Life After Print: Revising the Digital Editorial Strategy in Magazine Publishing
By Kristen Nicole Hilderman
ABSTRACT: This report examines the tension between print and digital magazine publishing, the divisiveness around SEO, and the future of BCBusiness magazine’s digital editorial strategy. Beyond simply extolling the virtues of SEO, this report discusses its absolute necessity in the digital editorial workflow, how it can be adapted, and the best practices for digital editors. As the magazine publishing industry moves into a new digital era, magazines have to consider how to align the goals and practices of print and digital editors while developing new online strategies that combine print content, multimedia, SEO, and social media. BCBusiness is on the vanguard of this magazine publishing movement that will see more dynamic editors working as multi-platform, multidiscipline, word- and Web-strategists. All figures and statistics are accurate as of April 2011.
Thanks to my industry supervisor, Shannon Emmerson, and to John Bucher for their support, mentorship, and for letting me stick around after my internship.
Thanks to my senior supervisor, John Maxwell, and the brilliant staff in the Master of Publishing Program. I appreciate all of your encouragement, your dedication to your students, and above all, for helping me see what an exciting time this is to be entering the publishing industry.
And finally, thanks to my wonderful husband, Luc. I couldn’t have done this without your motivation on those early Saturday mornings, your encouraging words, and all of your support as I inched further toward my degree.
The digital publishing arc of BCBusiness magazine
PART ONE | A Burgeoning BCBusiness Digital Editorial Strategy
Early digital workflow
Case study: BCBusiness Online articles in 2007
The importance of SEO in digital
PART TWO | The Inner Workings of Search Engine Optimization
Social media as SEO
SEO in the analytics spotlight
PART THREE | The BCBusiness Digital Editorial Strategy
Parsing the BCBusiness Google Analytics
Adapting social media
New SEO strategies at Canada Wide Media
PART FOUR | The Future of Digital Editorial Practices
Bridging the gap between print and digital
From type to Twitter: An optimal workflow
The digital publishing arc of BCBusiness magazine
This report addresses the seismic shifts in the magazine publishing landscape, how they have given way to new digital strategies and an emphasis on magazines’ online components, and what these changes look like at a Canadian magazine publisher. During my internship at Canada Wide I analyzed online articles from 2007 onwards to ascertain past digital editorial practices and how they figured in the overall workflow of a print article being put online. Beyond analyzing the way things were, this report thoroughly discusses current strategies and their merits in online publishing, and puts forth new ideas for the future of online publishing. Upon being hired as a full-time staff member following my internship, I extended my research to Canada Wide’s current editorial strategies, and looked at how new methods and ideas can be incorporated to improve the digital editorial workflow and the overall success of online magazines. By going inside the current digital editorial practices at BCBusiness magazine, Canada Wide’s print and online business title, and analyzing its past methods, I can trace the evolution of online magazine publishing strategies at Canada Wide Media.
As online magazine-publishing models proliferate, more companies are exploring the opportunities of digital publishing rather than dwelling on the shortcomings of print. Magazines are being published in myriad forms —Magazines Canada calls them “360 degree marketing providers”—and online editions are building credibility with both readers and advertisers. As audiences warm to the idea of consuming robust content online —books, magazines, newspaper articles—more publications are moving their digital products beyond static replications of their print editions and embracing new strategies.
Early online models seemed to be shaped around the idea that “if you build it, they will come;” any online presence was better than none, and digital strategies lacked elegance, using the Web simply as a print-content repository. The prevailing idea was that, if your content was worthy, readers would find it, consume it, share it, and return for more. But with 255 million websites in existence as of December 2010, it has never been clearer that good content alone will not fuel your site’s vitality and success.
The content is king mantra still buzzes in the background of digital publishing strategies, but the sheer vastness and increasing complexities of the Internet demand a more sophisticated approach. Publishing excellent content is the editor’s steadfast goal, but ensuring that it is findable is paramount in her strategy. If you build it, the reader must be able to Google it.
Readers do not interact with a digital publication in the same way as with a print publication, nor do they find it the same way. Adopting a separate editorial strategy for Web content (both print-to-Web and Web-only) involves understanding how readers consume content online and understanding how they find it.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the Web practice of enhancing an article or website’s visibility online and increasing its findability in search engine results. In the past few years, SEO has become an increasingly fundamental part of online magazine publishing strategies, and thorough knowledge and understanding of SEO techniques are a necessity in the digital editor’s toolbox. By employing SEO methods, the digital editor improves an article’s online visibility, which results in more traffic arriving to the magazine’s website; it is like placing your print magazine at the front of the newsstand in hopes of attracting more readers. Although some aspects of SEO are at odds with the conventions of print editorial—such as headline writing—they have their rightful place in magazine publishing.
