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Google News Optimization: 11 common mistakes and how to avoid them

News articles from publishers draw traffic from a variety of channels, most notably Google web search and Google Discover. In this article, we’ll explain what’s important for your Google News Box & Discover optimization and what mistakes you should avoid.

If you’re a publisher looking to learn how to optimize your site for Google News and organic search, then our SEO and Content Consultants can give you practical advice on how to improve your reach and your traffic. Curious? Ask for more publishing success now:

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Overview: Traffic sources for publishers

The table shows the different traffic channels for article pages of news publishers. It also shows whether the channel drives traffic to an HTML or an AMP page, and how high the traffic potential is for each channel.

Traffic source
Traffic lands on
Traffic potential
HTML AMP
Google Web Search, Desktop, News Box (Top Stories) x never very high
Google Web Search, Desktop, Organic Rankings x never high
Google Web Search, Mobile, News Caroussel very rare x high
Google Web Search, Mobile Publisher Carousel x x middle
Google Web Search, Mobile, Organic Rankings x x high
Google News Vertical (Tab in Web Search), Desktop x never low
Google News Vertical (Tab in Web Search), Mobile x never low
news.google.com, Desktop x never low
news.google.com, Mobile x x low
Google Discover x x high

The potential is highest on Google Web Search and Google Discover. That’s why this article runs through 11 errors that are common for these channels:

Mistake #1: No resort pages (“section pages”)
Mistake #2: Technical issues in news article template
Mistake #3: Same article on different URLs (duplicate content)
Mistake #4: Anchor Text on Category Page ≠ Heading or Page Title
Mistake #5: Image links or JavaScript links on category pages
Mistake #6: No XML News Sitemap
Mistake #7: No Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
Mistake #8: Underestimate Google Discover or focus purely on news
Mistake #9: Value proposition of the company is insufficient
Mistake #10: No SEO in the editorial office / no SEO editor in the newsroom
Mistake #11: SEO not integrated in the company / too few IT resources

Mistake #1: No department or section pages

Theoretically, a publisher can rank with their news articles without being included in the Google Publisher Center. In practice, however, they have to register in the Publisher Center and arrange the individual section pages in so-called labels. This is the only way to ensure that Google can crawl the news pages classified in their departments. Importantly: The URLs of the section pages must not change. If changed, Google will no longer find a valid URL under the label. This can prevent the news articles from ranking.

Google Publisher Center: Labeling of category pages

Mistake #2: Technical issues in news article template

News articles can only rank if the Google crawler can easily read the layout and format of the news page. The page layout has the following requirements:

  1. The article pages must be in HTML format and the body must not be embedded in JavaScript.
  2. The headings of the articles and the time of their publication must be easily recognized by the Google crawler.
  3. Articles must have a unique and visible date and time, ideally found between the heading and article text.

In addition, you should note the following things:

  • Make the template as light as possible.
  • Use hierarchical headers (h-tags).
  • Include as few distractions (or ads) as possible within the text.
  • Use structured data, e.g. “datePublished” and / or “dateModified” with the correct time zone (see Guidelines for AMP Pages and Guidelines for Non-AMP Pages).

Mistake #3: Same article on different URLs (duplicate content)

Have you got one article on two URLs? Google says, “If you’ve already published your article at www.example.com/news_1.html, do not re-post it later at www.example.com/news_2.html.”

With this in mind, news sites should review how they handle of agency messages. Under no circumstances should you take over agency reports without adaptation (auto-publishing). Otherwise, the content you’re publishing will simultaneously appear on many other domains (external duplicate content). It is better to publish the messages with a revised title, headline and lead. And it is best to completely rewrite agency content.

Have you got two articles on one URL? Google says: “We can not crawl the page www.yoursite.com/messages1.html if it shows a different report every day. Our links to articles only work correctly if each article on a news site is associated with a unique URL. This URL must be permanent.”

Mistake #4: Anchor Text on Category Page ≠ Heading or Page Title

The anchor text that references the article from the category page must match the title of the article and the page title.

Mistake #5: Image links or JavaScript links on category pages

Image links or JavaScript-embedded links can not be crawled. Therefore, make sure that all articles on your section pages contain only HTML links.

Mistake #6: No XML News Sitemap

With an XML News sitemap, you determine which content is transmitted to the various Google News channels. The XML sitemap is a must-have in news optimization. It increases the likelihood that your articles will be found in a short time and displayed in the Google universe.

