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SEO Session Questions and Answers

Think Like Google – What You Need to Know About SEO

These questions came up during the “Think Like Google” Webinar run by azcentral.com’s social media editor Chad Graham and BusinessJournalism.org’s Web ME Robin J. Phillips. As Graham verbally answered question (which are captured on the Webinar’s recording), Phillips kept up with questions from the 198 participants in the chat window.

Naomi G. asks: What advice can you offer for editors/writers who are asked to jam keywords into headlines and into text, ostensibly for SEO, but at the expense of quality or meaningful coverage?

Robin Phillips: Jamming keywords in can work against you in the end. The search engines are updated constantly to make sure they aren’t ”tricked” … It is important to be basic… use keywords, don’t use jargon, but we would not recommend: ”jamming” in keywords.

Rayna K. asks: What’s a title tag exactly?

Robin Phillips: A title tag is a label that the web developer codes into every page. And unless you have a blog that gives you access to title tags, you really don’t have much flexibility with them.


Andrea J. asks: Does it pay to put the same word(s) in the title tag as in the headline?

Robin Phillips: It could. Repetition in the top of the page is useful.

Mary C. asks: What do you mean by proper nouns–names of peoples?

Robin Phillips: Proper nouns… names of people, places. ‘Denver’ rather than ‘the city.’

Q: Is it better to use numerals or spell out the numbers in a headline?

Robin Phillips: I think Google can read both [words and numbers] well. People like numerals. That’s why you see so many lists on the Web. For example, “5 tips” for easy bites.

Rob T. asks: Is ”Chilean” a good enough geographic locator or does it need to say ”Chile”?

Robin Phillips: Chile would definitely be better than Chilean… but Chilean miner would be a good combo.

Mary C. asks: Should you look up keywords on Google?

Robin Phillips: Are you thinking of Google trends? Google trends will show you how people are searching for topics… What words they are using. That can help you understand the answer to the question: “How would someone search for this story?” Google has lots of great training tools. Check the Google blog and YouTube Google page.

Laura C. asks: Where is the best place to search for key words? Is it just a search of other similar stories?

Nick G. suggests: Google trends is very useful, I try to use as many topics from that as possible.

Robin Phillips: Google trends is good and interesting, but if something is trending it’s already out there. You won’t be breaking stories using Google trends.

Megan B. asks: I’ve also heard that it’s good for your URL to have keywords that are in the headline. That is, they should be essentially the same. Is that true?

Robin Phillips: Headlines and URLs should be very close. It’s not a rule that they are the same, but the search engine will look for both. It makes sense that the headline keywords are in the URL. But in the URL, you can take out the non-essential words, ”a,” ”the,” etc.

Charles S. asks: Speaking of blogs, should blog entries on a news website read more newsy and SEO or is it Ok for them to be clever? I ask because would people search more for the blog title or the headline of the blog entry.

Robin Phillips: Blogs can be clever, but don’t let your cleverness make it unclear.

Massie B. asks: For blogs, is it more effective to use keywords in the URL, or fill the Labels/Tags section?

Robin Phillips: It is more effective to focus on good keywords in URL. But the tags/labels are worth adding too.

Lucy K. asks: Why eliminate, “a,” “the,” etc. in URL? Re: Small words in URL, why do you want to eliminate them?

Robin Phillips: Those words are not essential to the meaning and in SEO searches, they are considered ”stop” words. They slow the search down without adding real info.

Vaishali J. asks: Are the rules the same for video?

Robin Phillips: Yes. SEO for videos means the headlines or intro or the words on a page that the video is embedded into. Those are all searched by search engines. The actual video is not.

Bill G. asks: With a name that is commonly misspelled, does it help to include misspelled name in a tag?

Google BotRobin Phillips: That’s a great question. You may want to do that. Keep the misspelling in the tags that are NOT visible. You don’t want to repeat the error, but you also don’t want to lose the reader/user who doesn’t know how to spell.

Michael C. asks: Do meta description tags generally work?

Robin Phillips: Titles and meta description tags are very important.

Linda K. asks: Will SEO “work” when the articles are posted in PDF format?

Robin Phillips: No. PDF files are not read by SEO robots. But if you title the PDF that creates a URL link, that will be read. So it is important to name a PDF something that people will search for.

Marita S. asks: Do search engines locate where images are taken?

