Lessons from the Online News Association Conference

The past few weeks have been busy but exciting in the world of journalism. Tonight, I’m camping out at Hearst’s D.C. Bureau with reporters from other regional papers as well. It feels good to be part of breaking news and dive into a subject I admittedly never follow (elections). I never appreciated a John King hologram or a New York Times flash map more than tonight. Seriously, new media has made old media a lot less stressful.

I’ve learned a lot tonight, but I also learned a lot about the more techy side of journalism at the ONA 2010 conference.

I was fortunate enough to attend panels on Friday and Saturday as well as an amazing job fair on Thursday. My live blogs are on the site, but here are some takeaways from the conference based on my experience.

 1) Stop saying “journalism” vs “digital journalism.” What we’ve learned is that digital is the new standard. Newsrooms have made the adjustment (God help them if they haven’t) and now they’re playing with new tools (graphics, social media, data collecting) to deliver information to a very digital audience. It is detremental for newsrooms and especially j-schools to see digital as a luxury or advanced skill. It is now a necessity.

3) News is going to be a social experience. When you look at basic sociology, it seems obvious that the best way to provide a successful service is to LISTEN to your audience. How do you listen to your audience? You RESPOND to them (as @WSJ does on their twitter feed), invite input and make changes based on that input. I’m not going to “engage” in a website if I think a human being won’t ever see it or reply. People today follow trusted news streams rather than individual news sites, and crowdsourcing has become more important than ever b/c of the limited resources many newsrooms are facing.

4) J-schools better step it up. I was most intrigued by the “Rewiring the Ivory Tower” discussion b/c it seemed like there was a huge divide between J-schools that are “with the times” and J-schools who still see journalism as a degree for people who like to write. I’ll say that the writing drew me to jouranlism in the beginning, but now it’s part-writer, part-expert internet stalker, part-computer programmer, part videographer and part digital social butterfly. They NEED to require HTML and design courses as well as video. And most importantly, they can no longer separate online journalism from broadcast. We need to know it all, and I feel like I missed out b/c of that divide.

5) Know what makes a good site. I really enjoyed the session on website traffic and search engine optimization. Search engines care about social media (notice the amount of YouTube videos and Tweets that show up for your average search). Some tips the panelists gave included adding “related stories” to stories that get big hits on your page, making SEO-friendly headlines and links, ask for viewers’ zip codes to target information, and monitor interactivity. Engagement is far more important than hits. Also, use written numbers, understand the importance of location, use tags in the Titles, describe what’s going on in your multimedia (those don’t always show up in search engines) and write for your audience!

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Search Engine Optimization: Tips for getting your site noticed (In a good way) and Marketing on Social Media

 

SEO means improving the visibility of your web site in search engines like GOOGLE, which is the way most people find your site in today’s web environment. SEO allows you to get more hits on your page through natural search results, aka unpaid.

First things you need to think about

  • Who comes to my site NOW-demographic
  • Why do they come to my site?
  • What is the most popular thing on my site (Google Analytics or Review should tell you this)
  • What do I WANT to be the most popular thing on my site/what do I want to get more attention on my site?
  • What kind of marketing am I doing now to get people to see my articles
  • Goals: What audience do we want, how big of an audience, and what do we want to be the “draw” of the site

Most Popular sites today and why

  • The most popular sites today (traffic wise) are search engines and social media sites. They include Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Youtube, Blogger, Wikipedia, and Twitter
  • Why do they get the most hits? #1—b/c they are excellent search engines/easy ways to get information you want fast. #2 B/c they promote interactivity, they are a part of the “social media” lifestyle and they get you committed.
  • Applying it to you—you need to make sure your site gives your target audience what it wants from you in an easy way and you need to promote interactivity to establish some loyalty/commitment to the site.
  • Most popular think tank site (based on some Google searches): Heritage Foundation. Why? My guess is b/c they have targeted their audience, given them the content they want (and can only get there) and provide some interactivity.

 Ways to improve your SEO-Marketing Outlook

  • Know your audience and give them a lot of what they want. Do they come to the site b/c of a particular issue? Nail that issue on the head and give them ways to spread it around to their friends on social media.
  • Think to yourself-what do I Google? What kind of phrases do you Google—like “Top 10 election lies,” “Economic experts on immigration,” etc and incorporate those phrases into your URL titles (which are the titles you come up with in your headlines)
  • Use social media to your advantage but do not come off as a used car salesman. Target certain groups, media and leaders that would be interested in your issue.
  • To find target followers—see who similar orgs are following and follow them but don’t bombard them with ads for your organization via @’s or DMs. Give them a taste of what they want but don’t force it in their mouths.
  • On Facebook-announce upcoming events, give away prizes for joining and facilitate dialogue on each post through “comments”
  • Promote your video projects on the home page and send out a notice about them in your newsletters (I get them, so I’ll know!)
  • Use lists! People Google lists all the time and those will pop up first.
  • Have your fellow colleagues and interns promote site content on their personal social media. Nothing’s more convincing than the recommendation of a friend.