By incorporating SEO methods into the digital editorial strategy, editors can ensure that their content is well indexed by search engines and that it drives traffic to the magazine’s site. Although SEO skeptics are still rampant, it is hard to ignore the facts; through Google analytics, it is easy to discern the articles that have been optimized from those that were copied from the print magazine with no further changes. This report looks at the SEO and analytics of successful and unsuccessful BCBusiness articles to clarify the gap between a properly optimized article and one that has not undergone any Web-specific editorial treatment. Analytics reveal how many people see an article, how they arrived there, and many other valuable details that can be incorporated into the digital editorial strategy. A magazine article that is published online without Web-specific editorial treatment or optimization is the proverbial needle in the Internet haystack, a blip on the Google analytics radar. By thoroughly analyzing search optimization methods, this report will determine the best practices for digital editors, look at new techniques, emphasize SEO’s necessity in online magazine publishing, and look at how it can be specifically applied to back issues of Canada Wide’s magazines and to its current digital editorial strategy.
In 2005, Canada Wide Media launched a Web component for its flagship publication, BCBusiness magazine. The website offered fragments of five articles per month and pushed readers to subscribe to the print magazine. In 2007, BCBusiness launched its full website, BCBusinessOnline.ca. Over the past five years, BCBusiness Online has followed a similar arc to the one mentioned above. The fledgling website published entire print magazine issues by moving content online, but with minimal photos and limited consideration for the articles’ digital environment, primarily due to a small staff stretched thinly over the demanding website launch and curation. The original intention was to bring BCBusiness a Web presence as quickly as possible, populating the site with print content as a mirror to the magazine. The digital staff wanted to serve both readers, in finding content online, and advertisers, in reaching a new online audience. “The purpose of the website was to promote the magazine to advertisers and potential subscribers” with less focus on the reader experience. The website was a means to an end; the goal was to have a Web presence. In conjunction with the website launch, BCBusiness Online developed a blog component, but still left the magazine content with limited digital editorial treatment. It focused, rather, on curating the new Web-only component, a collection of blogs. BCBusiness Online’s Web component concerned itself with fresh, engaging content—which is not a bad strategy, but an incomplete one.
In the years following the launch of the site the magazine has significantly adjusted its approach to include search engine optimization as a critical part of its digital editorial strategy. With editors dedicated to SEO as a stage in each blog post and article’s workflow, the magazine has increased its visibility online and overall visitor traffic to the site. BCBusiness Online began using Google analytics in 2008, and since then the site has seen a 22.7% increase in unique visitors from 2008 to 2009, and a 49.2% increase in unique visitors from 2009 to 2010. This is no doubt the result of BCBusiness Online’s adoption of SEO, social media practices, and continued publication of high-quality content. Excellent content is a priority, but broadcasting it through social media and making it searchable through SEO has made the site significantly more successful, as can be seen by analyzing the visitor sources and keywords in BCBusiness Online’s Google analytics.
BCBusiness Online’s early practices of shoveling print content online has resulted in droves of valuable back-issue articles that have sunk to the bottom of the site and are not easily findable by search. By revisiting these articles with a revised digital editorial strategy, BCBusiness Online can create a valuable archive of content that will drive traffic, create a long tail of organic search-engine visitors, and hopefully convert those visitors to loyal readers.
We know that magazines need SEO, but it is time to revisit those strategies and evaluate which methods have real clout and which can be put aside. Rather than use the shotgun approach, editors must devote more quality time to only the important aspects of SEO than hedging one’s bets by completing every step half-heartedly. Too much time is wasted on methods that have been proven useless, like writing long lists of keywords on the backend of articles. Abandoning ineffective methods to devote more time to others (i.e. rewriting headlines and cultivating strong social media channels) can fortify the overall SEO of an article. This revision of the digital editorial strategy must also involve print editors—SEO should extend beyond the purview of just the digital editor. As magazines’ Web components build dominance, editors must work together as members of the same brand rather than separate print and digital entities.
Early digital workflow; Case study: BCBusiness Online articles in 2007; The importance of SEO in digital
The evolution of BCBusiness Online provides a model in the Canadian publishing industry by which we can trace changes in online editorial strategies. Analyzing articles from even just four years ago reveals a substantially different approach to online magazine publishing and a very basic definition of “Web presence.” In its earliest incarnation—and like many of its peers—BCBusiness magazine approached search engine optimization as more of an overall site-structure strategy with less attention paid to the optimization of individual articles. But as publishers began to grasp a more sophisticated idea of what being online meant for a magazine, digital editors began to emerge and, with them, digital editorial strategies. Search engine optimization grew in relevance as publishers began to consider business models for digital publishing, and as digital editors recognized its reader-attracting power. The sales staff wanted more traffic for the sake of advertisers, and editorial staff wanted more readers. BCBusiness had humble Web beginnings, but carved out its spot online and used the power of search engine optimization to help find its online audience.
