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Google: key to SEO is helping the user

Make your site structure as simple and clear as possible, and make good use of specialised site maps, advised Google Sales Engineer Jean-Laurent Wotton at AOP's SEO Forum on 25 March - Google’s spiders consistently reward sites which offer the most user-friendly design and taxonomy, he said.

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“Use all your content to drive traffic”, he added, with a useful summary of the organic/natural SEO staples:

  • Descriptive and accurate title tags – the first thing searchers will see on your site.
  • Headers – should be clear and follow on logically from the page’s title, “mimicking what users understand about the page”.
  • Snippet – the meta-description often forms the basis for the page description which appears in Google’s search results, and is a key driver of searchers to click through.
  • alt tags for images – spiders can’t read photos without them.
  • Use Flash and Javascript sparingly – Flash for content, HTML for navigation.
  • Use www.google.com/webmasters to improve visibility, geo-target and upload sitemaps.
  • Sitemaps http://www.sitemaps.org/ “enhance the web crawl”, and you can now submit specialised sitemaps to Google, including mobile and video-specific maps, among others.

Scuba dive or jet ski?

Controlling 85% of the UK search market, Google is critical to forming reading habits online, said Reuters Institute Lecturer Andrew Currah. Our reading habits are shifting from “scuba diving through a sea of content, to skimming over it on a jet ski”, and we are turning from readers into 'power browsers'.

Such trends mean that SEO is as important to publishers as ever, but Julian Sambles, Head of Audience Development at telegraph.co.uk is as well placed as anyone to discuss effective, sustainable SEO, having overseen the Telegraph site grow from 7m users in June ’07 to 25m in January ’09.

Speaking of a continual period of change at TMG stretching back to 2006, Sambles explained what the publisher decided early on: it is crucial to make "content engaging and specific to the platform”, but by the same token, “SEO is a hygiene factor for all we build and create online.”

“Adding the word ‘Britney’ to a Telegraph article wouldn’t help the readers or the business,” he concluded.

Anticipating trends and Pancake Day

Expanding on the idea of using search to publishers' advantage, Drew Broomhall, Search Editor at Times Online, explained how search data can assist innovative news teams working online - gap analysis may even drive your editorial agenda:

In terms of spotting and exploiting trends, he suggested search editors should keep a “calendar of checkpoints” and base future plans for 'legacy' content around this. For instance:

  • ‘Pancake recipes’ is (obviously) a search term which has a particular annual peak.
  • ‘Winter sun’ is more of a slow burner - in such cases, planning and releasing staggered content over time can prove highly effective.

The downturn represents completely new opportunities in SEO, said Broomhall, and in anticipating such trends, Times Online’s Redundancy Calculator has brought the title a third place organic ranking for the highly sought after search term ‘redundancy’, at zero cost. The calculator draws traffic and links seamlessly through to Times Online’s Jobs section.

Search as conversation

Andrew Lyons, Commercial Director of UltraKnowledge agreed that "search is a conversation you need to listen to”, but added that content tagging and taxonomy building can and should be outsourced.

“Don’t try to change journalists”, he argued. Instead, pass these duties on to technology, as CBS Interactive, and Metro are now doing with UltraKnowledge.

The tech firm's Publisher Platform automatically tags all content, and “continually finds new ways to delve deeper into your content”, creating “multiple hooks”, and building extra pages on your site based on user searches. Metro has already seen almost a million new pages created since November ’08.

Google’s Wotton had the final word at the forum, emphasising that such enhancements to user experience provided the perfect example of how Google seeks to follow reader satisfaction with significant increases in site traffic.

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