Everything you need to know about SEO, delivered every Thursday.
9 Tips For Getting Free Clicks Through Google News
“News is anything that’s interesting, that relates to what’s happening in the world, what’s happening in areas of the culture that would be of interest to your audience.” Kurt Loder, American journalist.
Consider this: does the above quote describe the content of your website? Does your website publish a continuous flow of fresh content about current events? Perhaps you publish frequent reports of local activities, the goings-on within a niche industry or a specialized area of interest? Do you publish a regularly-updated blog with timely commentary?
Developing high-quality news content is constant, hard work. So what would you say if I said your site could earn 10% more clicks from Google with very little extra work? Would 20% more clicks interest you? What if the number was 30% or more?
No, I’m not talking about any unethical, blackhat activity — I’m talking about getting found in Google News!
Most folks think about optimizing their online content for the Google Web search index, and that’s great. But Google runs multiple indexes, and earning strong ranking in those other indexes can be a shortcut to getting more clicks in Google.
How? Google regularly includes modules showing the top few relevant results from those other indexes (such as Google Images or Google News) within the Google Web Search results page — the now classic “blended” or “universal” SERP.
Thus, getting into Google News can be a hidden goldmine if your site fits Google’s criteria for what constitutes a news site:
Sites included in Google News should offer timely reporting on matters that are important or interesting to our audience. We generally do not include how-to articles, advice columns, job postings, or strictly informational content such as weather forecasts and stock data.
If your site publishes original, timely reporting — even if it’s just a percentage of the overall content provided — you may be eligible to participate in Google News.
What Is The Value Of Participating In Google News?
I’ve helped multiple websites successfully prepare for and get accepted into Google News. After a site is accepted, I have seen that site’s monthly CTR in Google improve, with as much as 35% of all attributable clicks coming from Google News. — and this was just over the course of a few months’ time. Of course, your mileage may vary.
What Kind Of Content Is Eligible To Participate?
According to Google, news can come in many forms. Of course, text-based articles from news sites are highly encouraged, but Google News is not limited to that. I’ve seen image gallery slideshows and even video pages be indexed in Google News.
And the content need not come only from national, regional or local news sources. Google also accepts blogs, satire, even press release sites into Google News.
However, please note that you shouldn’t bother with content such as news round-ups, news briefs, letters to the editor, opinion pieces, etc. None of that is really focused, high-quality news, is it?
Think Original Content
But — and this is a key caveat — they only want your original content. Forget about aggregating an RSS feed of externally published news articles on your site and getting that feed from your site accepted into Google News. They don’t need or want that duplicated content.
As a caveat to the caveat, I’ll also tell you that Google News is free to index any content they wish, even if your news site is 90% syndicated content and 10% original. You’ll work with Google News to get that 10% original content indexed, and as you become more trusted, they may start indexing a sample of your syndicated content as well (I’ve seen it happen), even though they do say they only want your original content. Play by their rules, and they may toss you a bone now and again.
Google News is explicitly not interested in content promoting specific products or organizations, or any form of commerce journalism (aka advertorials). Google is very clear about this. If they catch this type of content being fed into Google News via your news sitemap, they may ban your entire site from Google News. At a minimum, inappropriate content will generate Google News index errors (more on that later).
How Do You Get Into Google News?
Generally speaking, a site has to specifically apply to be included in Google News results.
While Google reserves the right to include any newsy content it thinks might be of interest to searchers, the application and review process is required for a site to be consistently indexed. Without the official application, inclusion in Google News is sporadic at best, and unreliable inclusion won’t earn you the big CTR numbers you want.
As you review the application, you’ll likely discover that you have some prep work to do on your site before it’s Google News ready. You’ll want to have all of your ducks in a row before you ask Google to review your application.
The application form is a somewhat lengthy. I recommend answering all of the questions truthfully (if you don’t, they’ll quickly find out that you lied and deny your application), and carefully, thoroughly reviewing what is being asked of your site before you click Submit.
