Last week, I released the results of a survey of Google News Ranking Factors with some of the top news SEOs in the business. While there has been plenty of response regarding the Top 10 Most Important Factors, I thought it would be helpful to take a closer look at the Top Negative Factors. In my work with local news publishers, I have seen many of them doing a lot of things which hurt their rankings.
1. Duplicate Content
Just as in traditional Web SEO, duplicate content was determined to be the biggest negative factor. And while plenty of news sites create duplicate content on their own, those surveyed focused on the use of other sources’ content on your site, particularly scraped or plagiarized content.
Google is getting better at determining the original source of the content and degrading the rankings of the sites that “borrow” it. And if you are distributing press releases on your site, make sure you separate your original news content from your press releases by creating two different sections on your site and adding “nofollow” tags to all links to press releases.
2. Vague, Abstract Headlines
This is a fancy way of saying headlines that don’t target specific high value keywords. I remember when Eliot Spitzer got caught with the hooker and the NY Post ran the headline “Ho No!” Awesome headline. Amazing linkbait.
If you can write a headline like that, then go for it, but everyone else should stick to “Spitzer Caught With Hooker”. If you are writing headlines for a news site, you need to learn how to do keyword research.
3. No Google News Sitemap
I am always surprised when I find a news site not using these. I have seen dramatic differences in crawling, indexing and rankings as a result of using a Google News Sitemap. It’s not particularly hard to implement. What are you waiting for?
4. Poor Quality Content
Google News has ways of algorithmically and manually determining if your site tends to misspell words, use poor grammar, and generally produce poor quality content. There’s no excuse for bad writing!
5. Blocking Googlebot Via Robots.txt
This is one of those classic SEO screw-ups that keeps a SEO consultant’s phone ringing in the middle of the night. If your organic traffic just tanked, one of the first things you should do is check your robots.txt file and make sure you don’t see these two lines:
6. Poor Site Performance
If your site is slow and/or produces a lot of 500 errors, your rankings are going to suffer. Google wants to send people to fast-loading pages. There are variety of tools you can use to monitor your site’s performance including the Crawl Stats and Site Performance reports in Google Webmaster Tools and Google’s Page Speed Tool.
My favorite technique is to use a script to track your server logs for when Googlebot gets 4xx or 5xx response codes, then send out an email to the team notifying them of the errors. Whomever is responsible for performance will have a heavy incentive to keep the site error-free and keep those emails to a minimum.
7. Poor CitationRank
CitationRank is the measure of how well a story on a news site gets linked to from or referenced on other sites, particularly other news sites. These kinds of citations demonstrate that the story is authoritative on the subject. If you can’t get others to link to your story, it’s going to be harder to get it up on top.
8. Low PageRank Domain
If your site’s overall SEO program is not competitive, you will have a harder time ranking. Make sure you are at least getting the basics right. Make sure your site is accessible to search engine robots, targets high value keywords and regularly gets links from other sites.
9. New Site
Just as new sites can have a harder time ranking in Google’s Web results, sites with low/no trust and/or history in Google News will have a harder time ranking well.
New sites must demonstrate trust by getting linked to from other authoritative sites, by getting well-shared via popular social media channels and by getting well-clicked-on relative to other sites in Google News for a particular story.
“Category Authority” was deemed by our panel to be the most important ranking factor, so new sites will likely have the best luck if they focus on a specific niche to be expert in.
10. All Syndicated Content With The Same Titles As The Source Site
While this is basically the same thing as Duplicate Content, the panel seemed to think this case deserved special mention as more and more news organizations put more reliance on syndicated content, without even bothering to rewrite any of it.
If you don’t put your own spin on the news, you are not going to do well in Google News.
For more information on various Google News Ranking Factors, check out www.googlenewsrankingfactors.com.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.