BCBusiness Online has developed over time within the Digital Media Department at Canada Wide Media under director of digital media Shannon Emmerson. Since June 2007, the department has grown from a full-time staff of two to a full-time staff of 13. This includes three full-time digital editors, each dedicated to their own digital title—BCBusiness Online, Granville Online, and BCLiving, respectively. The department also has two full-time digital editorial assistants who devote editorial time to these titles, as well as TVWeek Online, Youthink.ca, GardenWise Online, RealGolf.ca, and Wellness Matters. The remainder of the department is comprised of a vice-president of marketing and digital media, a director of business development, an online-product marketing manager, two Web developers, an interactive designer, and a digital media operations manager.
A full-time digital editor and full-time digital editorial assistant run BCBusiness Online, with occasional blog contributions from the BCBusiness print editors. Together, the digital editors manage eight blogs with various contributors, create sales-driven Web-only content (articles whose topics originate from salespeople and are juxtaposed with relevant advertisements), publish each print issue of BCBusiness online, and create web-only multimedia features including slideshows, podcasts, videos, content collections, and weekly eNewsletters.
Recent structural changes at Canada Wide have shifted the digital editors out of the Digital Media Department and under the larger umbrella of the Editorial Department. This internal shift at the company affords the opportunity to make a stronger connection between the print and digital strategies of BCBusiness and BCBusiness Online. Consolidating print and digital editors will make it easier to integrate the digital editorial strategy into the overall editorial strategy of the BCBusiness brand.
In June 2007, BCBusiness magazine made its foray into digital publishing with BCBusiness Online. This was a crucial transition for BCBusiness during a period where many publishers feared the Web would cannibalize print sales.
In its earliest incarnation, the website revolved primarily around print content, and was without a proper digital editor for its first eight months. John Bucher, the first BCBusiness digital editor, arrived in February 2008. Under Bucher’s direction, the website was primarily dedicated to Web-only content that would complement the magazine. The digital editor continued publishing every article from each print issue as more bloggers joined and the Web-only content began to flourish. Like many other publications in the nascent digital magazine market, BCBusiness Online was carving out its niche and experimenting with the tension between print and digital. This was in a pre-iPad, pre-Kindle era, where the notion of consuming books and magazines online was an ongoing debate for readers and a relatively new challenge for publishers.
BCBusiness uses—as it used then—a customizable Drupal content management system that creates new articles through a blank “article” template form with required (i.e. title, author, body text) and optional (i.e. meta title, meta description) fields. Once filled in, the article forms can be saved and left unpublished or saved and published at the editor’s discretion by simply selecting or deselecting the “publish” button. The titles, authors, and body text from magazine articles were copied and pasted from their original Adobe InDesign production files into the backend of the website as unpublished articles (not accessible online except by editors), receiving no further editorial treatment beyond the print-magazine workflow. After upload, all print content was published at the digital editor’s discretion.
Before BCBusiness Online developed a strategy around the timing of online content with the timing of print content, it experimented, in an effort to maintain subscriptions and newsstand sales. The first publishing strategy was to sync the website publication with the magazine to be a true digital companion, offering full article access in time with the newsstand date. Further experiments included trickling articles out online throughout the course of the month, and pre-releasing print content “teasers” in the weekly eNewsletters to build momentum. But it was not until BCBusiness Online joined Twitter in February 2009 that the site could effectively generate buzz around print articles prior to the newsstand date without undermining the magazine. By tweeting about topics and people featured in upcoming articles without actually linking to them, readers are left to consider what angle the article might take, and must stay tuned to the BCBusiness Twitter feed (or continue visiting the BCBusiness homepage) until the article goes live online. The digital editor measured his success in this endeavour by retweets and the quality of direct response to his teaser tweets.
At the time BCBusiness joined Twitter, the digital editor was slowly leaking print articles online after the publication of the print magazine. He now gauges the anticipated popularity of print stories and revises his publishing strategy on a month-to-month basis; he publishes articles early, on the newsstand date, and past the newsstand date, all the while tweeting about what’s live on the website and what’s to come. The current role of BCBusiness Online falls under both the idea of the companion and the complement—everything in the magazine is offered online, but with additional commentary and treatment that only the Web can offer. The website plays the companion by publishing online everything in the print magazine, but it also complements print stories by taking advantage of multimedia—and sometimes further coverage in writing—to round out the articles. For example, a February 2011 article on nuclear fusion and Burnaby-based company General Fusion had a Web-only complementary article that featured an interview with the CEO of General Fusion and a lesson on how his company’s particular brand of nuclear fusion works; a January 2011 article on BC architects had a Web-only slideshow of structures designed by the architecture firms mentioned in the print article.
