To the surprise of just about no one at this point, online entities such as Google and Facebook are becoming increasingly dominant in their ability to reach a massive audience. A 2013 article from Business Insider noted that “while television still holds the title of most pervasive mass medium by reaching 294 million Americans, Facebook and Google aren’t too far behind at 200 and 235 million, respectively.”
For many publishers, having visibility within the News results of Google is of the utmost importance in our modern digital world. The impact of having that presence versus not having it, was recently demonstrated to us in a unique situation we came across with a new client.
The client is an “alternative news” source focusing primarily on political topics and issues with an emphasis on the San Francisco Bay Area. After having their website re-designed and moved to a WordPress platform in the Summer of 2014, they found that their web traffic (namely from organic search) had dramatically decreased since the change. Despite installing the Yoast SEO plug-in, and making sure that the site had an XML sitemap, unique page titles, etc., they couldn’t seem to recover much of the lost traffic. The significance of the issue was evident upon reviewing the client’s Google Analytics data, as the site had 42% fewer visits from organic search in August as they had just two months earlier in June:
- Visits from Organic Search in June 2014: 13,535
- Visits from Organic Search in August 2014: 7,863
After a brief Q&A evaluation with the client, one notable observation they made was that prior to the site re-design, the newest articles published on the website would be visible in the Google search results almost immediately, whereas now it was often taking days before a new article could be found in search. This sounded very likely to be an issue with Google News. When we did a quick site search for the client’s site in the Google News results, the issue was verified, as only 3 results were present, all of them over two months old.
Rather than recommending a long-term, multi-pronged SEO program that would cost the client thousands of dollars, we suggested to them that we allocate a few hours of consulting time to ensure that the site was fully approved for indexation and inclusion within the Google News results once again. Given the audience reach of Google News, we felt fairly certain that re-gaining that visibility would sufficiently recover the lost traffic… The client happily agreed to give it a shot.
Plan of Action – Part 1: Get a Google News-Specific Sitemap Created and Submitted via Webmaster Tools
In Google’s official guidelines of the requirements for inclusion in Google News, one of the technical issues listed as “strongly recommended” but not required is a Google News XML sitemap. Here is a quick introduction to News XML sitemaps: https://support.google.com/news/publisher/answer/75717?rd=1. Here are a couple of paid website plug-ins that are very useful for dynamically generating a properly formatted News XML sitemap for your website as you continue posting new articles over time:
- For WordPress Websites: The News SEO plug-in by Yoast is available for $69 for a single site installation, and is relatively simple to set-up and configure. For WordPress users familiar with the Yoast SEO plug-in, the News SEO add-on is very easy to use, as it simply adds a new tab to the Yoast SEO widget in the WordPress post editor, with a few basic fields that must be filled out each time a new post goes live.
- For All Other Sites: XML-Sitemaps.com is appropriately named, as XML sitemaps are pretty much the bread and butter of what they do. For $19.99, their “Unlimited Sitemap Generator” includes a News sitemap option as one of several additional add-ons available with their paid product.
For the client in our recent scenario, we opted for the WordPress News SEO plug-in by Yoast (mainly because it was a WordPress site) and we got the sitemap submitted through Webmaster tools.
Plan of Action – Part 2: Verify that the Website is Approved with Google News
In the past, if you weren’t sure whether or not your site was officially approved with Google News, it could be a long process to submit an inquiry to Google and await a response. Thankfully, today there is a much easier option you can use, so long as you have verified your website with Google Webmaster Tools. The Google News Publisher Center is a dashboard showing all domains you have verified in Webmaster Tools, with special tools available for management and categorization of sections of Google News-approved websites.
After getting access to Webmaster Tools for our client, when we checked their status in the Google News Publisher Center, we were surprised to see that they were in fact already approved with Google News. So then what was the issue preventing their site from displaying? Believe it or not, the “www” version of the client’s domain (i.e. “www.examplesite.com”) was approved for Google News, but the “non-www” version of the domain (i.e. “examplesite.com”) was not. When the site was re-built in WordPress, the developer had made the site default to the “non-www” version of any page visited. Once we switched the site settings to re-direct all “non-www” pages to the corresponding “www” version, with the Google News XML Sitemap tool configured and submitted, and the site’s settings optimized and updated in the Google News Publisher Center, articles began showing up in Google News almost as soon as they were posted the very next day.
The impact for this client has been massive, and the ROI has been exceptional on a modest allocation of 4 hours of consulting time plus $69 for the purchase of a plug-in. With re-inclusion in Google News taking place in time for the November elections, the recent organic search traffic data has been better than ever. Between October 16th (immediately following implementation of solutions above) and November 15th, the site has enjoyed over 14,000 visits from organic search. That represents more visits from organic search than the site has seen in any single calendar month since Analytics tracking has been available for the domain.
Google News is a powerful tool, and a great place to be as a publisher. Just make sure that you meet Google’s guidelines, and that you’ve crossed your “t’s” and dotted you “i’s” on the technical requirements, and you’ll hopefully be enjoying great visibility in no time!