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SEO for Publishers: 8 Rules Every Magazine and News Publisher Needs to Know

Timo Lamour

Timo Lamour

From the smallest trade magazines to the largest publishers covering international news, all publishers must constantly focus on getting their content found. 

While it takes some time, search engine optimisation (SEO) is an extremely effective strategy for publishers. In fact, one survey revealed that SEO is still one of the highest priorities for publishers..

Actually rising up the rankings, however, is easier said than done. It requires patience and a clear strategy.

In this post, we want to discuss eight rules that are at the core of SEO for publishers. With these rules in mind, you can rise up the search rankings and find new readers.

Why should publishers care about SEO?

Before discussing these eight rules, it is important to have a baseline understanding of why SEO for publishers is so important.

There is a key mindset shift here. It comes down to dropping social dependency. You shouldn’t write off mega-platforms like Facebook as traffic sources. However, algorithm changes, which are entirely out of your control, can scuttle your organic reach on these social media platforms. Dependency is no longer an option, meaning that you should diversify your reach to include SEO.

As a general proposition, you must think about the quality of your stories to get through to your audience. That is a given. The facts must be accurate and must be presented concisely. But along with this, your team has to be strategic about keywords and other SEO-relevant elements. For instance, utilising your archive can be a great way to easily build your organisation’s SEO.

“Our magazines have been living for years – so we have such a huge database of good content that should of course have a long digital life. And SEO is the way to keep it alive.”

Sara Wilkins, Digital Editor at for Egmont Publishing

The bottom line? Both your current and future audience members are using search engines to solve problems they encounter throughout their lives. Surprising no one, Google is one of the most popular websites on the Internet today. Your current audience and would-be audience is already using Google in their daily lives. Why wouldn’t you meet them where they visit every day?

Better yet, SEO is extremely cost-effective. So long as you are strategic with your keyword selection and consistently create content, you’ll see extremely positive results. High ranking articles on Google or other search engines give you prime real estate – all for free. In the end, strong SEO gives you an asset that works day and night. Even when you are sleeping, strong SEO is constantly working for you, as it introduces your stellar content to new readers.

SEO basics for magazine and news publishers

With the basic understanding in mind, let’s jump into the eight SEO rules that you should know and follow. By consistently following these rules, you will start to see some extremely positive results in your organisation’s search rankings.

1 Focus on your audience

One of the most common mistakes that publishers make is that they try to make Google happy. They are laser-focused on mastering the Google algorithm and trying to make their robots like their work.

Unfortunately, this is an ineffective strategy. Google has made about 50 algorithm changes in five years. Publishers who were trying to game Google’s algorithm were scrambling to keep up. Instead of following this strategy, publishers should focus on their audiences. Google’s ultimate job is to make search results more human. Therefore, by paying attention to and providing value to your audience, you are getting at the heart of what Google wants.

Truthfully, you can do so much more with less by focusing on your audience. It is shown in the data. Thriving publishers are the ones who can step into their readers’ shoes. They understand readers’ behaviour, demands, and engagement. Quality is more important than quality here. The goal is to understand the ways that readers consume your content and then give them what they expect. By doing so, you’ll see dramatically increased engagement with your content.

Therefore, pay less attention to the Google algorithm and more attention to delighting your audience. 


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Google’s Danny Sullivan about the Google BERT update.

2 Structure your website and content

Much of the general conversation about SEO for publishers focuses on things like keyword strategy. However, technical SEO is an equally important part of getting your content found. Specifically, it is important to structure your website and content in a way that is helpful for search engines.

Simply put, website architecture is critical because it affects how search engines crawl, interpret, and rank search results. There are plenty of reasons why search engines can punish your posts and push them down search engine result pages (“SERP”). This can include things like a slow website, too many pages to crawl, constant errors that pop up on your website, and more.

It is for these reasons that you’ll need to pay close attention to the technical aspects of your website. Make sure that it is fast and easy to navigate. Also, leverage factors such as pagination, internal linking, categories and tags, and sitemaps.


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In terms of content, make sure that it is high-quality content that is structured well for SEO. Content needs to be optimised in terms of relevancy, readability, and organised in pages. Black hat SEO tips of the past, like keyword stuffing, won’t work anymore.

3 Include keywords for search

Keywords are one of the most important parts of SEO for publishers. There’s no way around it. By selecting compelling keywords for a particular story, you will substantially increase your chances of ranking high on search engines.

