Some sites do content marketing to sell a product. For others, the content is the product. When you’re running a high volume publishing site like this, there are some special SEO concerns you’ll want to stay on top of.
If you’re interested in launching a site like this or providing SEO services to clients with similar sites, then you’ll want to catch today’s podcast with Alli Berry the SEO director at financial advice and news analysis publisher, The Motley Fool. She has a unique perspective that you won’t want to miss.
- [1:20] Challenges of running a large publishing site.
- [3:13] Strategy in 2020.
- [6:05] Navigation and internal linking.
- [8:24] KPIs
- [10:25] Tips for SEOs working on news sites.
- [11:59] Getting into the Top Stories pack.
- [14:06] On link building, and who should do it.
- [15:54] Getting into Google Discover.
- [18:36] Archiving and pruning.
- [22:10] Alli’s cause.
The challenges of running a large publishing site
Alli says accuracy and keeping everything up to date are the biggest challenges for The Motley Fool, which Alli calls a “news analysis” site.
“We have a tendency to publish new content instead of updating old. So coming in with an SEO background obviously we want to have a page that we can keep building upon and updating. And so even just that mentality has been really interesting over time.
It’s actually better to have one page about this that we keep updating versus continuing to pump out a new version every so often, just because from a backlinking perspective everything is so competitive. We need every edge we can get.”
fool.com/the-ascent/buying-stocks/, an investment page which has been updated for 2020 without changing the page itself, or generating new pages.
Alli notes the competitiveness of this space is another huge challenge.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a vertical that’s harder to rank on the front page for than this.”
A media publishing SEO strategy in 2020
Nothing’s easy for anyone in 2020, not even for The Motley Fool team.
“It’s definitely been an interesting year. We’ve definitely evolved. We have historically had a lot of siloing. We’ve had an SEO team that is focused on evergreen and then an editorial team focused on the news analysis content. Not really thinking about how these things should come together.
The result has always been that the way we publish, everything we’ve built is really based around syndication and getting a lot of content out every day.”
For publishers that are creating new content every day, you need to be cognizant of your URL structure. Traditionally, the URLs at news orgs get ugly. Frequently they will include the date in the URL which can be problematic for longterm SEO. As SEO director, Alli wanted to rethink how they structure their URLs.
“If you publish everything on a URL that’s dated and is really targeting the news side, what you’re going to see is you’re really going to rank well for a few days, and then it’s going to drop off.
It’s been an ongoing challenge for us to figure out how to rank organically for a lot of investing terms that we really hit hard on the news side.”
She’s been trying to allow this to happen without making either team interfering with the other.
“My team’s been creating a lot of evergreen pages around investing topics. A lot of things about how to invest and then different market sectors that exist that people are interested in. Auto stocks, transportation stocks, tech stocks, and pharmaceuticals are a big thing right now.”
Having pages that are a balance of both the evergreen questions and things like the best companies to be watching this year, along with a news feed below that linking to the most recent news content relating to that content, has been helpful.
“We try to bring these things together in a way that helps Google understand the relationship between the news and the page we want ranking from the getgo.”
So they don’t use dates in the URLs.
“Everything is keyword and subfolder based. Our news folder is .com/investing/date.”
Note the URL for this news page: https://www.fool.com/investing/2020/09/11/forget-tesla-buy-these-3-high-growth-tech-stocks-i/
Website navigation and internal linking
“It’s always been pretty tough to maintain a navigation when you’re trying to put the most recent news articles into it,” Alli says. “That’s going to be awful from a user perspective. A lot of people are coming into our site from our news analysis content. They’re seeing it from a syndication partner. They’re finding it in top stories, whatever. When they get to Fool.com, we want them.
If they’re at the beginning of the journey we want them to see the breadth of things we do.”
What they’ve been working towards is making sure their very navigation represents who they are. That it helps to communicate their philosophy even as it helps people get where they need to do, all while keeping the news analysis content prominent on the home page, which updates frequently.
“[For] internal linking, [on] evergreen pages we have a news feed at the bottom that’s constantly refreshing, but linking to news stories is kind of a bad idea from an evergreen page just because the news becomes obsolete so quickly. You’d be constantly going back and updating that information.”
A news item about 5G at the end of an evergreen page on saving for retirement.
They try mostly to link evergreen pages to other evergreen pages and linking to evergreen pages from news pages.
Key performance indicators for the website
Garrett asked what kinds of KPIs drive The Motley Fool.
“The metric everyone’s looking at from a content perspective is called subscription equivalence. There’s some math in terms of how email captures turn into subscriptions, so essentially it’s email captures.”
