This paper undertakes a comparative analysis of the visibility, and of other SEO indicators, of the culture sections of Spain’s leading digital newspapers —specifically, elmundo.es, elpais.com, lavanguardia.com, abc.es, elconfidencial.com and 20minutos.es— based on data collected by the media analytics company, comScore, and the web traffic metric, Alexa Rank.
The analysis employs a set of positioning indicators: namely, a visibility index, keywords, social signals, keyword profiles, URLs, SERP-Snippets, reference domains and best anchor texts, as made available by SISTRIX, an SEO analytics audit toolbox. Thus, we were able to determine which of the digital newspapers’ culture sections has the best visibility.
Likewise, we were able to identify which of these media are best positioned on Google, presumably as a result of more effective positioning strategies. We conclude with a discussion of our results and, on the basis of these findings, recommend ways in which the visibility of journalistic information can be optimised in search engines.
digital news media, SEO, cultural journalism, analytics tools, Google.
Most of the world today explores the web using a search engine and, more particularly, the vast majority employ Google. This behaviour represents a significant challenge for the digital news media as they seek to position their news stories at the top of the search rankings in an attempt to win greater web visibility. To achieve this goal, one of the main strategies being adopted in the world’s newsrooms is the application of search engine optimization
The main objective of this study is to determine the visibility of the cultural journalism being undertaken by Spain’s leading digital daily newspapers. Here, we focus our study on elmundo.es, elpais.com, lavanguardia.com, abc.es, elconfidencial.com, and 20minutos.es, the six papers with the greatest dissemination according to comScore (March 2018) and the Amazon Alexa Rank (May 2018).
More specifically, we seek to analyse the positioning, together with other visibility indicators, of the cultural journalism of the aforementioned digital newspapers so as to identify which media firm is obtaining the best results in this field.
At the same time, as part of an ongoing line of research, we aim to further our attempts at developing protocols for the analysis of the visibility of digital news, using SEO analytics audit tools, in this case applied to the digital journalism sector.
However, this study represents our first attempt at examining the daily press, a choice motivated by the fact that, despite the transformation experienced by the mass media in general, the daily papers selected here in representation of Spain’s digital media continue to have a massive influence on public thinking and are typically considered as playing a fundamental role in the formation of opinion.
As such, the objectives of this study can be individually identified as follows:
- To examine the feasibility of applying one of the main SEO audit tools to a study of the digital news media.
- To determine which of the digital news media analysed have the best search engine positioning and to identify which indicators are best suited to analysing the visibility of these digital newspapers.
- To undertake a comparative analysis of the main digital news media in the sector, with a specific focus on their respective culture sections.
- To generate SEO recommendations for the digital news media.
These objectives give rise to the following research questions:
- Can an SEO analytics tool be used to carry out a comparative analysis of the positioning of six leading digital newspapers and, more specifically, of their respective culture sections?
- If the above research question is shown to be possible, which indicators are best suited for undertaking a comparative analysis of the search engine visibility of these digital newspapers?
- Based on the visibility patterns that emerge when applying the indicators identified in the above research question, what recommendations can be made to improve the search engine ranking of the different sections of the online media?
The following methodology has been employed in carrying out this study. First, an analytical review was undertaken of the academic literature on SEO and the digital news media (see articles included in the bibliography at the end of this paper).
Second, we identified and selected a set of indicators of visibility and positioning as employed by the SISTRIX analytics toolbox. An initial version was applied in the study protocol and the results derived from this application were analysed. On the basis of these outcomes, a second, more precise, version was developed for the final analysis. Third, and finally, we applied this refined set of indicators to the digital newspapers previously selected, gathered the corresponding data, and analysed this information for further study and discussion.
Search engine optimization (SEO) comprises the set of procedures applied to a web page to boost its chances of appearing among the leading search results. This in turn means that this content enjoys greater online visibility and, as such, receives more web traffic. In the case of the news media, analysts report that the diversification of the newspaper sector on the Internet has meant many changes in the industry’s routines, mainly propitiated by these new vectors for the dissemination of information, i.e. search engines (Smyrnaios and Rebillard, 2015).
With the emergence of news search engines, as early as 2007, more than one expert was warning that traditional journalistic practices would face severe challenges (Carlson, 2007), including the need to resort to SEO to maintain their social impact but without this meaning they would have to relinquish their traditional journalistic responsibilities.
The increase in online news has meant an increasing dependence of the news media on so-called digital platforms, including, search engines. From the point of view of newspaper publishers, this trend, in fact, represents a problem as well as a necessity (Smyrnaios, 2015), since much of their web traffic comes from the search engines. As such, the media are having to adapt.
Seen in a positive light, some authors argue that the role of search engines is to help people select the most relevant content (Machill et al., 2008) and this is why journalism should not overlook the importance of SEO actions. The question is that web visibility in the journalistic sector is essential for attracting more readers; hence, the importance now attached to making journalists understand the need to employ routines that integrate search engine positioning strategies (Giomelakis and Veglis, 2015).
But various studies on SEO and the media stress that there is still room for considerable improvement if current journalistic routines are to exploit the full potential of SEO routines (Smyrnaios and Sire 2014; Giomelakis and Veglis, 2015b). And while it is increasingly common to find SEO experts in newsrooms, there is still much work to be done to achieve a convergence between best journalistic practices and optimum SEO, because, among other factors, the sector is subject to constant change. In short, for journalism to adapt to the digital medium it must first adapt to the growing and changing needs of information visibility.
An aspect highlighted by more than one author (e.g. Dick, 2011) is that newsroom SEO practices around the world vary and their application is far from universal. Efforts to promote SEO practices are conditioned in any case by time, financial resources and management support, as well as by technical issues that might be unrelated to journalistic content (Dick, 2011).
Initial theoretical/practical encounters in the necessary relationship between journalistic and SEO principles arguably first occurred in 2009 (Asser, 2012) in the newsrooms of BBC News, with the introduction of the dual-headline system. This is characterized by the use of two headlines: on the one hand, the “newspaper headline” and, on the other, the “SEO headline”.
The former must obey journalistic routines, in other words, the style book of each medium, that is, a title that is optimised for the newspaper’s readers.
The latter, meanwhile, must be optimised for search engines and social networks. In technical terms, the newspaper headline is identified by the h1 tag of the markup language (HTML), while the SEO headline is identified by the metadata <title>.
One is directly visible in the news story and on the media web page, and the other is directly visible to the search engines; indeed, the SEO title can only be seen by users if they search for it in the source code of the page.
According to available data, the development of this system meant that, between the second half of 2009 and the first half of 2011, visits to the news section of BBC News rose by 57%, while visits to the whole web were up 34%. Clearly, the SEO work undertaken by BBC News reaped its rewards. Elsewhere, the Reuters Institute Digital News Report (Newman and Levy, 2014), examining audiences in the United Kingdom, confirmed that 14% of users seeking breaking news, did so using search engines.
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