It isn’t always easy to get veteran journalists with ingrained habits and 30 or 40 years of experience to change their ways. But when they see more people reading their stories online because they pay attention to Search Engine Optimization in their headlines and leads, they tend to come around.
So says Allison Fabella, who joined the Southeast’s largest daily newspaper about three and half years ago as SEO manager. At that time, many of the paper’s large staff of reporters and editors had “never heard of SEO, let along about writing for it,” says Fabella.
Participating In May Digital Summit
Fabella is one of dozens of Internet mavens, digital media thought leaders, industry executives, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs participating in the upcoming Digital Summit at the Cobb Galleria in Atlanta. At the AJC (weather), Fabella oversaw development of a content management system that was SEO friendly and worked with graphics people to design pages for SEO, then began training the reporters and editors on how to take advantage of SEO.
A Real Cultural Shift
“It was a real cultural shift for some people who were doing it for a long time to change the way they wrote headlines and leads.” Fabella says she works closely with the AJC staff in the newsroom “on a daily basis. Some are still getting used to it.”SEO is a challenge, she says. “There are so many moving parts. There are a lot of ways one can be diverted. We have 250 reporters here and they’re all writing content. There are a lot of places where things may not go as you hoped.”On the other hand, she adds, “Some have really adapted to it, They recognize they get more people reading their stories.” As a journalist, I get that. I’ve only begun really paying attention to SEO since TechMedia shifted from a proprietary content management system to WordPress last year, where filling out the SEO package is part of doing every post. It does add another layer of work and thinking, particularly in shaping heads and leads. But when you see ten times more people reading your reporting, it is motivating.
Social Media Lift-Off
Lately, Fabella has been busy getting the newspaper’s social media strategies off the ground, which means both more training and evangelizing, she says. But, she notes, “When you think about it, news and social media work nicely together. There is value in being able to move the information into the community in ways you haven’t before, tweets, Facebook.” Not only that, social media is a “Two-way avenue” that lets the paper’s reporters and editors crowd-source stories, get tips on breaking news, and let readers know the paper’s staff is listening to them. One thing the paper is not doing, she says, is allowing comments on the story level. The newspaper just does not have the staff to monitor anonymous comments, which any publisher who allows them knows can get nasty, vulgar and way off track if not monitored. It does allow comments on its Facebook page, where the usual lack of anonymity results in fewer negative comments. “We try to keep things fairly broad on Facebook,” she says. “We don’t want to police it too much. We only pulled something down once, an image some people found objectionable. But we haven’t had to intervene in the comments yet. Most negative comments are between those making them and work themselves out.”
The paper has been using social media actively for about a year. Prior to that, a number of individual staffers had opened various accounts, but the paper did not have a cohesive strategy or anyone managing the efforts strategically. Then, Fabella and the paper developed strategic goals and the rationale for engaging in social media. “Once that shaped up, we saw a rapid increase in pageviews on Facebook and Twitter,” she says.“We broke up the newsroom into smaller groups by beat (the subject area covered) and talked about the benefits of using social media,” she explains. That got faster buy-in from the staff than her SEO efforts. “It fits in well with a reporter’s toolkit,” she says. “Any way you can reach out to the community for crowd-sourceing or tips is an easy sell.”At the upcoming Digital Summit, Fabella will be talking about “The five biggest mistakes you can make in SEO.”
Those include such things as building a site in Flash, which, while agencies love it and it’s very, well, flashy, search engines can’t read it. Another: site maps that direct search engines to the wrong place. For the rest, catch her presentation at the Digital Summit.