional info like videos, photos, author details and more.
- Optimise for high click-through rates
Being seen is one thing, but getting clicked on matters more. Incorporate power words like ‘exclusive’ or ‘revealed’. Insert unique CTAs – not just ‘click-here’! Generally, optimise content in line with the best current industry practice.
- Deploy multimedia masterfully
The Google News Index loves copy that projects a rich multimedia experience. Infographics, videos and striking images will boost your news content in its eyes.
- Incorporate updates into the original article
If you are covering an ongoing news development, with several updates, avoid posting new articles but instead update the original as they occur. Change the title each time though, so Google clearly see you’ve updated the story: its basically looking for one URL that is the best possible source for a given subject.
- Optimise for mobile
Estimates indicate that 60% of searches come from mobile devices. Google takes this into account, so optimise your content for them. Speed analysis, image cropping, shorter headlines and streamlined content are all solid approaches. Google has a handy test that will let you know if there’s work to be done.
What does this mean for you?
Google tweaks its algorithm regularly, possibly as much as twice per day. In such a state of flux, there are several potential repercussions for digital enterprises that generate news content. It might feel like playing a game where the rules are constantly changing. But by following the advice above, you can put your site in the best possible position to be listed in Google News.