Tags should help the sitemap provide as much relevant information as possible:

  • the news-specific tags: publication (name, language), publication_date, title
  • more tags like rel alternate, lastmod and image (loc & caption & title)

In addition to news articles, Google also publishes video pages for news keywords. Video tags in the XML News sitemap increase the likelihood that news sites will appear in the video integration on the SERP.

Mistake #7: No Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

Without Accelerated Mobile Pages, domains are missing out on a huge amount of potential. News traffic is predominantly mobile. Many commuters consume news on their smartphone. But only Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) will be included by Google in the mobile news carousel.

Mobile News Carousel – with only AMP results

Many news portals with AMP are already getting more traffic through their AMP than through their HTML pages. It can be assumed that AMP traffic will continue to increase in the future. Once AMP is in place, the step to building a Progressive Web App (PWA) is easy.

Other advantages:

  • more reach, clicks and impressions
  • low data volume
  • shortened load times
  • lower bounce rates
  • higher user satisfaction
Many publishers have been successful with AMP.

With Google Discover, publishers can currently (still) be listed without AMP.

Mistake #8: Underestimate Google Discover or focus purely on news

Google continues to evolve the user experience. Google Discover, activity cards, and other innovations show this profound evolution. “Discover is special because it’s always a step ahead: it helps you find things you haven’t even searched for,” it says on Google’s blog. As early as 2018, more than 800 million people were using the feed to keep themselves informed and up-to-date.

Discover shows logged-in users current (audio-)visual content, articles, or other information tailored to search history and user interests.

“When you plan your next trip, you can view travel destination articles and restaurant tips. (…) Using the topics in the Knowledge Graph, you can find out how to predict a topic and help you expand it. “

This will give guitar beginners tips on learning to play chords, while experienced musicians will get advanced picking techniques. While “normal sites” have no chance of being listed in Google Discover, publishers currently get 30% to 60% of their organic traffic from this source.

Google Discover places particular emphasis on evergreen content: topics that are always relevant and up-to-date. News sites should therefore increasingly publish content that isn’t time-sensitive. Evergreen content is also sustainable from the point of view of search engine optimization (SEO): It ensures constant traffic with little effort. In addition, the duration of this traffic is significantly higher in news traffic. Of course, you should not ignore the optimization for the Google News box.

Mistake #9: Value proposition of the company is insufficient

Many news sites go too far away from their established target group. Long-time users trust the publisher and know its credibility. Things are different for new users who come from search engines. They are often not sufficiently welcomed by the website.

News portals must give these users a clear value proposition and create trust. What does the company offer and are their prodcuts presented as irresistibly as possible? These are questions that are usually not sufficiently communicated.

Often missing:

  • a good presentation of the editor,
  • the reference to serious editorial guidelines
  • the goals and history of the company.

To create authority in a specific subject area, you must also focus on your core competencies. What sense does it make, for example, for a politically-engaged daily newspaper to link the area of ​​sport in the main navigation, even though 95% of the articles deal with the topics of politics, feminism, environmental protection and right-wing extremism?

Mistake #10: No SEO in the editorial office/no SEO editor in the newsroom

Many news sites shy away from integrating SEO into their editorial work. Instead of hiring an expert who supports the editors every day in the newsroom, an attempt is made to cover SEO with inexperienced employees. The publisher’s management does not recognize how much know-how is needed for successful news SEO.

If a publisher does have an SEO in the editorial office, they will see the following benefits:

  • Setup of web analytics for measuring SEO vs other traffic channels
  • Editorial support for content planning
  • SEO quality management by SEO editor before publishing
  • Monitoring the news rankings (live monitoring) -> for which keywords are news boxes appearing but my publisher has no content?

Mistake #11: SEO not integrated in the company/too few IT resources

Search engine optimization is only scalable when processes are redesigned in the editorial office. As the Searchmetrics Digital Strategies Group, our advice helps clients to help themselves. We support news sites on their personal “SEO journey”. This support is important at the beginning to ensure that publishers do not set off in the wrong direction.

For example, we recommend that you implement SEO processes as sustainably as possible and not view them as foreign objects in the company that can be outsourced. The organizational challenges associated with doing this well should not be underestimated.

Sufficient SEO know-how and sufficient IT resources are very important core competencies of news portals that will, in the future, decisively decide whether a publisher succeeds or fails.

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