Can SEO Help Save the Publishing Industry?

    August 27, 2009
    Chris Crum

At the Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose, WebProNews attended the session on how SEO can help save the publishing industry, a quite interesting topic, considering the controversy the industry has been experiencing of late. Do you think SEO can help publishers save their businesses? Share your thoughts here.

The session looked at challenges, tactics, and opportunities unique to online publishers. It covered solutions for technical obstacles, duplicate content and CMS issues, writing keyword rich headlines, training the editorial staff and updating the publishing culture from print to online. Essentially, the session was designed to educate participants on how to save jobs by leveraging SEO, driving traffic, and putting ad dollars back in publishers’ pockets, as described by SES.

Liesel Kipp Liesel Kipp, VP Global Head of Product Management at Thomson Reuters shared four tips:

1. Show the value of SEO
2. Data is the key to your success
3. Set goals and show how you will beat them.
4. Evangelize, evangelize, evangelize.

Kipp says Reuters was able to increase its visitors by 500% in 5 years, and that you have to constantly talk about search and SEO. According to Kipp, relationship building is critical, and you should talk about your successes and failures.

Ulli Muenker

BusinessWeek Search Marketing Manager Ulli Muenker offered some more tips on the subject:

1. Spread the SEO Excitement  in Editorial.

– Get the high level buy in
– Find SEO champions in the editorial team
– Create peer relationships to overcome skepticism


– Show projected traffic increase
– Show competitor’s search traffic results
– Demonstrate the before and after effect of page increase

2. Conduct Regular Training


– Run regular individual and small group training sessions
– Train the trainer for new hires
– Engage external SEO editorial consultant


– Limit group training to 10-12
– Create a relaxed environment with cookies, lunch and learning
– Give them what they need to learn

3.  Make Editorial Part of the Success

– Create SEO friendly article headlines.  Online headlines are different than print headlines.  Write straightforward headlines. No puns, sarcasm or jokes online. It just doesn’t work! Just bring in keywords so that people understand the message.

– Write sub-headlines under the headline. Write keyword rich sub headlines. Include keywords, synonyms and derivatives.

– Use keyword-rich link text. Use keywords when linking to other internal pages. Check connecting landing page’s keywords.

Allison Fabella

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution SEO Manager Allison Fabella offered these tips:

Location, location, location. In your section’s front load your title tags with Location such as "Cobb count News /  The same goes for meta descriptions, url’s, and headlines and sub-headlines. Also, use H1 and H2 tags.

– It is so critical that your CMS is setup to be able to implement these tips. This is key to your success. There are a lot of CMS’s out there… make sure your SEO team approves. Once you purchase your CMS, make sure you stay involved. This may make you unpopular. Also, make sure your sitemaps are part of your requirements.

Sitemaps are your newspaper’s best friend. Site maps help get along structural road blocks built into bad site architecture. Use both web sitemaps and news sitemaps (Google News). Group your sitemap into different sections. In each sitemap include no more than 50,000 stories. Also, follow sitemap protocols. They make a less than perfect sitemap more perfect!

Brent Payne Tribune SEO Director Brent Payne talked about Twitter for media companies. He said there are 4 account types that publishers should set up. They are:

RSS feed — Do not follow people back from this account, follow your own accounts.

Get your celebrities involved. Make it a job requirement to have a Twitter profile. Most of our broadcast personalities are required to make 4-5 social connections per day.

Let employees Tweet. "I am an example of that. I have the second highest Twitter account of employees at the Tribune." Talk to them about legal issues and ground rules but encourage them to do that. Understand that mistakes happen from time to time. But do not officially endorse these twitter accounts as official voices of the company.

Building a persona. Tribune created the colonelTribune, which is actually tweets from 4 or 5 of us. Create a character that your audience can connect with personally. Spend time to create a decent avatar. This is our best twitter account with 300,000 followers!

Payne says you then need to promote your Twitter profiles. One way to do this, that the Chicago Tribune did, is to recreate your masthead with the Twitter names of writers instead of the actual reporters. He also says to use the Twitter directories, and to use big ones like Twellow and Wefollow.

Engaging the locals, he says (Twellow’s feature TwellowHood is a great way to find the btw – my words, not his ). He suggests having a Tweetup and inviting top journalists or TV personalities and top referrers and bloggers. He also recommends taking a lot of pictures for "longer promotional shelf-life". "Don’t buy the alcohol," he warns though. Trouble could arise.

Marshall Simmonds

Finally, Marshall Simmonds of the New York Times and Define Search Strategies says to define "the almighty tag." He says they ask their editors to "enhance" titles for SEO. They want to see links off the domain in order to become a resource and an authority. He also said journalists didn’t have linking in their head, and that it’s ok to link out.

A couple more interesting items Simmonds shared include:

– "We pushed back our registration wall to 8 clicks and crawlers to 5 clicks. Google quit crawling the New York Times in 2005. Yahoo crawled our registration page 5 million times. They literally kept crawling it."

 – "If you are not keeping in constant communication with your IT Department they are going to screw it up. It is a constant issue. There is also the problem with template roll-backs. We put a lot of check lists in front with the IT Department. This goes for marketing as well. The Ad Department is eventually going to try to sell an advertisement that is going to hurt search traffic as well."

That about does it for that session. Some very interesting tips on SEO education for publishers. Stay tuned to WebProNews for further coverage of the Search Engine Strategies conference.

Is lack of strong SEO tactics a big contributor to online publishing woes? We’d love to know
what you think.