The numbers are staggering. Google processes 3.5 billion searches per day. This translates to 1.2 trillion searches per year around the world. While publishers still heavily rely on social networks to share their content, studies have shown that search outperforms social by 300%.

Ultimately, writing for SEO is a process, but it can come naturally when writers understand the benefits. The simple reality is that many readers seek answers to very specific questions with search. For instance, Men’s Journal was able to rank extremely highly for passion points for its intended audience. 

“Publishers need to think hard about how they frame their content.” 

Abby Sjober, Associate Director of Audience Development at Vogue

4 Optimise for mobile users

We are now living in a world where we are spending more and more time on our phones. A recent study shows that 50% of all web traffic comes from mobile. Google Search has quickly adapted, offering new features like AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) and progressive web apps.

Because users are shifting away from desktop to mobile, you’ll need to ensure that your website is optimised for mobile users. One of the best ways to do this is to invest in responsive design. While many think that mobile-friendly and responsive design are the same, responsive design is about dynamic content that adapts to devices. It automatically adjusts images, padding, and spacing to fit any type of mobile device.

This is just one strategy. That said, make sure that you optimise your website for mobile. Search engines will recognise this and will reward you with improved rankings.

5 Remove duplicated content

It can be tempting to create multiple websites. It may make sense to create different websites, each containing very similar content, to target specific segments of your audience.

However, I urge you not to follow this strategy.

Duplicate content is actually harmful from a search perspective. It’s confusing for both users and search engines. If you’re producing copied content to manipulate search engine rankings and steal traffic, search engines like Google will punish your website. It will do more harm than good.

Instead of creating duplicate content, focus on creating one great site. It is less work and will provide you with more SEO benefits.

Google Retail’s results after merging six old websites into one single website.

6 Optimise images

Many news websites and publishers don’t actually own the images that they post. In all likelihood, you license your photos from Reuters, Getty Images, or other agencies. 

While you may not think that you can optimise your images, there are several actionable steps that you can take. Doing so makes your website faster and more enjoyable, which ultimately satisfies search engines like Google.

For example, compress and resize your images. Ensure that the source files aren’t larger than the size that they’re displayed on your website. Even if it appears that the image is small, huge images in the bodies of your articles will slow down your website. As a general rule of thumb, try to make your images smaller rather than larger. It will help you have a swift and quick website.

Further, if you want to make your images SEO-compliant, you should also make sure that your images 

  • are named descriptively,
  • are of the right file type, 
  • and have optimised alt attributes.

7 Encourage social sharing

Social traffic is extremely important in both SEO and non-SEO contexts. This is for several reasons. Social sharing helps build communities of interest and creates word of mouth about your publication. But along with that, social sharing can build backlinks to your website, which is a significant part of rising up the search engine ranking.

One great way to encourage social sharing in an SEO context is to leverage plugins. Look for visually appealing plugins that encourage social sharing and comments. These plugins should also have integrations with your favourite social networks. Also, make sure that these social sharing features are on stories that trigger powerful strong or negative emotions, as your audience will be more likely to share.

8 Keep subscriptions in mind

Finally, keep subscriptions in mind when focusing on your SEO work. It may seem counterintuitive. SEO is an important way to reach potential subscribers. While Google isn’t necessarily a big fan of paywalls, it’s easy to find paywalled content ranking highly.

Much of it comes down to flexible sampling. The general idea is that publishers would be compelled to provide a limited amount of free content (a minimum of three articles per day) to Google Search users before revealing the paywall. Doing so, these publishers would get their content indexed. If you have a subscription, think about instituting metering or lead-in sampling, as Google prefers both.

When balancing free and premium content, Google has a recommendation. It completed a study that says user satisfaction starts to degrade when paywalls are shown more than 10% of the time. Be careful in approaching that limit, as you may alienate users who have not yet been fully introduced to your content.


Some may think that SEO for publishers isn’t as important as it used to be. The thinking may go that journalism doesn’t work that way. That said, SEO was, and remains, an important part of finding new readers and subscribers.

Today’s reader is someone who is a critical thinker. He or she is happy to take part in online discussions and is willing to use search engines to learn more about a particular topic. Search engines are not going away—even if much of the attention is on finding readers through social networks.

Therefore, we encourage you to implement the SEO tips above. Stay consistent and experiment as necessary. By doing this, I am confident that you will achieve great long-term results in terms of your Google rankings and new organic traffic to your website.

Are you interested in advanced SEO techniques like automated linking between articles? Then read more about our Content Intelligence Tool here or contact us if you want to get a free consultation.

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