Monday, November 23, 2009...9:08 pm

Journalism students: how to top the Google rankings with 20 minutes’ work

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Google Max RaymondHow do you get your student news story at the top of the Google rankings? And without really breaking a sweat?

Basically: write it.

Last week’s talk by Karl Schneider of Reed to journalism students at UCA Farnham sparked some interest on the web.

Freelance Unbound provided a full report – complete with ropey video – and was rewarded with some good traffic and links from outside. But it was a bit of a slog. Transcribing the content, writing it up and editing the video took quite a few hours – and that’s without the hours and hours it seemed to take to compress to MP4 ready for upload to Vimeo.

But one UCA student didn’t bother with all that – and yet still nabbed Google’s top slot.

Max Raymond’s short blog post on Karl’s visit didn’t bother with all that video malarkey – and it didn’t even have a picture from the talk.

But, weighing in at less than 300 words, it did have a handy summary of the talk that covered all the salient points. And it also had a handy link to the Reed site, as a nod to that interactivity malarkey that sets online journalism apart.

As it turns out, that was enough to push Max to first place on a Google search for Karl Schneider of Reed [NB: search is dynamic, so this position will change over time. Correct as of 23 November 2009].

Here’s why:

Karl Schneider has very little web presence

Karl Schneider is fairly important in media terms – in that he’s a senior figure at a big, business-oriented publishing house. He’s also quite prominent as a speaker – he gave the keynote address at Evolved Media’s Fast Track to Online and Social Publishing event in July this year.

But for some reason he’s not that well represented online. Twitter, more so – but not the web. Bar a few business listing-type pages and some references on Computer Weekly, this is an open field.

This means that Max needed to put a minimal focus on search engine optimisation to achieve his result. One namecheck in the headline and one in the first paragraph, plus a company mention, was enough.

On the downside, Max heads the pack for one search string: Karl + Schneider + Reed. Try a range of others – Karl + Schneider + Reed + Business + Information, say, or “Karl Schneider” + Reed – and he appears much lower down, or sometimes not on the first results page at all.

In contract, Freelance Unbound is consistently at or near the top for a wider range of searches. That extra time and multimedia content did pay off.

So what might cement that top ranking?

Nurture inbound links

The video of Karl’s talk was interesting enough to prompt a number of sites and Twitter users to link to the posts on Freelance Unbound. In turn, that has helped boost their Google ranking.

It also helped to split the material into themes. The post on the changing nature of the journalist’s day was by far the most heavily trafficked. Having a few posts up in succession also gave readers a chance to catch up with the series. (Though this is easy to overdo.)

Tips for search engine success

Your subject should be:

  • Of interest in your chosen field
  • Not heavily represented online

Techniques:

  • Use keywords high up in the story (but not so many you get mistaken for spam)
  • Vary your keywords – pick up other searches with related terms
  • Add value – eg with video
  • Publicise your post – via other blogs/sites and social networks such as Twitter
  • Develop incoming links

But most of all – write the damn thing. Max also had a clear run at the top of Google because he wasn’t competing with dozens of other UCA journalism students doing the same thing. Their loss is his gain.

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