Eight BCBusiness Online bloggers (a number that is currently in flux) and various other contributors provide timely commentary, business advice, and local business insight that reinforce the brand as a trusted authority in BC’s business community.
The table below illustrates BCBusiness’s size as a print magazine and as a website. Comparing the 2009 and 2010 stats of BCBusiness indicates significant growth online and in the magazine’s social media channels.
|BCBusiness Circa 2009||BCBusiness Circa 2010|
|Total Site Unique Visitors (fiscal year 2009): >230,000||Total Site Unique Visitors (fiscal year 2010): >315,000|
|Magazine circulation: 26,000 (monthly)||Magazine circulation: 26,000 (monthly)|
|Average article and blog uploads per month: 75||Average article and blog uploads per month: 60|
|Online archives: July 2007 and later||Online archives: Full issues for July 2007 and later; random print articles from 2005|
|Twitter followers: >4400||Twitter followers: >9700|
|Facebook fans: >160||Facebook fans: >561|
|eNewsletter frequency: weekly||eNewsletter frequency: weekly|
In comparison to sister site and magazine GardenWise, whose current circulation is 35,000 and current average uploads per month is approximately 30 articles per month plus regular blogs and events, BCBusiness has grown its total unique visitors substantially more. From 2009 to 2010 BCBusiness has increased it unique visitors by nearly 100,000 visitors per month. GardenWise decreased from >250,000 unique visitors in 2009 to >235,000 unique visitors in 2010. Although the two brands are under the same umbrella at Canada Wide Media, BCBusiness underwent more radical changes to its digital editorial strategy in recent years, has a full-time online editor and assistant editor, and has more fully incorporated SEO into its workflow of print and Web-only content.
Early digital editorial strategies involved little to no SEO, in part due to unfamiliarity, but also due to fear of comprising the editorial integrity of print articles. But it was hard for publishers to ignore the logic of search engine optimization. Google analytics show that when an article is optimized, it will receive more organic visitors than an article that has not been optimized. Turning up one’s nose at SEO is turning down loads of potential readers. Senior SEO analyst for Hearst Publications, Dan Roberts, was an early proponent for SEO and the man responsible for working it into the publishing company’s online strategy. “There are a lot of people who had to make a paradigm shift [from print editorial] . . . The ones that ignore [SEO] do so at their own peril and their results speak for themselves,” said Roberts.
Print articles do not translate to the Web in many ways—especially visually. A page of magazine article has text that flows around pull quotes, has images and captions, and breaks longer pieces into subsections, even if only with drop caps rather than subheads. These longer articles online appear as blocks of text with few points of entry for the reader; without subtitles to distinguish breaks or shifts in the story, images to create visual interest, or page breaks, online articles can appear daunting and unattractive to readers. And most importantly, print titles are vague and do not contain keywords, making the articles less searchable online. If an article about boating in the Pacific Ocean is called “High Tides,” with no further metadata, and a reader is searching online for information about boating in the Pacific, this article will be buried beneath articles whose titles and metadata are trying to capture that audience. Eventually everything online is indexed, but it is not necessarily easy to find.
Rachelle Money reports that since including SEO in Hearst’s digital editorial strategy, the company saw a 150 per cent increase in overall traffic. This jump in traffic and shift in editorial strategy represents the majority of online magazines and magazine companions; some worried that SEO would compromise the integrity of the original article, and some were just skeptical. In 2007 when BCBusiness was first experimenting with online strategies and digital publishing, it had moderate knowledge of search engine optimization that was geared mostly toward website infrastructure rather than smaller-scale article infrastructure. By analyzing old BCBusiness content, it is evident that the chief priority was getting content online with few editorial changes. Had these articles been under the guiding hand of a digital editor, they could have been rigorously optimized, capturing a larger online audience, ranking higher in Google search results when there was less competition, and enjoying a long tail of traffic over the years. Each visitor in the long tail of traffic represents an opportunity to win over a new reader. Reviewing an article from BCBusiness Online in 2007 demonstrates the lost opportunities of digital editorial strategies without SEO.