Robin Phillips: On the whole, the search engines do not know where a photo is taken, but GEO tagging is making it easier for sites to pick up info from photos. But usually you have to give permission to have that info shared. And most news sites are not doing that on images. Some news sites are using geo-location based tools like Gowalla and Foursquare to crowdsource (or Pro-Am) breaking news stories.

Kirstin C. asks: Does it matter how many times keywords are mentioned in your story?

Robin Phillips: You don’t want to “pack” a story with keywords. It does matter only if you are getting so many keywords, repetitive phrases that the story becomes unclear.

Elisabeth C. asks: If Google thinks you’re gaming the system, what happens? Penalty?

Robin Phillips: They may stop searching your pages. Or search them as blogs and not news sites. All would be a penalty.

Molly D. asks: For locator nouns, are abbreviations okay, such as for state names? Or should you spell it out?

Robin Phillips: Good question. Actually some AP style is not good SEO. You would be better to spell out a state name. Arizona is better than AZ or Ariz. Many newsrooms are in the process of working out guidelines for using online styles that differ from a more formal AP style.

Dee Ann D. asks: How do keywords impact SEO? Do they help or is it all about the headline?

Robin Phillips: Keywords in the body copy are important.

Pam K. asks: Headlines: Do key words have to be in the first three words, first five, or does it not matter?

Robin Phillips: You want the strong keywords at the beginning of the headline.

Pam K. asks: Does SEO hate headlines that aren’t straightforward? ie: puns, play on words, cleverness won’t work?

Robin Phillips: The search won’t understand double entendre or anything that comes across as unclear. Be careful with words that have double meanings.

SEO Headline TipBill G. asks: With a name that is commonly misspelled, does it help to include misspelled name in a tag?

Robin Phillips: That’s a great question. You may want to do that. Keep the misspelling in the tags that are NOT visible. You don’t want to repeat the error, but you also don’t want to lose the reader/user who doesn’t know how to spell.

Massie B. says: Web stories don’t have the space constrictions that print does, but the winning Chile miners headline seems really long.

Robin Phillips: I agree. You still don’t want to write too long. Much of SEO is basic good journalism. Tight, to the point.

AJC asks: Is there an optimal word count for headlines, especially blogs?

Robin Phillips: No optimal word count, but you don’t want to be too long.

Chad S. asks: What about what Slate.com and some other sites do: Clever headline on the text but SEO-friendly headline in the HTML header?

Robin Phillips: Good point. The URL and headline are both scanned. If you make one clever, the headline would be my choice, keeping the URL straight-forward. You still may lose some clarity.. and some eyeballs. Some websites use content management systems that allow you to write strong SEO-friendly headlines and URLs that remain on the post forever. And then when the story is pulled into the Home Page or another category page, the web producer can use a totally different (more contextual) headline.

Elisabeth C. asks: What ways can you optimize besides headlines? Do proper nouns at the start of stories matter?

Robin Phillips: Proper nouns, strong keywords and clear titles in the first couple of paragraphs can help search engines find your story.

Alexandra D. asks: If someone reads a story in print and looks for it online but the head is different they may not be able to find it. How do you avoid that?

Robin Phillips: It’s all in the keywords you search for. If you have stories that appear in print and you or people you know can’t find them online, you may want to talk with your web producers about why that may be and how you can help them change that.

Pam K. asks: Should you NOT repeat the key words from the headline in the first two graphs of the story?

Robin Phillips: You do want to repeat keywords… but in a natural way. In the headline, URL and in the body. You don’t need to pack phrases in the story.


Vivian L. asks: On an individual basis when would I create a URL. I’m a little confused

Robin Phillips: Most content management systems automatically create the URL. Some systems, like WordPress, allow you to override the automatic system and tweak your own URL.

Pam K. asks: Does this mean, again, no clever photo captions or photos that add more details to the story?

Robin Phillips: You can be clever, but don’t lose meaning or clarity. Maybe it’s a new kind of clever.

Elizabeth N. asks: Besides earning the top spot in a Google search, how do you determine if your SEO efforts are effective in improving search engine placement

Robin Phillips: Your traffic will be affected if your SEO works or if it doesn’t work. Talk with your web producers about keeping track of the pageviews on your stories or your blog. You might also run your site through Webgrader.com, a site that will analyze how well your pages are set up for SEO.

Marita S. asks: How does Webgrader work?

Robin Phillips: Web grader looks at parts of your site that the search engines scan. A Webgrader report will give you an idea of your strengths and weaknesses as far as SEO goes. (Website grader: http://websitegrader.com/)

In 2014, Self-guided and archives.

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