A New SEO Perspective

Most SEOs are really keen to explain their tips and tricks to whomever will listen. Goodness knows we at Distilled love to, anyway.

But we thought it would be interesting to see how people outside of the industry view SEO. And since the internet in general has proven tricky for the news media, we’re going to start what we hope will be a popular new feature by talking to a real-life journalist.

Adam Westbrook is a freelance multimedia journalist based in London. Audio, video, photo and written journalism - he does it all, all whilst maintaining his kick-ass  journalism blog and growing his Twitter following. He even makes time to lecture at Kingston University and run The UK Future of News Group, which he founded in November 2009.

 

The man himself

So imagine my delight when he agreed to talk to me about SEO and its impact on journalism.

Of course, I had done one course during my undergrad that sort of touched on doing interviews, so I’m sure he was more intimidated than I was.

We met in a pub in Covent Garden, and after ordering our Coca-Colas and chips, we leapt straight into the interview, both of us eager to talk about the role of SEO in the future of journalism.

 

SEO - A journalist’s perspective

MC: Why is SEO important for journalists?

AW: Well, it’s definitely important for journalists, and a lot of emphasis is put on it, but the core of what we do is content. Our value, the value that we give to people is in content. So SEO is important because it makes sure people can see that content.

SEO is important because it makes sure people can see that content.

 

I can’t remember what the figures are, but news sites like the BBC get a huge amount of traffic from Google, so you have to make sure Google finds you first.

MC: How do you optimise then? Does SEO inform how you structure your story?

AW: The biggest challenge with SEO is changing the headlines and first paragraphs, but sub [editor]s work on that more than journalists. It’s kind of sad, actually: part of the joy of being a sub was coming up with the puns and jokey headlines, but until they develop a search engine that has a sense of humour...

Part of the joy of being a sub was coming up with the puns and jokey headlines, but until they develop a search engine that has a sense of humour...


 

The internet has taken this away from us

It’s kind of interesting, though, because that leads into discussions of paywalls. They make only the headline and the first paragraph visible, so you have to make sure all your keywords are crammed into the first paragraph and the headline.

And since so many subs are being let go – which is unfortunate, but they’re usually the first to go – journalists have to do the SEO more and more. So when they write an article, they have to write three headlines: one for the paper, one for the television ticker and one for the website. They may soon have to write three versions of the article, too.

Now journalists have to write three headlines: one for the paper, one for the television ticker and one for the website.

MC: Obviously you use Google a lot to research.

AW: Yeah.

MC: Does your use of Google search inform how you optimise your content?

AW: Yeah, increasingly. But really, I’ve only started thinking about SEO in the last year or so.

It’s difficult for individual journalists. Subs have a scientific approach to words, like this works and this can’t, and journalists, especially the older ones, are hesitant to change the way they write for search engines. If they like the way a paragraph is structured or a turn of phrase, they don’t want to get rid of it.

And there’s also the time considerations of having to write and research a story to a deadline, all while making sure the SEO is there. It’s tough enough, and journalists just don’t have the time to think about SEO too much.

Again, subs do most of the SEO work, but they’re being let go. Basically, journalism needs to discover how to make money again. And SEO is definitely a part of that.

Journalism needs to discover how to make money again. And SEO is a part of that.

 

It’s a bit of a vicious circle – you need the subs to do the SEO to make the money, but you need the money to hire the subs, and that’s just the story of journalism altogether. But there are going to be big changes to the industry coming from startups and individuals.

 

This is also a vicious circle

SEO for multimedia journalism

MC: As a multimedia journalist, you often do video and radio reports. How do you optimise those types of reports, since they don’t have any written words?

AW: That’s a really interesting question. The thing is, radio isn’t making enough of Google. NPR in the States is doing a great job of this. They type up every transcript and post it on the page alongside the radio broadcast, but that is a very time-consuming process. But radio in particular needs to do this.

MC: So how do you get people to see that content, if Google can’t read it? How do you get it out there?

AW: Mostly just regular visitors seeing it and telling other people about it.

And Google is really missing a trick with archived content. All the news sites have all of this really awesome content that’s just kind of hidden from Google.

All the news sites have all of this really awesome content that’s just kind of hidden from Google.

 

Like on the Independent’s NewsWall, you can do an image search by date, so when you search for something, all these images of the articles pop up. I mean, again, there would need to be text that Google could read, so the scans of really old articles and that sort of thing would need to be typed up.Eventually the solution will be to take that out of human hands, to make programs that can do it automatically.

 

NewsWall for my birthday last year

The new generation of journalists

MC: So you’re teaching kids who have been using the internet for most of their lives. Do they have an instinctive or intuitive grasp of SEO?

AW: [Laughs] Uh, no. No, they aren’t more aware of SEO or online publishing. The digital literacy of these kids is appalling; they all use Facebook and stuff, but most of them have never read a blog or anything like that. But I think it’s because education lags behind a bit. They just haven’t had the chance to learn about this kind of stuff. I sort of have to teach them about how exciting the internet is.

I sort of have to teach them about how exciting the internet is.


 

This is how exciting the internet is

When I worked at the radio station [96.9 Viking FM in Hull] I’d read out the news and it was like, meh. Then I started my blog and would get so much more excited about the five or six comments I’d get than the idea that 90,000 people were listening to me. And I have to teach them that excitement and how to use it.

Bloggers have to ask,  ‘Is this really worth it for my readers?’

 

They have to be bloggers, and bloggers have to ask,  ‘Is this really worth it for my readers?’ Other journalists don’t have to ask that, so we have to teach them the skill to do that.

 

Journalists and social media

MC: Okay, just to change tack a bit. What about social media? How crucial is it to journalists?