On September 1, 2007 (three days prior to the September print issue’s newsstand date), BCBusiness Online published the print feature story “Here Comes the Pride.” (URL: http://www.BCBusiness Online.ca/bcb/top-stories/2007/09/01/here-comes-pride.) The article has a slug-based URL, which means it is automatically created by the online publishing platform, drawing its name from the category under which the article is classified in the Drupal article form (top story), the date on which it is published online (September 1, 2007), and the title of the article, which in this case is the original magazine headline (Here Comes the Pride). Because the title of this article was taken directly from the print magazine with no further changes, the URL contains no useful keywords for a reader who is trying to Google the article. Ordinarily when optimizing a print article’s headline, the digital editor uses the Google Adwords Keyword Tool to research popular words and phrases that pertain to the article. In this case, the digital editor might have found that “gay marriage” was a popular keyword and subsequently used it in the headline. This would create a keyword-based title, reflecting the terms that readers would use in search engines to find this content.
The meta title is an SEO element that appears at the top of the reader’s browser and describes the content of the page; it reads the same as the print story headline, but with BCBusiness appended after a pipeline (Here Comes the Pride | BCBusiness). BCBusiness is automatically added to the end of every meta title, which is good for overall brand SEO but does not help individual articles. The article deck is not visible in the body of the text and is only used in a promotional spot of the article form that appears wherever the article is featured on the website. Including a deck contained in H2 tags is another opportunity to include pertinent keywords and larger searchable phrases that may be too awkward for a title. The body of the article does not feature any further optimized metadata such as H3 tags, article links, or image meta tags.
Reviewing the Google analytics for this article reveals that zero visitors arrived from keywords germane to the article’s content. Without optimizing the article around keywords, it cannot be easily found—if at all—through a Google search. Unless a reader has the exact print title, “Here Comes the Pride,” he would have no other means of finding the article online. In order to capture visitors through Google searches, the digital editor must research keywords and phrases that relate to the article and that she thinks readers would use in order to find this type of story. The Google Adwords Keyword Tool shows the editor which keywords are popular, by how many Google searches they receive each month, and how likely it is to rank highly for the keyword by displaying the level of “competition” surrounding the word. The more popular something is, the harder it will be to win that term. But ranking on the first page of a Google search result for a popular keyword can result in consistent traffic. In Google Adwords Keyword Tool, the following relevant search terms return favourable results:
“gay marriage” – 550,000 searches per month, low competition
“same sex marriage” – 201,000 searches per month, low competition
“gay and lesbian marriage” – 165,000 searches per month, low competition
“legalize same sex marriage” – 18,100 searches per month, low competition
In publishing and journalism, editors and writers refer to an article like “Here Comes the Pride” as “evergreen”—its content does not go out of date and is perennially useful. But without SEO, once the article is shifted down by newer content, it is buried deep within the site with no means of finding it. In the next section we look at a 2008 article called “Red Light, Green Light” that received the full SEO treatment and subsequently ranks highly in Google search results. Since BCBusiness Online began using Google Analytics in 2008, “Here Comes the Pride” has received a paltry 226 unique visits—a fraction of the 9,603 visits that the optimized “Red Light, Green Light” received in just 2010 alone. And of those 226 visitors, not one arrived using a relevant keyword. With such extraordinarily popular search terms at its heart, such low competition for those terms, and an online life of over three years, the article should have tens of thousands of views.
By comparing “Here Comes the Pride” to another (optimized) article based around a popular search term, it is easy to see the difference in terms of visitor traffic and longevity. Although the article “Red Light, Green Light: Sex in Vancouver” was published on October 9, 2008, it continues to draw steady traffic. The article covers a salacious, controversial, and highly searched topic (much like same sex marriage but with radically fewer searches per month in the Google Adwords keyword tool), but by optimizing the article well, it ranks highly in Google search results and constantly draws traffic. In January 2011 alone, the article brought in 1,394 unique visitors just from organic Google searches (not including visitors from other search engines). Over its lifetime, “Red Light, Green Light” has brought in the following numbers of unique visitors from the corresponding keywords: 1,205 arrived via keywords “Vancouver prostitution”; 941 arrived via keywords “Vancouver prostitutes”; and 931 arrived via keywords “prostitution in Vancouver.” Winning such a popular keyword early on in the online publishing game is a feat for BCBusiness and a testament to the power of SEO. Both “Here Comes the Pride” and “Red Light, Green Light” contain controversial and very highly searched topics and keywords, but only one continues to capture thousands of readers. According to the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, the aforementioned “Red Light, Green Light” search terms bring in the following number of searches per month through Google:
“Vancouver prostitution” – 1,300 searches/month in Google, low competition
“Vancouver prostitutes” – 12,400 searches/month in Google, low competition
“Prostitution in Vancouver” – 1,300 searches/month in Google, low competition
These are the top three keywords by which visitors arrived at the article, and each has a significantly lower search value in Google than the keywords for the non-optimized article “Here Comes the Pride.” The term “gay marriage” may not be as risqué as “Vancouver prostitution,” but it has the potential to garner more organic Google search traffic.
