“We are not interested in talking to you about your traffic and referrals any more. That is the old world and there is no going back.” That, allegedly, was Campbell Brown, Facebook’s global head of news partnerships, last week. The comments align with what she said in part at a Recode conference in February: “My job is not to make publishers happy.”
As news publishers’ Facebook referral traffic continues to fall, what are they supposed to do? Well, they could always try search engine optimization, which saw a mini-renaissance in coverage this past week.
“Prior to Facebook, the best way to reliably obtain traffic was through search-engine optimization, formatting web content so that it would rank highly within search engines,” Brian Feldman wrote for New York Magazine’s Select All this week.
Socially optimized content was about getting a rise out of people, tapping into some part of their lizard brain that made them react to information after consuming it. It was often ‘relatable’ or ‘me irl’ or aspirational or anger-inducing…
The problem with social-optimized content is that its overt, eerie familiarity drapes a kind of lowest-common-denominator cynicism across the internet. Social media tends to favor positive sentiment over negative, and exaggeration over subtlety.
SEO is a possible antidote: “For better or worse, SEO forced publishers to focus on providing their readers with relevant information.”
SEO content can also be gross and annoying, obviously. (Maybe this is the best way to put it.) But after being neglected at least as a major topic of conversation over the past couple years (it never actually went away), will it see a little comeback? It so happens that Shorenstein’s Emily Roseman published a Medium post this week on The Texas Tribune’s continued focus on SEO under chief audience officer Amanda Zamora:
The major turning point for SEO validation across the newsroom happened in the 2018 primary season back in March.
Leading up to the election, Amanda set a goal for the Trib to dominate search authority during Texas’s primary election coverage. This involved rigorously searching and tracking the competitive keywords and keyword search rank associated with each candidate and updating a collection of keywords to optimize in certain stories. Amanda also worked with the news team and politics editor to ensure that the evergreen, election resource pages (where they explained the candidates’ positions and policies) were well optimized.
Before the night of the elections, the Trib team drafted headlines for all possible election outcomes, preparing SEO-optimized ones for varying scenarios (i.e., if candidate A or candidate B won).
The strategy worked. During the lead-up to the primaries, the Trib was beating out even larger, national outlets around engagement for their competing search terms. Amanda later determined that during the week of the primaries, this process generated about 60 percent of the traffic to runoff-related pages coming via search.
Or you could just do this!
Do it for the humans, always. I think the people who do this ~audience~ thing best understand that core thing and know how to apply it to different platforms. Email newsletters, social, push alerts, apps, etc. are just tools to express that core thing, which is serving *people* https://t.co/4dg51TK351
— Millie Tran (@millie) August 15, 2018
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