Above the Fold: 5 Basic Newspaper Principles to Apply to Your Online Content

SEO and newspaper principles

I love newspapers.

I’m a former reporter – interning throughout college and working as a sports writer for six years. My dad was a newspaper man for nearly 40 years.

So yeah, I’ve got a soft spot for the printed word.

Today, words still are my specialty, but I think of them a little differently.

When I started as a reporter, I had no idea what SEO was – did anyone in 2005? I wasn’t writing for internet consumption. I was writing for the good people whose newspaper was delivered to their doorstep every day.

Ten years ago, I wanted my content above the fold on A1. Now, I want it on the first search page in Google.

And while a lot’s changed with regard to media, good content still is good content.

You can impress your editors with quality content and get a byline on the front page of the newspaper, or “impress” the Google algorithms and get higher placement in online search.

Here are five ways newspapers can help us learn about SEO.

1. A good headline can make or break a story

Say you wrote the greatest article in the world. I’m talking Pulitzer Prize-winning stuff; the kind of writing that would make Bob Woodward jealous.

But your headline is bad. It’s bland, too cute, or just plain confusing. How are you supposed to attract readers?

When a reader opens a newspaper, the first thing they see are the headlines. That’s why they’re bold and in large font.

When you perform a Google search, the first thing readers also see are headlines. And if they’re not interesting, no one will click on your story.

You want to give your audience a brief synopsis, tease the material in your piece, and make people want to keep reading.

Nobody said this was easyBut in terms of SEO, the best headlines sound natural, are a tweetable length (100-120 characters), and contain a meaningful, descriptive keyword.

Basically, if a reader doesn’t have a decent understanding of your article by reading just the headline, it’s not effective.

2. Reporters are only as good as their sources … or their links

Reporters aren’t always experts on their subject matter. It’s important they find the right people to interview; a good resource provides needed context and background.

The same could be said for hyperlinks in online content.

Links should direct readers to a deep page on your site that provides additional information. Before you add a link, ask yourself, “how is this adding to my story?”

You must be careful when it comes to hyperlinking – too many links can hurt your content’s visibility, especially when duplicate links are involved.

Readers are more likely to click when there are a limited number of links.

Ever see an online story that’s all hyperlinks? That’s like a newspaper article that’s all quotes. The key is moderation.

3. Know your audience

It’s OK if your goal is to reach a broad audience.

Sure, your story may appear on the sports page. (Some of the best writing does!) But what if a non-sports fan comes across your piece? Will they understand it?

Jargon can be dangerous. When using it, you risk losing a portion of your readers.

Generally, it’s best to use natural language and always tie your content to your audience. Tell a story anyone can comprehend. Paint a picture. Describe the tension. Make your readers feel the drama in the arena or ballpark.

The same goes for online content – if you write for a specific, targeted audience you limit your readership.

Now, sometimes jargon is fine. Example: If you’re writing a tech blog and you only care about reaching tech reporters, go nuts.

But if your goal is to get pickup by a wide range of reporters, stay away from talk about variable bitrates and quantum dots. (I don’t know what they mean either.)

newspaper principles and SEO

4. Timing matters

Your story is a home run: It’s timely, features natural language, sports three great quotes, and the headline is on point.

It’s perfect … until something better comes along.

Breaking news can be a reporter’s nightmare. It can bury your story.

The same can happen with search engines. Say you’re writing a blog about health care – “The 8 Best Ways to Maximize Your Health Care Benefits.” Hey, I’d read that!

You publish your fully-optimized post with its good mix of keywords and phrases. Then within 10 minutes of your post – BOOM – Obamacare is passed by Congress. Say goodbye to the first search page in Google.

Breaking news is outside of your control. Still, timing should be thoughtfully managed. Does it make sense to post today?

5. A picture is worth a thousand words

Use multimedia! (There’s no point in being subtle.)

Imagery always enhances a story.

In newspapers, the most prominent and most important story appears above the fold on A1 with a large photo.

Online, photos and videos also are important.

Try searching Google for shrimp taco recipes. The results run the gamut — photos and videos; others are just text. What do you click on?

An image gives your article authority. Pair your writing with an image. Always.

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Ryan Day is a customer content services manager at PR Newswire. Formerly, he was a sports reporter and editor. Follow him at @RyanDay3 for more sports news and commentary. 

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