The content that gets the most volume of traffic is the news analysis content, but they see movement on the evergreen side as well.
“We’ve always been a company that’s pretty aggressive on the sales side. It’s always the direct sale. Right now it’s a really good time to start looking at a level 1 product or tool and what would make sense for a beginner audience isn’t ready to jump in and start investing $10,000.”
The team at The Motley Fool spends a lot of time figuring out what the first step looks like from a led gen perspective.
Tips for SEOs working on news sites
Alli stresses that if you’re going to have a news site then you must have a news site map.
“We have all these different business units. The Ascent is newer. We didn’t have it at the beginning. We tried doing it without [a site map]. It didn’t work.”
She says the next thing SEOs should focus on is getting their site into the Google Publishing Center
“You need them to accept you as a news source so you can get into Google News. Those are hard things to do, but those are your basics.”She says dates in URLs are considered best practices (once you have your folders set up, see above). “It’s helpful from an archive perspective too.” Beyond that?
“There’s a lot you can do with headlines. If you look at any of our headlines there’s definitely some formulas to them in terms of The Best _____ Stocks To Buy Right Now seems to do really well, or using a date, or anything you can do.”She says their site doesn’t report on breaking news.
“It’s more what happened in the news and, because of that, what we think you should do. Or what we think is going to happen. It’s kind of a different take on that.”
Getting into the top stories pack
Screenshot of Google Top Stories
“Our editorial team is very focused on that. I would say that Google has a pretty broad definition of news. They definitely consider us to be part of that. It is amazing how many times you look at something that’s not an evergreen type topic and it’s still here. I guess everybody needs to know about savings accounts.”She says the team absolutely watches what drives a Top Story pack.
“And then from there continuing to produce content and as things drop out of it monitoring that too to see if you have something new that goes in there.”She says it’s all about finding the balance of what’s going to convert best for them and then making sure they have several things a day going out on that query.
The luxury of a natural link profile
The Motley Fool has a very natural link profile, in part because they’ve been at it for 25 years. They haven’t really focused on link building.
“Syndication helps a ton. Somebody picks it up. Then somebody else picks it up. Inevitably they’re all linking back. Some of them are no-follow, some are follow. It works. We have a pretty good case study there.”
They do have an outreach team focused on some of their new verticals.
“I’m hoping we can bring them over and be more focused on the investing side too because it helps everything. I would say in this day and age you do need that help.”
She does say that link building isn’t really a task for SEOs.
“I think link building is now PR. I think PR people do it way better than we ever did.”
Something to consider if your agency is thinking about hiring someone to handle link building exclusively.
Penetrating the feed on Google Discover
“That can’t be true. There’s just no way that’s true.”She says their traffic tripled from Discover alone.
“It made sense because all of our articles are super focused on Covid & Something. If somebody’s search history has Covid in it, and whose doesn’t, you’re going to show up on Discover a whole lot more.”She does say she’d love to have more tracking around that, to be able to see and prove some of that out, and that she’ll be keeping tabs on it.
“Hopefully Google gives us a little more to work with on it.”
Archiving strategy and content pruning for publishers
Alli says right now she’s trying to figure out how to scale cannibalization clean-up.
“We have millions of pages. A lot of them are old. We’ve never really tackled things like archiving, and what do you do with all the old news analysis?”
She says sometimes it ranks long-term and yet shouldn’t, all because it’s got a link somewhere.
“We’re taking keywords and anything that’s ranking in the top 50 on it, we’re pulling all that information and trying to figure out whether it’s safe to redirect.”
She says if she could just do whatever she wanted, she’d just get rid of a bunch of content, just because it’s cleaner and doesn’t require so much work from her team to go culling all of those URLs.
“Unfortunately we have a lot of people on our staff, investment analysts and co-founders, that love a historical record. They love being able to go back to stuff they wrote ten, twenty years ago, and so if you archive it, that will get noticed. If you redirect it that gets noticed.”
Here she shared some pride over the company culture because The Motley Fool doesn’t have much turnover. Many people stay for 7 years or more!
What's your right now cause?
“He’s all about criminal justice reform and helping get people who have been wrongfully accused off of death row and getting people lesser punishments.”
Alli expressed some of her own thoughts about the criminal justice system.
“There’s so much to unpack there, and I think there’s just a lot of lack of understanding and information. It shocked me how many people didn’t know prisoners have been used to fight wildfires for so long. It shocked me how much it shocked others.”
She said she thinks there’s an awful lot to understand about how Black people disproportionately end up in prison, how it starts in the school-to-prison pipeline and then supporting organizations that are trying to help and have some alternative ideas.