As an editor or writer, you can no longer separate yourself from reader discovery. When you hit “publish,” the journey is just beginning; your story enters the noisy, crowded and demanding online world. It’s your baby; give it its best shot to perform.
To help your current and future content flourish, you must understand how your audience uses search, social and other resources to find articles they want to read. Combining the basics of search technology with audience insights will help you reach the right people.
Rejoice! Keyword stuffing doesn’t help anyone.
First off, let’s get excited that the era of keyword stuffing has ended. Only a few years ago, SEO specialists and agencies used extensive keyword analysis to optimize web pages by encouraging low-quality, high-volume copy that would be “stuffed” somewhere on a site. Over time, as SEO algorithms have grown more elaborate, keyword stuffing and other attempts to game the system are no longer rewarded by Google and other search engines. Today, unnecessary keyword stuffing can not only hurt your search engine results, but also turn readers off from your content.
Now that we’re done celebrating, let’s talk about what we can do today, and maybe take the lessons of gaming an algorithm to heart…
Find out who’s reading evergreen content and why.
Certain articles and posts stay popular much longer than others, and often that staying power is coming from search traffic. What does that tell you about the reader? It could be that they aren’t familiar with your brand, but needed to find a specific piece of information. Have you ever taken a look at the article topics that stay popular in evergreen articles?
These topics and articles represent an opportunity to reach new readers that aren’t regulars to your site. Get creative and find ways to re-package popular search articles as part of a series, or include additional links to newer, related stories.
The NPR Archives Tumblr takes advantage of search traffic while promoting their long history of “creating a more informed public, news cycle by news cycle, one story at a time.” See more tips and information on how to identify evergreen content here.
Think (differently) about your writing your headline.
Crafting a good headline is one of the age-old specialties of a good writer or editor, and no doubt you spend plenty of time deciding how to introduce the rest of a story. But have you thought about what your headline says to readers on a search results page?
Think like a reader: what makes someone choose to read your article? If anyone else on the internet has written about the same topic (which is likely), your headline has to stand out to the right people searching.
A headline can describe the type of content e.g., a list, a how-to, or a video. You can name the intended audience for the piece in the headline directly, i.e. “Moms” or “Journalism Students.” A headline can tell the reader what they will learn from reading your story, like “Refresh your home for fall & winter” or “Find the best car for 2015.”
Compare the headlines of stories on your site that receive higher search traffic to other article headlines, and see if any patterns appear. Then use these methods to help someone combing through search results to connect to the article before they even read it.
A word of caution on headlines though: ultimately, it needs to deliver what it promises in the full article. If not, the readers you reach with it may not return because they’ll consider the article “click-baity” depsite the quality of the content. Keep an eye on the percentage of loyal readers that come to your stories to make sure this isn’t happening.
You can’t beat Google, but you can find out what you do better.
Wikipedia, Google, Bing and Yahoo all do a great job of providing basic information to consumers as they move across the web. Your individual story, however, gets attention because the reader wants something else, such as more context or a more humorous take on a subject.
By keeping tabs on your existing audience’s preferences and past reading trends, you can develop a deeper understanding of potential readers’ needs and preferences that can help you craft these nuances. How can you do this? Try using your CMS tagging system; there’s no need to limit tags to topical uses only. Tag stories based on tone (humorous, factual, serious) or format (long-form, slideshow, video). Look at popular tags from search traffic, and see if readers from search tended to prefer a particular tone or format.
After trying one or all of these tactics, compare your search traffic over the past month. Were there changes? Hopefully, by keeping your reader at the center of this process, you’ve made it easy for them to read your work, and come back because they enjoyed it. Make sure to share your findings with your coworkers or with us – we love to hear your results!
Want to read more about how understanding audience behavior can help you find and keep readers? Download our Editor’s Guide to Digital Media: Why Being Reader-First Matters.