Every search matters, which is why Steve Riegel, co-founder and director of search at digital agency Faction Media, knows the value of online presence for publishers. Riegel offers six essential, inexpensive (if not free), but often overlooked methods that get the most out of SEO efforts.
1. CREATE A SITEMAP
Creating an XML sitemap allows search engine spiders to find a given Web page. “As a publisher, make an effort to have your Web development team click on indicators when adding a story to CMS,” says Riegel. Sitemaps can highlight content and increase findability. “Even if you generate 10 new homepage articles each week, they generally get archived onto the site’s secondary pages after the first week,” he says. “Creating a sitemap helps search pick up content wherever it is, and lets it live.” Riegel recommends Google Webmaster Tools and Yahoo!’s Site Explorer as resources to discover which terms were used to search and find a particular piece of content.
2. VALIDATE CODE
If a link or HTML code is broken, online spiders can’t register content. “It’s incredibly important for publishers to check and validate code,” says Riegel, adding that the process of checking links goes hand in hand with sitemap creation. He suggests Google Webmaster Tools and XML sites as one method: “Have your Web folks check these monthly and fix any errors. While there are ways to set up a parameter, I’d assume publishers wouldn’t want to leave this up to an automated process.” He suggests validating code through tools like www.w3.org/QA/Tools/ and confirming that a robots.txt file is not blocking spiders for content that needs indexing.
3. BE THE TOP 20
Research shows that users rarely go beyond the top 20 search results, says Riegel. But publishers can “nudge these rankings [for results nearing the top 20] by creating additional on-site content (text, video, audio, blog, etc.) and placing additional emphasis on on-site promotion, such as a featured homepage link.” Drive site behavior through content from the main landing pages for best results, as well as tag video and push content out to other platforms, like YouTube.
4. ADD DESCRIPTION
“Home” should never be used as a descriptor unless it’s a realty or builder magazine, says Riegel, who suggests that the Web team add unique titles and descriptions to the CMS based on the page’s content.
Meta titles in the main headline, with a description in the sub-headline, is the best format (he cites foliomag.com with successful titling). Additionally, keep the title tag under 128 characters and branding at the end. “There’s a big difference between online and offline titling. Offline can be catchy and driven, but with search, you want to capture exactly what users are looking for.” A recent Health.com headline, “Food for Sleep, Sniffles, Fertility, and More,” may capture people looking for fertility-related content while it’s up on the homepage, but once archived, it’s not going to drive much search traffic, Riegel concludes.
5. EVALUATE INTERNAL SEARCH
By capturing and evaluating internal search, pay-per-click (PPC) and SEO, publishers will better be able to understand the content navigation needs of its readership, then isolate successful terms and test directly in a pay-per-click environment. These test terms should drive users to the landing page identified in the initial analysis, and be used for future SEO efforts. If PPC works, the next step is to target organic space. He says: “Google and Digg are out looking for content; keyword optimization will help aggregators find you.” Costs associated with this optimization include time, set up and analysis, while publishers who opt to pursue PPC will also need to set a budget.
Whether a publication sells directly or through distribution channels, Riegel suggests placing detailed sales information—or at least an address—on each page. On average, 7 percent of searches include some sort of location modifier, meaning that terms must be put in the context of the market. “The most success comes from localizing; lists and directories, like ‘Top Docs in L.A.,’ will grab more readers and impressions. Yes, I want to know national news, but if I find a source on a local level, I’ll become a regular.”