Is SEO changing the face of journalism?

If journalism wasn’t competitive enough before, search engines have created an online boxing ring where media platforms are fighting to be at the top. Everyone’s throwing fists just to get their website and articles on the first page of Google. They’re swimming in the sea of endless web pages where content is constantly being churned out, trying not to drown in the competitive ranking system of search engines. 

SEO or search engine optimisation – simply put is keywords and phrases that are used relevant to the articles or websites that will help them get to the top of search results. Content is created to get traffic steamrolling to the site by using keywords that are trending. Aimee Jakes, Digital Editor of Mother & Baby, said: “if an article doesn’t have the keywords that work for us and that bring in traffic, we won’t use it.”

Journalists are one of the least trusted professionals, lower than councillors, estate agents, bankers, and the police. Now, SEO has become the forefront, journalistic principles are being thrown out the window. Content is no longer being created for their readers but simply for numbers and higher ranking, leading to sensationalised articles and clickbait. Is it really a surprise that journalists aren’t trusted?

Madeleine Jones, the founder of Making Your Business Shine, also an expert of SEO and marketing, says that mainstream media is more focused on getting traffic to their website than creating good quality content. “There has been a strong influence over attracting traffic rather than the content. Just look at the clickbait style titles that mainstream media use to attract the clicks.” It’s hardly surprising that the quality of content is being sacrificed for the sake of reaching traffic goals and being one of the top three links on the first page of Google when 93% of online activity begins with a search engine. 

Clickbait is plaguing today’s media, getting clicks has become their focus because of the competitive industry and attention spans getting shorter. These headlines are created to reach the goals of SEO and to get traffic to their website. Even the BBC is being watched by Ofcom this year because of their apparent clickbait use and taking local papers audiences away. But is anyone really shocked by this when every single second 67k searches is made on Google? 

Most people think that clickbait stemmed from the digital age, but really it started 100 years ago with yellow journalism. They would use headlines that were shocking, and the content wouldn’t have much truth to it all just to sell newspapers. Clickbait has just become the modern version of this but seems to be a growing problem in the last few years, it’s not just the result of lazy journalism but arguably by the goals set in the newsroom for SEO. 

Richard Nolan, the founder of Unreal SEO Services London, thinks that clickbait has become a problem because media publications are focussing too much on rankings. “The other day I had a news alert that an ‘Arctic Cyclone’ was heading the UK’s way. Obviously, I had to know more and checked it out. Checking the weather forecast from a different source I could see it was all hyperbole. I’m unlikely to ever take that site seriously again, but maybe, if we could see the analysis, it achieved its goals.”

At the end of the day, if you resort to clickbait today, people will notice and their trust for these journalists will be lost. Keywords and phrases aren’t enough to appear in the top of search engines anymore, content does much better in Google searches if they’re longer and more informative. For the first page results on average the article contains 1,890 words, so it is mostly about quality and yes, a bit about quantity too. Otherwise other content that is more accurate to a Google search will knock you out of the park, clickbait doesn’t always work. 

Thomas Broady, founder of Broady Digital Mediaand digital marketing specialist, believes that this type of technology is negatively affecting journalism. “With an algorithm dictating, in a way, what good content is, differences in style are suffering. Degrees of separation between writers are getting smaller.” Journalists writing styles are suffering because Google’s algorithm isn’t human and won’t pick up on emotive writing, the algorithm will pick out keywords so the headline and first paragraph must get to the point. Sacrificing what separates each journalist from each other, what makes them different from every other person writing the same story. 

But it isn’t all whirlpool of nonsense and demands from journalists, SEO helps journalists and their editors to understand what their audience wants. There’s no need for trial and error with content and seeing what works anymore, risking the loss of a portion of your audience. SEO is simply a tool to make sure that content is being seen and shows you what works. Journalists need to adapt to the everchanging technology out there and what an audience wants to help their numbers grow. 

Ultimately the SEO might be great but if the content isn’t then you will get good numbers this time but they’ll remember not to visit the site again. Investigative journalism is now growing because editors are more open to spending more time on an article when they know it will do well in rankings. Like it was mentioned before, Google prefers content that is longer, so investigative journalism seems to be the in thing at the moment, not a 200-word article on ‘Kim Kardashian displays her incredible bikini body’. People will be seeing more from Rachel Monroe, Leah Sottile, and Rukmini Callmachi; journalism will start to see a change seeing less drivel about a Korean rapper giving a fan a bottle of water at a concert and more news that could help the world to tackle real issues. 

SEO has already changed journalism, even now almost every single website is designed to use on smartphones as well as desktops if it isn’t there just isn’t much point in trying to succeed. Just last year 52.2% of online traffic came from readers using smartphones, and by 2020 it’s expected that 50% of searches will be done by voice. Technology is evolving every day and SEO enables journalists to be better and create news of great quality, but it will also unveil those who will resort to quick clickbait content. 

SEO and quality content are becoming a new trend and the future of journalism.

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