Ways to improve your SEO-Tweaking your website

  • Search for your Twitter audience using popular hashtags either by issue #iranelection or news event #midterm. Go to hashtags.org for a starting point. But the best way to use a good hashtag is see what others who cover what you cover are using and join those conversations.
  • Use tags on your website when posting stories as your personal branding. Do you want to be the go-to source for a certain issue, expert or trend? On every post, tag the story with whatever keyword you want to be associated with.
  • When using multimedia—like a photo, image or graphic, people won’t find it in a search if the description or title is built into that multimedia. You have to label them in the body of the text for it to show up in searches.
  • LINKS LINKS LINKS! Do not put a hyperlink on “click here.” Rather, hyperlink the keyword you want people to find when they type it in a search. Add lots of links!
  • Your title: Make your title search friendly with keywords, phrases and names that will be searchable. In AP style you’re supposed to only put someone’s last name, but SEO calls for full names.
  • To show up in area specific searches, you need to specify the location in the body of the text.like instead of “the store,” say “the Houston store,” etc.
  • Make sure your URLs in each post aren’t a bunch of mumbo jumbo. From what I understand you can change the URL of a post on most CMS platforms. If your URL is something like http://www.ladannekoomaram/top-10-ways-to-get-fit that will show up more likely than http://www.ladannekoomaram.com/article-13453234. Likewise, when you create URL names, put hyphens in between in each word instead of having them run together.
  • Always remember, if you spend a lot of time on a video or fancy piece of flash, it is unsearchable. Put what you need in text too.
  • Search spiders love UPDATES, so make sure to update frequently and link to other popular sites that cover what you do. If you get picked up and linked from another popular site, that’s free traffic for you. The best way to get noticed is by the recommendation of someone trusted which is what happens when you get linked by someone or put on their blogroll.
  • Surround your links with relevant, descriptive text
  • Don’t overuse keywords b/c if a spider sees the word being used too much in an abnormal way, it will count against you.
  • People don’t usually read a site for more than five seconds, so give them something clean, visually pleasing and a great lead “above the fold” on the left side. People read screens in the shape of an F (left to right then down).
  • Always put captions with images
  • Never underestimate the power of the “share” feature, comments and social media
  • Your “about” page should have good links, tags and keywords that will make it so your site comes up in relevant searches or similar searches
  • Avoid using JavaScript or FLASH navigation. Google’s crawler typically moves from one page to another by following your links/navigation. It can easily navigate “a href=” links, but cannot always follow JavaScript or FLASH links—nor can it complete any forms on your site, needed to “view” a page. This is important if you have any web content behind a password-protected login.
  •  If you want more details, I found a great “Beginners Guide to SEO” which is free online, but lengthy http://guides.seomoz.org/beginners-guide-to-search-engine-optimization

Climate Change, American University, Twitter, Facebook, Iran, Haiti, Kim Kardashian: A Lesson in Search Engine Optimization

SEO is the name of the game when writing for the web.

SEO, or search engine optimization, is the way you file your article into the content management system that will maximize the amount of hits you’ll get on search engines. Whether your title is “The future of our earth” or “Climate Change and Global Warming” can make the difference between single digits or hundreds of viewers.

Same goes when using Twitter or Flickr. If I throw in a bunch of hashtags saying #climatechange, #global warming, #americanuniversity, #environmentalists, that will up my chances of my post getting re-tweeted.

At the American Forum on Monday, I added hastags and links to other Twitter feeds everywhere I could. It seemed a little much, but I’d argue it helped drive traffic to the event and the Twitter feed.

Last week, I got more hits than ever before on my post titled “Top 10 Facebook don’ts,” and something tells me it isn’t just because people were deeply interested in my list. I used a very SEO-friendly title that Facebook users around the world probably Google frequently. Plus, Facebook is a popular topic among my age group, and these types of lists are things they could see themselves writing or contributing to. Simply put, I chose a hot topic that a large demographic wants to read/weigh in on, I made it easy to search, and I used Facebook and Twitter to market the post. My friends in turn commented on it, retweeted it and posted it on their pages.

Can this kind of luck happen again? Absolutely.

It’s about creating posts that are

a) easy to find via SEO

b) easy to read and relate to

c) address a hot topic, even if it’s not a serious one

d) linkable, aka getting it out there to people who are internet savvy and spread your content

e) well written and aesthetically pleasing via photos/multimedia

f) updated frequently

I was hesitant at first to fully embrace the language of SEO because I figured it would make my headlines less creative. But I realized that I could simply make the subhead SEO friendly and keep the more creative leads and headlines. Including links and tags will also help spread your content.

My fellow classmates and I have analyzed The American Observer’s traffic via Google Analytics. We saw that we get a steady rate of traffic on the days we publish, but it plummets on the days we don’t and during breaks. To my surprise, my story has the most page views of the year (starting in August). Was it ground breaking journalism? Not really. I put a lot of work into it, but I’m guessing its success has everything to do with SEO.

The title: “U.S. Military Presences in foreign countries exceeds rest of world.”

So people, probably doing research projects or from the government, have been visiting this page. It continues to get hits even though it was published months ago, so that says it wasn’t from advertising it on Facebook and Twitter: it’s from search engines.  From this semester, my friends Kim and Coryn lead in the top story about sexting and modern dating. Not only is it a clever article, it came out right before Valentines Day, sexting is a hot topic, and the story had good SEO.

So how is this going to influence my blog and future writing?

a) I’m going to try to post every day or every other day to fulfill the “updated” factor

b) I’m going to add more links, tags, and references to other sources

c) I will make my articles cleaner to read with more SEO friendly titles

d) I will incorporate lists, photos, and any mulitmedia I can to enhance presentation

e) I will post them on Twitter and Facebook (already do that…but why not do it more?)

f) I won’t just write about things I feel will help with my career. I will dive into other topics that are popular, shorter, less formal posts, and talk about different subjects that others would be interested in.