“Red Light, Green Light” was published online on October 9, 2008 under the revised headline “Red Light, Green Light: The Sex Industry in Vancouver.” This article headline combines the original article title (on the left side of the colon) with keywords. Keeping the original title is sometimes desired so that print readers can easily find the article online. The meta title, “Red Light Green Light: The Sex Industry in Vancouver | Vancouver Prostitution| BCBusiness,” includes secondary keywords and phrases that were not used in the title.
In the body of the article, the deck repeats the article’s keywords, and the keywords are repeated again in subheads surrounded by H3 tags. Subheads are a frequently missed opportunity to include keywords and phrases; they serve the double duty of breaking up dense text, offering more points of entry for readers, and adding further SEO keywords to the article. H3 tags can also be used in sidebar titles for shorter articles that do not require subheads. Four outbound links—three to BCBusiness Online and one to National Public Radio—are embedded in the article. The links are created with strong anchor text that denotes the content readers will find on the linked page. Links with properly anchored, keyword-dense text reflect well on an article when they connect to a credible outside source (such as National Public Radio). Including relevant links to outside sources boosts the article’s status in Google and is a standard of best practices in web publishing.
Unlike “Here Comes the Pride,” “Red Light, Green Light” is broken into shorter pages as a user-friendly way to present longer stories to online readers. Images throughout the article are tagged with metadata consistent with the article’s main keywords and phrases.
Without the above SEO treatment, “Red Light, Green Light: Sex in Vancouver” would have been buried under years of BCBusiness Online content and poorly indexed by Google. Although some editors have feared that adjusting a print article for digital publication will destroy its integrity by jamming it full of keywords, SEO merely amends the article to its medium without compromising the quality of the original writing.
Analyzing past BCBusiness articles reflects the early standards of online magazine publishing at Canada Wide Media and in the rest of the country; not every publication had a website and those that did were still developing their digital practices. Early digital workflows focused on how content would get online, but not necessarily how readers would find and consume it online. Rudimentary digital editorial strategies were the norm—out of every publication at Canada Wide Media, BCBusiness had, and still has, the most developed online strategy and the most active editorial application of that strategy. Although other publications at Canada Wide Media have comprehensive digital strategies, they have fewer resources and therefore receive less editorial attention than BCBusiness Online. Since its launch in 2007, BCBusiness has taken articles like “Here Comes the Pride” and revised their metadata to capture organic visitors and further expose the magazine’s brand. Parsing the metadata and editorial treatment of “Here Comes the Pride” and “Red Light, Green Light” emphasizes the importance and effectiveness of implementing a digital editorial strategy. Getting online was important, but now getting found online is key.
SEO explained; Social media as SEO; SEO in the analytics spotlight
Using search engine optimization in publishing is a fundamental part of finding your readers and giving them what they want. Revising print articles with a view for increasing their findability online is the cornerstone of SEO. Part two discusses the fundamentals of optimizing an article, how the various elements of SEO function, and how this affects an article’s analytics and traffic. Although social media is not strictly considered an element of SEO, it helps boost traffic and brand presence in a way that complements optimized articles. Social media article promotion is always the last step of a digital editor’s workflow, but it is crucial. Promoting content on sites like Facebook and Twitter gives articles a boost and helps generate inbound links before the article is indexed and begins to draw traffic from Google searches. Where optimizing an article is key to the long-term success of an article, social media act as the short-term portion of the editor’s overall goal to drive traffic and place an article highly in Google search results pages.
As seen in Part One, the difference between an optimized and non-optimized article can be thousands of lost visitors. Proper and thorough SEO ensures that Google indexes a magazine’s content and that quality visitors—the right people—will find it. Google co-founder Larry Page once said the perfect search engine “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.” By using best SEO practices and getting well indexed by Google, good magazine content can be exactly what someone is looking for.
Although SEO is now a more integral part of online magazines’ publishing strategies, skeptics remain. Not everyone is convinced of search engine optimization’s effectiveness; many print editors fear that SEO interferes with an article’s editorial integrity; some skeptics believe that subtle SEO tweaks do not amount to anything; and others, rightly so, are weary of “black hat” SEO artists and methods.
