Audience Development Strategy

A New Day for Newspaper SEO

Earlier this year, I read with something between amusement and dismay a recent piece about how the Wall Street Journal, one of my favorite news sources, is trying to do a better job addressing newspaper SEO (search engine optimization).

In an article from Business Insider, Steven Perlberg explains how WSJ is asking staffers to focus more on SEO content to drive traffic. One such example is writing an article to land the top result (which they did) for people asking what time the Super Bowl started this year. Perlberg says, “The Journal has placed a number of service-minded, search-engine optimized stories in front of its paywall over the past few months, everything from a state-by-state COVID-19 vaccination guide to a piece outlining what to know before investing in Bitcoin. It’s the kind of digital fare that is commonplace across the internet but relatively new for the 131-year-old newspaper.”

According to Perlberg, editors aren’t exactly thrilled. “There’s a little tension there, but that’s OK. That comes with change and growth,” WSJ editor-in-chief Matt Murray told Insider. “We can’t afford to have our head in the sand and do what we want to do as if it was the year 1990 and we were the leading business news print publication and there was no competition.”

The Road to Newspaper SEO

This article made me very happy that I publish digital magazines and not newspapers. I ponder from time to time how our strategy and frameworks that work well for magazines could be applied to newspapers, and I always come away with a bit of a headache. The sheer volume of content that newspapers generate makes it much harder to integrate search engine optimization into the mix. Put bluntly, most journalists, writers and editors will never be very good at search engine optimization. I’ve had any number of them tell me over the years that they are into words and not numbers, and if you’re not into numbers, you simply won’t be very good at search engine optimization which is analytics-driven at the end of the day.

Our digital magazine publishing systems all rely on a blog or portal that is heavily optimized for search and run by digital editors who are masters of that short-form framework. In addition to their mastery of the art form, they are backed up by our extensive keyword research and what we call our audience development analytics suite. Our latest launch, Food Gardening Network, has a keyword universe of more than 38,000 keyword phrases that our team uses to generate posts for our blog. The daily team draws on content from our book-length collections and magazine articles to produce short-form, highly targeted, search engine optimized content in a framework and taxonomy that is designed 100% for search. These efforts are supplemented by strong efficient social media optimization and daily email newsletters that are used to promote and link-build to the blog content.

We have been using the current system for about nine years across dozens of different magazine websites with tremendous success, and I can tell you that that success almost always comes with a dedicated group of short-form content specialists who are masters of search engine optimization and social media.

I’ve had the unfortunate experience of trying to train journalists who don’t think it’s their job to do SEO, to get their content found, with mostly poor results. I would say over the years I’ve led instructional programs and done one-on-one consulting with more than a thousand magazine editors. Less than 50 of them have gone on to be masters at search engine optimization and social media. I’m happy to report that a bunch of them work for me these days and that I do very little training and coaching on the topic.

My heart goes out to the Wall Street Journal and every other newspaper on the planet that needs to figure out how to be found by the search engines and be true to their brand.

And if you happen to be lucky enough to publish the kind of service journalism that I do, be very thankful that service journalism and search engine optimization are so highly compatible.

Is SEO paying off for WSJ?

While the WSJ only started producing “service-oriented information” last February—which lead to guides on searching for a job and topics like how unemployment works— the payoff has been huge.”The Journal’s traffic from Google is up 80% since the end of 2019 … Overall, the Journal brought in 63.8 million unique monthly visitors in January [2021], up from 52.9 million in January 2020, according to Comscore.”

“It’s probably fair to say that our personal finance coverage, broadly speaking, was often aimed at people at a certain place in life and certain asset level,” says Murray. “We’ve recognized that we can write for that audience but also help the student who is looking for his or her first job, bank loan, or buying his or her first house.”

Personally, I can’t wait to see how WSJ’s SEO strategy evolves, and you can bet I’ll be watching closely and rooting for them on their path to better newspaper SEO.

Do you have an opinion on newspaper SEO? Let’s discuss in the comments below. 

By Don Nicholas

Founder & Executive Publisher

Don Nicholas serves as Executive Publisher for Food Gardening Network and GreenPrints. He is responsible for all creative, technical, and financial aspects of these multiplatform brands. As senior member of the editorial team, he provides structural guidance, sets standards, and coordinates activities with the technology and business teams. Don is an active gardener whose favorite crops include tomatoes, basil, blueberries, and corn. He and his wife Gail live and work in southern Massachusetts surrounded by forests, family farms, cranberry bogs, and nearby beaches. Don is also the Founder of Mequoda Systems, LLC, which operates and supports numerous online communities including I Like Crochet, I Like Knitting, and We Like Sewing.

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