How Search Engine Watch Grew Google News Traffic by 300% [Case Study]

One of our stated goals in the Search Engine Watch redesign was to increase traffic from Google News in order to establish ourselves as an authoritative publication on the search marketing industry. The results of our project are below:

  • Average monthly Visits from Google News up 329% on last year (2010) and 994% on strongest year (2008)

There is no magic formula for getting more traffic from Google News, but there are some best practices to follow.

Domain Optimization

In the case of the old Search Engine Watch there was a single obvious point of failure that meant the site was not maximizing visibility. The old site was running on two different CMS and consequently, two different domains. housed all the columns from our expert contributors. Meanwhile the subdomain was home to all the industry news articles. Both had a completely different category structure and tagging facility. Consequently we had two different XML sitemaps being fed into Google News that had completely different taxonomies, tags and even timestamps.

XML Sitemap for Google News

Google News is optimization is fundamentally about producing a glitch free XML sitemap. It needs to be as clean and functional as possible, and personally speaking we have found that it works best when it is not overloaded with content. We only submit the last 3 days worth of stories.

The content migration for the new SEW on the new CMS gave us an opportunity to create a single sitemap with a uniform category and tag structure. Search industry news and expert contributor content now all came under one feed. Not only was this a technically better way of doing things but from a usability standpoint we felt that a mix of news and columns in one single ‘river of content’ was the way forward. Also, by not differentiating between the two, we could potentially reward contributors with more traffic if they happened to write about a timely piece that tied into the news of the week.

Topic Clusters

If there is any secret sauce to Google News ranking factors it is in how topic clusters work. When you look at how the Google News interface works, it clearly clusters stories from different sources in clusters of topics.

Whilst I have no hard evidence of how topic clusters work technically from Google’s point of view, I can share with you anecdotal evidence that lends insight into how topic clustering probably works.

I’m not a qualified journalist myself but Incisive Media has over 100 business to business publications, so I have easy access to many qualified journalists. Classical journalistic practices always seek to develop a news story from the original source. In order to do this, journalists seek new angles on a story which has been broken by the mainstream outlets and embellish the story with new perspectives and most importantly, new facts. As new facts come to light, the story essentially develops.

Real-time search algorithms mimic this journalistic practice. By analyzing a smaller corpus of documents (when compared to the wider web), real-time news algorithms attempt to calculate breakout terms within a document in order to see if they match, follow or lead a trend.

Put another way, a real time search algorithm analyzes all of the content in a body of work and makes a series of bets about possible directions the story might develop. Whilst 99% of those bets will turn out to be nonsense, where more content appears in real time to corroborate some bets, those topics start to ‘heat up’, or mutate, and break out into a new trend.

What is so fundamentally interesting about this process is that in effect you have a situation where the very very near past becomes a predictor for the very very near future (If you are into the X-files, Lost, or understand a bit about Quantum theory, it is basically the principle that, at any given moment, all possible worlds exist at all possible times. And the progress of time is more akin to an observable mutation from all those possibilities).

So, from a SEO strategy point of view, to get more traffic from Google and Google News, your site should be expertly curating content around topics and any created content need to strongly signal a mutation in the story.

With the Ultra Knowledge Platform, our topics engine automatically clusters topics and identifies mutations. Furthermore, experience has shown that even when you don’t have a story out about the latest news, as news breaks and interest mounts, our incoming search traffic becomes a predictor for what people want to know about.

Furthermore, editorially, SEW has taken on a practice of advising our writers to prioritize developing a story where possible, ideally in a step beyond any existing commentary. If you can’t break a story, Google News will reward you if can still try and develop it.

To execute a similar strategy on your own site, rethink the way that your tag index pages work on your own site and give more power to them. Think in terms of axiomatic connections between content yet try to get economical such that you identify the core theme and use your editorial judgment to predict the mutation. Every tag index will create another link to your story and give you a boost on Google News.

Publication Reputation

Other key ranking factors on Google News, like publication reputation, are something that simply takes time an effort – crafting quality content, breaking news and getting high profile citations. Practically speaking Publication Reputation is little different to good relationship link building practices and maximizing social sharing and social architecture of your website.

Over the last 18 months SEW has put a lot of work into raising its link profile from high quality sources. It’s all been a case of relationship link building – a strategy which SEW expert contributors have covered in great detail.

Given that getting links from journalists is largely down to chance, we set up a custom segment on Google Analytics called key referrers to track spikes of interest from visitors from mainstream publications, and goes some way to tracking a combination of mentions and links.

  • Average monthly Visits from mainstream media sources up 113% on last year (2010) but down 14% on 2008

Calling a Success

Whilst mainstream media interest, as reflected in site visits, is marginally lower than our best year, there are so many factors at play in terms of how the news landscape operated then, compared to how it does now, that we cannot count this figure against us. Furthermore, if you are only ever as good as your last gig, then we can say that the efforts we have put into relationship link building with mainstream media has been nothing short of a success.

The absolutely incredible growth of traffic from Google News validates our SEO strategy. Consolidating our domains to a single source and revamping our site architecture to make use of topic clusters whilst engaging in reputation boosting (activity to be on a par with successes in the past) has enabled SEW to increase traffic from Google News by tenfold.

James Taylor, Technical Director at Ultra Knowledge said, “Having worked with large online news brands in the past we were able to put our lessons learned into action when migrating all of the SEW content onto our Platform. Combined with the in house expertise from SEW we were able to achieve results which we are all extremely pleased with.”

Visits to SEW via Google News

Can I get a hell yeah?

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