Note that just because you are a dedicated news site doesn’t mean they have to accept you. If you don’t play by their rules, they will deny your application, and then you’ll have to wait at least 60 days before you can reapply for reconsideration. Do it right the first time and earn those news clicks ASAP!
Best of all, there’s no cost to apply or participate, other than any prep work and content optimization time you’ll spend. However, much of this effort will ultimately benefit your pages in the Web SERPs as well.
Tips For Success In Google News
The following are a few tips I’ve learned from dealing with Google News that can help get your site ready for acceptance into Google News and achieve success with the effort.
Tip #1: Review The News Guidelines And Ensure Your Site Is Compliant
The Google News general, technical and quality guidelines document details what they want and expect from an applicant site. Read this carefully and make sure your site conforms fully.
Tip #2: Create A News Contact Page With Actual Contact Information
For accountability purposes, Google News requires that you provide the URL of a Contact Us-type page on your site with names of authors and editors, a physical street address, and phone numbers and/or contact email addresses for the team. Contact Web forms are not sufficient substitutions for these requirements.
Tip #3: Create A Google News Sitemap
One of Google News’ stated technical requirements is that your pages’ URLs end with a 3-or-more digit suffix. Such a URL change can be an onerous CMS change request for many sites.
What Google doesn’t make super-clear is that you can actually bypass this requirement by creating an XML-based Google News Sitemap.
I like this option in any case, as the News Sitemap acts as an authoritative site feed for Google News, offsetting their need to crawl to find your news content — not to mention you get to provide the precise metadata needed for each post. To be sure you get the full benefits of the News Sitemap, follow these tips for success:
Follow the Google News site protocol exactly. The Google News Sitemap XML protocol is defined in the page Creating a Google News Sitemap. This page delineates which tags are required and which are optional. Google acknowledges that its own Sitemap Generator tool will not create a proper News Sitemap, so they list a third-party generator tool to help do this job for you.
Only include URLs to your site’s original content in the News Sitemap. If you intermingle syndicated content with original content on your site, you’ll need to figure out how to segregate these — via tags or folders or whatever mechanism you have available — so you can produce a clean News Sitemap with only original content URLs.
Remember that if you repeatedly include syndicated content URLs in the News Sitemap, Google may ban your site from the Google News index.
Note: If you want to create a separate RSS feed for search containing all of your day’s published URLs, including both original and syndicated content, that’s a fine idea. Just use the standard RSS format for that. You can submit both the original content News Sitemap and the comprehensive content RSS feed using the Crawl > Sitemaps tool in your Google Webmaster Tools account. Be sure to submit the News Sitemap before you submit your application for acceptance into Google News.
Include only URLs published in the last 48 hours in the News Sitemap. Google only wants your last two days’ worth of content in the News Sitemap. Old news is old news, after all.
Update the News Sitemap regularly. Use your CMS or other Sitemap publishing tools to automatically update and refresh the News Sitemap after each published post. This allows Google to index your content faster and keeps their news index fresh.
Tip #4: Use The Meta News Keywords Tag
Google created the custom <meta> news_keywords tag for use with Google News. They realized that many news editors (especially those accustomed to working in print) very often write… well, let’s say, less-than-stellar keyword-optimized <title> and <h1> tag strings.
Google cites an example from the October, 1929 stock market crash, when newspapers headlines stated, “Wall Street Lays an Egg.” Now in the modern, online world, is Google supposed to interpret such a headline to indicate the content is relevant to dairy products or domestic fowl?
Enter the <meta> news_keywords tag. This tag is intended to help specify which keywords and keyword phrases are most relevant in the page. The tag can also be used to help disambiguate terms (e.g., for an article on “chicago,” is the content about the band, the city, the theatrical play or the movie?).
I advocate using keyword phrases that help define tighter relevance to the story. The following is an example of the <meta> news_keywords tag source code (the content, of course, is relevant to the theme of the story):
<meta name=”news_keywords” content=”chicago the band, singer peter cetera, singer terry kath, chicago transit authority band, experimental rock band, rock band with brass, color my world” />
I highly recommend implementing this tag as part of your Google News plan. In my experience, there is a very high correlation between the usage of this tag in the page source code and the URL getting indexed in Google News.
