Using Google News to drive traffic to your site
Google News, Google’s news indexing engine, has received a lot of criticism and praise alike largely because it’s a powerful way of driving traffic to news websites.
Rupert Murdoch recently accused Google of stealing content from the News Corp. news outlets and even went as far as threatening to pull all News Corp.’s content from all Google indexes. Although protecting their revenue stream is important for big corporations like News Corp., it is a big mistake to think that the free availability of news content is damaging. Internet news directories like Google News offer student news publications an opportunity to tap new markets and reach new audiences.
I believe that exposure is very valuable for any news organization, and that as a news organization you have to be wherever your audience is. As college newspapers, we are usually serving a relatively small geographic area with our news organizations. But does this mean that only people in this particular area would be interested in what we report? Of course not! Now that almost any college newspaper has an online presence, it is time to start reaching out beyond these geographically confined areas and reach new audiences that we otherwise could access.
What if I told you that your newspaper stories could be on the news stands right next to stories from The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal? Google News offers you this opportunity. The way that Google news organizes their content is by grouping sources around a certain topic or story.
For example, If your news organization is covering a popular topic that a lot of people are searching for at that particular time, your content can float to the top of the Google News directory. This generally means a huge increase in traffic to your site. At the small college newspaper I work for, we have seen increases from our regular average of about 50 to a 100 pageviews on an article to over 1500 views. Although this definitely does not happen to all articles, if there is likely to be an interest in the story outside of your “target area,” chances are that Google News will drive a lot of traffic to these articles.
And these are not just passive visitors that peek at your article for a while and then leave. User engagement can be very high, especially if you make it easy for your visitors to comment on stories, without having to go through a lengthy sign up process first (take a look at Disqus for example).
So how do you include your content in the Google News directory? It is very straightforward, although there are some things to pay attention to in order to make optimum use of the Google News features. The first step is to submit your site for consideration to Google. It is not entirely clear on what criteria Google News accepts new sources, but generally if your site is not a single-author blog, you have a good chance of being included.
Google has some excellent documentation on what the optimum configuration is to get your content indexed properly and quickly by the Google spider. Here are the most important:
- Use unique and permanent URLs, each article needs its own URL and the content should continually be able to be accessed through this URL
- Use a 3 (or more) digit number in the URL of the page
- The Google indexing bot does not follow links in Flash content, so if you, for example, use a Flash content slider you will need to provide an HTML alternative
- Frames on your site can cause problems for indexing content properly
- If your content is behind a registration wall, you need to set up an exception for Google indexing bots
The indexing of news stories is usually pretty quick (content shows up within the hour), but to expedite the process Google suggests to use News Sitemaps, which allows the indexing bots to index your content quicker and more accurately. Instructions on how to do this are provided by Google in the Getting Started section. If you are running a WordPress site, WP Engineer has specific instructions for you to get this working.
Once you have everything set up, keep an eye on your analytics software and you will start noticing certain topics and articles getting a lot of views through Google News. The people that come in through Google News might not necessarily be readers who regularly come back to your site (which is why you need to make it easy for people to participate), but they can create a more diverse readership on your site and can increase engagement, liven up discussions and create new advertising and monetizing opportunities.
For smaller news sources like college newspapers, Google News is a great opportunity to get stories out into the world and read by more interested people. By leveraging simple tools like these and engaging your, audience you can take your website to a whole new level.
Wim Mulder is the Web Editor at The Keystone in Kutztown, Pennsylvania and an international student from the Netherlands in the Electronic Media Masters program at Kutztown University.