This is a massive oversimplification of search engine optimisation (SEO) to help writers focus on what they can do to influence the likes of Google – a search engine.
Search engines send out automated programmes (spiders) to trawl the worldwide web looking at the key words on a page and following the links to and from that page to see if the same key words are there (and in pages linked beyond).
They compile all this data and then apply a complex calculation (called an algorithm) to decide which are the most relevant pages for any given search – a league table, if you like. When you search the net, Google is not searching in real time but giving you a league table it prepared earlier.
Key words and links
The main things journalists can do to improve SEO is to use (and repeat) the key words people are likely to be searching for (in body copy, headlines and picture captions) and include relevant links – both from your content and to it (via social media and other websites).
But we do not always click the top hit on Google – so you also need to make sure what people see is attractive. Search engines will read all the words in headlines and copy when deciding where to rank your page but are likely to display only the first 60 characters of a headline and the first 160 characters of the first paragraph on your story. So concentrate on the first paragraph and the headline.
If your content management system (CMS) has an SEO function (possibly a plug-in) then you may have to write extra key words and alternative headlines and first paragraphs too. You may also have to write a separate headline for your RSS feed, plus the Facebook and Twitter messages linked to each post.
Responsive (tablets and mobiles)
There is a lot more to SEO – In 2015, for example, Google announced that sites that were “responsive” – worked on tablets and mobiles – would be placed higher up the league table than sites designed for computer browsers only.
But much of the other SEO work is down to web developers. Journalists need to concentrate on key words in headlines, the first paragraph, body copy and in picture captions. And include relevant links.