Google has some rules around the use of this tag, so make sure you’re aware of the following:
- Only use between 1 and 10 news keyword phrases. That’s Google’s rule. No more than 10 news_keywords per page (anything beyond that will simply be ignored).
- Other than commas used to separate keyword phrases, no punctuation is allowed. Only use alphanumeric characters in this field. Commas are allowed, but only to parse the keyword phrases. As such, beware of common errors such as the use of apostrophes in contractions and possessives, periods in abbreviations and in personal titles, and other common uses of commas, such as delimiters in large numbers or in adjective lists. (Those last two errors will give you some odd and really poor quality news keywords!)
- All keyword phrases are given equal value. Unlike with the <title> and <img> alt text strings, where word order matters to keyword relevance value, in the <meta> news_keywords tag, text position doesn’t matter.
I have my own list of usage recommendations for using this tag as well:
- Don’t duplicate keywords used in standard SEO keyword relevance tags such as <title>, <h1>, and <img> alt. Consider the <meta> news_keyword tag to be supplemental to those tags. It’s your chance to help further define the keywords in the page.
- Include keywords you would use to search for the article in Google. Think about the core aspects of the news story: who, what, where, when and why. Proper nouns, such as the names of people, places and events, if they are somewhat known to the story’s targeted audience, are good keywords to include. Think about if you were driving in your car coming home from work and heard an interesting news story on the radio, how would you search for it on your PC or tablet?
- Write “keywords” in phrases of 3-5 words long. This is just a rule of thumb, and caveats abound, but generally speaking, anything shorter than this will likely be too broad to be of much value, and anything longer than this will be too long to be anything but extremely long tail.
- Do not do keyword stuffing with this tag! Remember that your inclusion in the Google News index is by invitation only. Any foolishness like that and your site is apt to be ejected in short order.
Tip #5: Use The Link Standout Tag When The Occasion Calls For It
Google News suggests that publishers add the <link> standout tag for big, breaking news stories to help the page standout in the SERPs with the Featured label. They suggest that if a story is original, the publisher has invested major resources to create the content, and the story deserves to stand out, then use it. Just don’t use it more than seven times a week — if you abuse it, you could get banned from Google News!
The source code used in the above example:
Note: Google oddly allows the standout attribute to be used in either the <link> or the <meta> tag, both used within the <head> section of the page’s source code. The format is very similar between the tags, as shown in these examples:
<link rel="standout" href="http://www.xyz.com/big-news-story-2314"/>
<meta name="standout" content="http://www.xyz.com/big-news-story-2314"/>
Only one version is needed, not both. Weird, I know.
Adam Sherk, a highly respected SEO who’s specialized in news-related content, wrote an interesting blog post about this tag. He says it does work — sometimes. He goes into deeper detail with advice on when and how to use it for maximum benefit in Google News.
Tip #6: Publish Content Images Within The Same Domain As The Webpage
Google News expects your images to be served from the same domain as your content pages. For most folks, this is easy — but some large sites do not do this (serving images from other, cookie-less domains can resolve a performance issue).
Google News typically adds the page’s hero image as a thumbnail in the News SERP. However, this won’t happen if the images are not where Google expects them to be found. In such cases, they will substitute other images from other sources in your story’s listing in the News SERP or omit any image altogether.
Unfortunately, image source confusion is a very common problem in Google News, as you can see in the following image:
There is a much bigger implication to this problem than just not using your source image. Images attributed to alternative news sources in the News SERP are linked to similar stories from those alternative sources.
In other words, if the searcher clicks the image next to your article in the News SERP rather than the text link itself, you won’t get the click if the image is not from your post — the image’s source page earns that click instead!
The News module in the main search SERP works the same way, although it typically only serves one image but up to three links. To be as competitive as possible for News clicks, you want Google News to use your images — so dont give them any reason to throw them away.
