How much do journalists and editors need to know about SEO?

How much SEO knowledge does a journalist need? Is it a key part of the job in the modern world, or should they just concentrate on writing? 

From my perspective, looking after the ClickZ and Search Engine Watch sites, it plays a big role in what we do. Especially this site – if we’re going to write about SEO, we should know what we’re talking about.

I see it as being essential to the modern journalist or writer online. These skills will help you write for the web effectively and ensure that your content finds its audience.

Let’s be clear though: the quality of content is the first consideration: if the article sucks then no amount of SEO knowledge is going to help. The ability to write is the thing.

After that, it’s about giving the content you created and the site you write for the best chance in the search engines.

This isn’t all down to the writer, but I think writers should be learning abut this. It’s a way to future-proof your career.

The SEO tasks editors and writers don’t need to do

I think an understanding of SEO and how it works is useful for editors, but there are areas where an internal or external expert may be the best option.

As Kevin Gibbons says:

“A lot of SEO for media/publishers is likely to be more technical, such as optimising category pages, passing internal link equity, on-page structure markup, crawling/indexing analysis, Google News/sitemap creation etc… So it’s a different skill-set required, which the editors don’t really need to worry about, but equally important towards getting results.”

So what do writers and editors need to know about SEO?

Here are some of my suggestions, then I’ll let the search experts give their views.

How to write headlines

Headlines written for the web, unlike those for print, should be alluring and descriptive. And the keywords used should be considered. We editors can’t do all of this, so if writers can contribute here, or if it’s a collaborative process, all the better.

The brave new world of headline writing had some pining for the loss of the art of puns, though there’s still a place for them offline.

Besides, if you can write a headline for the web and squeeze a pun in too, you’ve hit the jackpot.

la times

Use of keywords

I have a target list of keywords and phrases which relate to the central themes of the sites, and also that tie in with the products we offer – events, webinars and research.

When we write headlines or use links, these target phrases are considered, and are tracked over time.

A strategy of allocating target pages (or hub pages) for each topic or keyword is a great way to distribute internal link equity and avoiding individual pages competing against each other for rankings. See how Mail Online does this.

Writers don’t necessarily need to be involved in planning keywords, but I do think an understanding of the purpose of this is helpful.

Linking

Writers should link to outside sources, when referencing a quote a piece of research, or perhaps talking about a product or website.

It’s also important that they know about placement of links and the use of anchor text.

anchor text

Internal linking

While I’d say the overall linking strategy should sit at editorial level, an understanding of internal linking can help a great deal.

At its most basic, simply encouraging writers to link to related articles within the same site can have beneficial effects for both reader and site.

For the editor, an understanding of the pages you want to help rank for any term and the best anchor text to use is essential.

Working with the SEO team

Editors can also work with the SEO team to set a clear SEO strategy. As Kevin Gibbons says, the editors role should be to build this into their editorial planning, as they see appropriate, and to keep the journalists more focused on telling the best stories that they can to readers.

The experts’ opinion

How much do journalists/bloggers need to know about SEO? 

Kelvin Newman: 

I think anyone working for an online business need a basic understanding of how Google works, some of the key ranking factors, how to carry out some basic keyword research etc. It wouldn’t take more than an hour to pick up the absolute basics and give them an awareness.

If I was hiring a journalist I’d want someone who cared about reaching the biggest audience they possibly could. If they genuinely care about that they’re going to need to think about writing in a similar way to people search. 

Equally I’d be worried if they didn’t care about SEO at all, if they don’t care about appealing to that audience they clearly aren’t worried about the commercial interest of who their working for. 

Do they need to be an SEO expert? Of course not, but I’d want them to be inquisitive enough to know what their potential audience interested in. That’s what keyword research gives you.

Kevin Gibbons: 

I definitely think it can help if journalists know how to write content for SEO – e.g. using top target keywords within headlines and the body of their articles.

However, they definitely shouldn’t over-think it – just try to write in a way that is likely to resonate with readers the best, being descriptive and using their natural language and you shouldn’t go too far wrong.

What does an editor need to know? Which SEO-related tasks should they be carrying out? 

Kelvin Newman: 

An editor’s role is to steer the direction of a publication. When I worked in consumer magazines the best editors instinctively new what audiences wanted. SEO skills help hone that instinct.

I wouldn’t expect an editor to be dictating keywords to journo’s but they might be interested in info like more people search for Beach Wedding Dresses than Designer Wedding Dresses if they edited a publication about Weddings. 

That kind of insight should have an influence on their editorial approach.

Kevin Gibbons:

I think it’s always a worthwhile exercise to make sure you have a clear SEO and data-driven content strategy.

This can allow you to maximise organic search traffic and should be based on both a longer-term keyword research strategy and providing topical short-term news/social trends, which can be fed into more agile content writing. 

Related reading

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