Google News is building new ways to highlight great content, such as the <standout> tag announced this weekend, so now is a good time to rethink how to optimize content for the popular news aggregator. A new study produced by Local SEO Guide, PerfectMarket and newsknife has shed some light on the factors that determine rankings on Google News. Among the top 10 factors under publishers’ control are keywords in headlines and page titles, strong domain authority, social sharing of articles, and being first to publish.
Citation by other sources is also a key factor, as is the uniqueness of the text. Google closely guards its algorithms, so the study asked the SEOs for some of the world’s top news sites – including NYTimes, CNN, Huffington Post and more – about their strategies and compared their answers. The consensus seems to be that authority matters most. “I think the algo[rithm] is far simpler than search,” says Christopher Angus of Warlock Media. “If you have a unique article, it will rank. If you’re competing for stories, the major news publishers will dominate.”
The most important factor is the source’s established authority in its category. The qualitative opinion of the Google News editors is another factor. There’s not so much publishers can do about those except try harder. But other factors in the top 10 can be easily optimized. Here are the key takeaways about how to optimize your content for Google News in order of priority:
1. Use Strong Keywords and Brief Headlines
Do some research using Google Insights to find the strongest keywords for your stories and use them in headlines, page titles and meta descriptions, as well as in the ledes of your stories. Related words and synonyms in the content will help, but don’t be redundant; that will count against the quality of your articles. Establishing context is what matters most.
2. Establish Your Domain
Use a domain that connotes your subject area and begin the long journey of establishing it as an authority. Inbound links to your domain are an important long-term factor in how its pages rank, but Google cares about quality links, not ethically questionable fake sites. It’s also important to have a strong link architecture, so Google can learn the structure of your site.
3. Be Social
Do what you can to ensure that readers share your articles. Share buttons are important, of course, but having a strong, believable, engaging social presence yourself is the most important thing. If a news organization is engaged with its readers constantly on social networks, the readers will share and re-share its stories. This requires social skills, not science, but sharing matters in Google News rankings, so it’s important to establish it.
4. Being First Is Not the First Priority
Yes, being first matters. But being first ranks fifth among Google News ranking factors according to this study. Clarity, authority and social reputation matter more. Once those are established, then worry about being the first to cover a story.
5. Get Cited
It would be great to wave a magic wand and create citations of your stories, but that’s not the way the world works. The story with the most citations in other stories gets a ranking boost, though, so try to set the precedent of being worthy of citation however you can. Authority on a subject plays into that, as does social sharing. Think about other organizations picking up your story as they’re writing theirs, and try to optimize your work so that they’ll cite your article rather than reinventing the wheel. In short, be the expert.
6. Don’t Copy Other People’s Homework
Unique content gets preference. Don’t lift copy from other people’s articles. Duh.
7. Google News Sitemap. Use it.
It’s not at the top of the list, but explaining your site to Google using its XML sitemaps is crucial to make sure that Google News understands the architecture of your site and knows where to find the good stuff.
Thanks to Search Engine Watch for alerting us to the study.