If your site’s architecture simply cannot comply with the same domain rule, I suggest reaching out to Google News Publishers Support (discussed at the end of this post) and providing them with your image server’s content delivery network (CDN) IP address data.
In all likelihood, their response will be that they’ll try to help but that you’ll need to fix it on your side to be compliant. In my experience, however, Google News started serving images based on the CDN information anyway. Hey, it’s worth the effort to ask nicely and see what happens!
Tip #7: Optimize Your News Pages For Standard SEO Compliance
News pages are still webpages. Be sure to create SEO-optimized text for <title> tags, <h1> tags, <meta> description tags, and <img> alt text. Furthermore, be sure to include enough non-linked body text on the page so search can understand it.
Breaking news stories aren’t going to be 1,500-word tomes — after all, freshness is a news ranking factor — but if you are regularly writing super-short (< 100-word) posts, Google News is going to have a difficult time parsing the text to understand its meaning (and query relevance). This is especially important for image gallery slideshows and video pages. Give Google something to chew on besides just metadata.
Google News crawl error definitions state that 80 words is the minimum number for a news story. That may be a technical minimum, but you won’t make much of a living in Google News with 80-word posts — that’s simply too short to be competitive for indexation. I recommend 125 non-linked words as a bare minimum for breaking news stories, and at least 250 non-linked words for other stories (these recommendations also apply to galleries and video pages).
I’ll offer one last, important tip about news content length: if your stories are regularly very short and your pages allow user-generated comments to be posted, you might find your posts are initially indexed but then removed from the News index a short time later. These pages will also typically generate Google News errors such as “Article fragmented” and/or “Article too short.”
These problems occur when UGC text is shown in clear text in the page source code, which crowds out the news article itself and the whole page becomes an unfocused muddle in the eyes of Google News. Removing the UGC module will definitely resolve this, but if you want to keep UGC comments on your news pages, Google recommends wrapping the UGC module in AJAX code, which prevents the Googlebot crawler from seeing the text within that section.
Tip #8: Monitor Google News Referrer Traffic
Track the success of your content in Google News in your Web analytics package by monitoring referrals from news.google.com.
Sorting out clicks from the News module in blended SERPs is a little trickier. You can extract this data by creating a segment that shows referrers originating from www.google.com and containing the string QqQIw or the string QpwI in the referrer — Google uses these strings in their referrer data (when they give it to us!) to designate URLs clicked in the News module in the blended SERP.
For more details and other potential referrer strings definitions from Google, check out the excellent Moz blog post Decoding Google’s Referral String.
Tip #9: Monitor Crawl And Index Errors For Google News In Google Webmaster Tools
In Google Webmaster Tools, click Crawl > Crawl Errors and click the News tab to see if there are any News index errors related to crawling or indexing your content in Google News. If so, check out the Google support page News-specific crawl errors for details on the errors. There’s more Google News troubleshooting information available from the News Publishers section page.
Lastly, I highly recommend reading through the thorough post by Adam Sherk called The Most Common Google News Errors and How to Avoid Them.
Google News Support Venues
For technical questions specifically for the Google News team, either go to the Google News Publishers support forum or the Google News Publishers Support request webform if unresolvable problems arise. The forum is a public resource, and your questions may be answered by forum participants not employed by Google. The support request webform, however, will generate a Google News team response, although it may take a few days or more.
It can take Google News a few weeks to make a determination about an application for admittance. Just be sure to do all of the needed prep work before your submit your application. You don’t want to be rejected because your site was not ready to be assessed.
Once your site is accepted, then focus on creating great news content that complies with Google News ranking factors. Google News already has big name news providers in there, potentially running similar stories to your content. Even though you are in, you still need to compete with quality content and clean, technical implementation. If you do that, you’ll be earning additional clicks in Google News in short order. Good luck!
“I read the news today, oh boy.” – from “A Day in the Life” John Lennon, news-junkie Beatle (video).
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.