The fear that SEO will degrade the level of writing in magazine articles is a fear based on unfounded suspicions of the tenets of Web writing. Web writing stresses keyword density and focused content that “lets people grab and go,” but all online content does not have to fall in line under these standards—especially robust magazine articles. When weaving SEO practices into a digital editorial strategy, it is important to remember that “your ultimate consumers are your users, not search engines.” Although the goal is to be indexed by Google and ranked highly, editors have to keep the readers top of mind.
Changing content by thinning it out and stuffing the body text with keywords may help its search ranking, but the quality suffers for it, and so does the brand. Sophisticated online readers, digital natives, and an increasing part of magazines’ broader audiences understand that magazines are fighting for their attention. Finding readers online is a battle. Readers are learning more about SEO and, on the farther end of the SEO spectrum, content farms, whose sole purpose is to optimize often poorly written content around popular search terms. Readers are becoming weary of websites like eHow.com and publications using unethical or misleading practices to capture their attention. A headline and description on a Google search results page that promises to talk about the Canadian political leaders’ debate, but is jammed with keywords and does not cover the crux of the issue results in quick reader turnover. Once the reader is duped into visiting an article that does not deliver on its promise or does so poorly and ineffectively, that brand is now associated with that experience. Many readers have accused Suite 101 and other such sites of being nothing more than content farms. “Quality can be a big issue,” says Jason Glover, a former Suite 101 writer, of the website’s methods. “It can be argued that the primary concern of the sites is to sell advertising and make money, so good SEO is more important than well-written and researched articles.” Optimizing content in a misleading way or posting well-optimized but low-quality content may spike numbers, but it is not part of a long-term plan to win readers’ trust and build a strong brand reputation.
After all, the goal is to attract visitors and convert them to loyal readers, not just to secure the top position in Google searches. Writing for the web in magazine articles is realized through subheads, sidebars, and pagination—methods that improve the online reading experience and boost search visibility without compromising the quality. Content will always be King of any editorial strategy.
Small changes to optimize an article are no trifling thing. Rewriting a print article’s vague title may seem like a paltry adjustment, but according to Google, “when combined with other optimizations, [these changes] could have a noticeable impact on your site’s user experience and performance in organic search results.” Breaking down SEO into its respective parts is useful for understanding how to wield its power properly and learning which parts should be prioritized. But overall, SEO should be understood as a whole, with each step acting as a fundamental part of the SEO machine. If one part fails—a title without keywords—the entire machine slows down. And if enough parts fail—poor title, no deck, not researching the keywords—the entire machine is rendered useless and your article sinks into oblivion.
For every few SEO enthusiasts there seems to be an SEO skeptic who subscribes to the notion of “black hat” methods and “spamdexing.” Black hat artists exploit SEO practices by jamming misleading keywords into articles and metadata, paying other websites to post hundreds to thousand of inbound links to their content, redirecting articles to different pages, and subsequently “degrad[ing] both the relevance of search results and the quality of user-experience.” If Google discovers that your website is using black hat SEO techniques, they will blacklist you, excluding you from all Google search engine results pages. Although bad SEO practices are widespread, reputable publishers and editors do not have time to waste on questionable methods that could blacklist their site or bad practices that damage their brand’s credibility. An important part of a magazine’s online presence is building their community, brand, and reputation—and one instance of bad practices can damage a brand much quicker than a history of good practices can build it up.
Avoiding black hat methods also helps to dictate an editor’s priorities when optimizing an article, such as skipping the meta-keywords field on the backend of an article. Keyword stuffing was a common black hat method in earlier SEO days, and is part of the reason Google no longer uses the meta-keywords field in its indexing algorithm.
Analyzing and understanding each moving part of a machine is the best way to make sense of its function, and the easiest way to know what needs fixing when it is not performing as it should. Parsing search engine optimization lets us see which elements require more attention and where an editor should dedicate the majority of her time. The impetus behind optimizing online articles is not to inflate the magazine’s overall traffic, but to target keywords that will draw in quality visitors who can be converted into loyal readers.
Because navigating the Web is done largely through search engines, ranking highly on search engine results pages is a crucial goal for Web editors. When Google indexes an article for its results pages, it pays weighted attention to different variables on the article page, such as the headline, the image tags, or the URL. By understanding the part each element plays in search rankings, editors can focus their approach when optimizing content. For example, though it is temping to retain original magazine headlines, as seen below in the SEO breakdown, the H1 and title tags are two of the most important SEO elements.
