06. Writing to be read: how to charm search engines

While the traditional media have their own means of dissemination, news websites have virtually abandoned this aspect in favour of search engines, with Google in the lead. These search engines are the equivalent of the news-stand for the written press: if you want your work to be read, it must be found there. There are a few tricks that can help in achieving this.

How do search engines work?

A search engine is a virtual robot. Its role is to scan millions of web pages every second and give them a rating of relevance based on what is on them. The objective is to ensure that when a human being types keywords in a search bar, the robot is able to suggest the pages that are most relevant to that search.

Your role as a journalist is to make your content easy to find for that machine. The problem is that how search engines work is generally quite obscure. Their developers never explain precisely how they work and that is normal, as it is kind of like their own secret recipe.

Search Engine Optimisation, what is it all about?

Through experience, especially with Google, content publishers gradually came to understand that certain elements are vital to the content concerned being scanned properly by search engines. This is what is referred to as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

There are at least six elements that must be present in all of your content:

  • a title (it can be long)
  • a lead-in
  • sub-headings
  • a photo with an associated caption
  • hypertext links that lead to serious sources (media outlets, official websites, etc.)
  • the first 400 characters of content, which must include keywords related to your content.

Warning: robots do not (yet) understand humour

In an online press article, you should avoid using irony and double meanings, especially in the titles and sub-headings, as this would merely trick the robots scanning your pages. Therefore, any play on words, nicknames and cultural references that can be used in other forms of media are to be avoided.