AW: Social media is changing journalism in two ways: one is by news gathering – finding stories, case studies, quotes – I mean, loads of articles are just a collection of quotes from Twitter or whatever.

And then two is, well, journalists aren’t thinking about social media in the right way. They use social media to talk to their readers, when they should be talking with the readers. I read somewhere that eight out of ten tweets should be @replies, some kind of dialogue. They should be talking on the same level as their readers.

They should be talking on the same level as their readers.

 

The BBC called it The End of Fortress Journalism. News media had always been like loads of different castles, and the journalists would stand at the turrets and shout down at all the little people wandering, and those people would come over and listen. But now, those castles have crumbled, the journalists are on the same level, but they’re still acting like they’re shouting down at people.

 

A super-bouncy metaphor for old journalism

So it’s no longer about broadcasting; it’s about conversation. It’s about more transparency, too, in how we gather the news, the processes, sources, all of that.

 

Attracting journalists’ attention

MC: As we all know, Peter Horrocks, the director of BBC Global News, has said that social media is absolutely essential for gathering news. So what can a person or company do to make their content appeal to journalists.

AW: In terms of PR, journalists always fall back on press releases.

Companies need to follow the same rules as publishers.

 

So companies need to follow the same rules as publishers: make your PR seem like actual conversation or news that no one else has found. Make it uncommercial, more human or personal. Journalists hate being sold stuff – even thought most of what we put in the news, we have been sold on.

MC: Likewise, is there a way to optimise content for journalists to find it through search engines?

AW: It’s the same principle. It’s about being natural, transparent, making it all seem like natural conversation.

 

MC: Any final points?

AW: Yeah, there’s now more information than ever, but a scarcity of attention. You have to make sure content is SEO’d, so people can find it, but it has to be interesting enough to keep them. SEO can’t build up crap content.

 

Image credits:

Celebrity Big Blubber - hugovk

Vicious circle - metamerist

NewsWall - search.indepedent.co.uk

Cute puppy - iklash/[]

Bouncy castle - kris247

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12 Comments

  1. Good interview, I recognise a lot of it in what's going on at my current position (quasi in-house SEO at the Belfast Telegraph). Journalists here are struggling with many of the same issues.

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  2. This is such a great article! I just had a conversation two days ago with a friend who is a high school journalism teacher about the changing nature of the industry and how it is being affected by social media sites. I can't wait to share this article with her - I loved hearing from a journalist who is dealing with the realities of what must be done for SEO while remaining dedicated to producing quality content. Thanks for posting this!

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  3. So as ever, content is king, but the king sits lonely in his castle without SEO.

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  4. The End of Fortress .

    This sort of thing is happening everywhere, not just in journalism. Companies accustomed to sitting in their fortresses and controlling the information flow about themselves are in for a shock over the next 5 years.

    They need to drop the barriers and connect with their peeps.

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  5. Fascinating interview -- couple of points:

    "The digital literacy of these kids is appalling; they all use Facebook and stuff, but most of them have never read a blog or anything like that."

    Most 'kids' tend to spend most of their time on Facebook and YouTube. The need to find something new isn't there - instead of using search, 'kids' tend to travel the web via recommendations and exploring sites of their interests.

    Digital literacy is good, just not perhaps SEO consultant/journalist standard!

    "But I think it’s because education lags behind a bit."

    So true...

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  6. I liked the interview. To me, the best takeaway is the very last sentence:

    "SEO can’t build up crap content."

    Priceless..

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  7. Hey everyone, thanks for the comments.

    Ed Fry, you make a good point. Just because the 'kids' are doing it differently, doesn't make them digitally illiterate.

    But I think Adam was trying to point out that their reliance on just a few sites to find what they want means the kids don't know about all the things the internet can do. Of course, it's his job to teach them.

    It seems quite likely to me that in a few years' time, our idea of digital literacy will shift dramatically for just that reason - that people are using the internet differently, so how the internet develops will follow that. How exactly it will change, however, I don't feel nearly qualified to answer now...

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  8. “SEO is important because it makes sure people can see that content.”

    This is the most relevant sentence in this interview. It's not about "if" SEO is relevant for journalists, it's about "how" you implement and use it.

    There are elegant ways to display content in an optimized manner AND still being interesting for the ordinary user, and there exist ways which end up in an unreadable high keyword-density using a keyword-stuffed headline every two sentences...

    It's for sure, that the evolution of content, web & journalism will change the way we read texts (the web already did that to us!), but i think, that the core of journalist production is still the content itself, the news which are interesting or not.

    Maybe some heavily optimized texts will attract a lot of readers via search enginges, but considering that Google might use the bounce rate as a ranking factor, this could result in a general loss of attractive rankings for that certain news-site!

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  9. This is a great article! many are aware of the impact SEO has on websites but it is very interesting to see things from out side the box such as how others view things. Thanks for sharing.

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  10. Nice article! Thanks a lot!

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  11. What a fantastic interview and article! Thanks for that angle on SEO. I am the Editor In Chief of a web company myself, and we just revamped the SEO, SEM, Online Promotion, and Blog Review marketing options for our company, to make these services more understandable to client and potential clients. Maybe for our next blog entry we shall include some of your insight! Do you have any new upcoming interviews who might have have a different outlook on SEO and its many benefits? Maybe you can post a comment on our blog to guide people back to your article/site. Thanks for the info. and I look forward to hearing back. Have a great day! - Becca Briley

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  12. Melissa, this was a fantastic interview. I had to smile at the Celebrity Big Blubber reference, and I think the point about journalists being limited by SEO in how they write their titles is something that I have learned as a blogger as well. If you want your article to rank highly for a good phrase, you almost inevitably have to sacrifice some level of control over your headline. With blogging, as with journalism, the challenge is finding a balance between writing for your readers and writing for the search engines.

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