URLs should be keyword-rich and easy to understand. Complex URLs can be a problem for both humans and Google crawlers if they’re too long or include confusing number and symbol sequences. Keeping the tail end of a URL brief is important, using up to five keywords and connecting them with dashes rather than underscores (Google recognizes dashes as spaces between each word). The more words included in the URL, the less each will be weighted in terms of SEO clout. Long and complicated URLs are more likely to be copied incorrectly or posted as broken links by readers, which results in missed inbound link opportunities. Since editors have no control over the anchor text used in the inbound links to their site, having keyword-rich URLs help. Using keywords in the URL provides Google crawlers with more information on what they will find at the link, and this boosts the effectiveness when being ranked.
BCBusiness Online’s slug-based URLs are keyword-rich because they are automatically created from the site’s taxonomy and an optimized headline. However, shortening or amending the tail end of the link can optimize them further.
For example, the headline “Human Rights in Employment: Do You Need a Tune Up?” creates the URL: “human-rights-employment-do-you-need-tune.” Replacing the last four words of the URL (which do nothing in terms of optimizing) with another keyword creates a stronger and simpler URL: “human-rights-employment-law.” Before articles are published, an automatic URL is created for BCBusiness Online articles, but editors should always change the tail end when it does not already include keywords. Any changes made after the article has been published, however, can result in the same page being indexed twice, thus splitting the SEO clout between the old broken-linked page and the newly optimized title’s page. Also, any inbound links to the article will now be broken links, therefore all URL optimization should be completed prior to publishing.
SEO software provider and online SEO resource site SEOmoz calls the title tag (also known as the meta title) the “single most important on-page SEO element (behind overall content),” appearing in two key spots. The title tag appears at the top of the user’s Web browser and at the top of article descriptions on search engine results pages. It is typically the same as the headline (H1), with additional keywords attached to the end. Placing the most relevant keywords at the opening of the title tag is important for search results, as Google only displays a maximum of 70 characters of the entire title tag. To write an optimized meta title, include the article headline and one to two more keyword phrases. Each part of the title tag should be separated using vertical pipelines: “How to Work with Family | Family Businesses | BCBusiness.”
Title tags on BCBusiness Online are automatically appended with “| BCBusiness.” Well-known or respected brands included in title tags can affect a higher click-through rate in search engine results. Including the magazine in the title tag is also an overall good brand strategy to promote the magazine’s presence on the Web.
Article headline <H1>
The H1 tag is the main title, or headline, that appears at the top of an article and should always include the top keyword or phrase. “Placing the keyword early in the header tag will increase its prominence” and will be more indicative of the content than a typical print magazine title. Some online magazines retain the print title in the headline or meta title so that it is still searchable. Reviewing Google analytics indicates that such an insignificant number of visitors arrive by searching the print title, that this practice does nothing more than minimize a headline’s SEO effectiveness.
Although BCBusiness Online sometimes changes entire headlines when optimizing content, it retains the print headline in the online table of contents. Editors who are concerned about confusing readers who are searching for articles online by their print headline can use the original headlines in their archives or tables of contents. BCBusiness Online keeps an archive of every print issue that has been published on the website (with articles listed under their original print titles). Archives are a straightforward point of reference for readers trying to find an article via the issue and original title. Print headlines can stay in the same in the rare case that they include the proper keywords, but should otherwise be replaced.
A deck is an introductory phrase or paragraph at the beginning of the article that gives the reader the main topic and a taste of what is to come. In online magazine publishing, the deck is contained between H2 tags. The H2 tag is one tier below the headline tag H1 and together they are used as a kind of in-article taxonomy. Below the H2 tag are the H3 tags (the next tier down), which indicate subheads within the body of the article. Print article decks are sometimes suitable to be taken as-is and used within the H2 tags. For the most part, however, they should be partially rewritten to include the top keywords and phrases that have already been used in the headline and meta title.
BCBusiness print articles are easily modified to include keywords and phrases, and rarely require an entire rewrite.
Subheads are as much for the search engines as they are for the readers, and are a very important function in Web writing. Because Web content does not have the same layout options as print articles, online text can sometimes appear dense and overwhelming. Using keyword-rich subheads breaks up long articles and gives the reader a better idea of the content at-a-glance. When using heading tags, it is crucial to employ them as part of your SEO strategy, and not just for aesthetics; it is bad practice to use an H3 tag where bolded or italicized text would suffice.
Longer print articles, lists, and how-to articles always take H3 tags on BCBusiness Online. The digital editors create subheads as needed and where useful to improve the reading experience and to capture more keywords in the article’s metadata—in this case, in H3 tags. On occasion, BCBusiness Online uses H3 tags to draw attention to text in slideshows. Using a larger font would style the text in the same manner as H3 tags without using SEO for aesthetics rather than for optimizing.
Sometimes ignored, the meta description is one of the most important factors on the backend of an article. The meta description is chiefly for readers, and shows up on search results pages directly below the meta title. The meta description has the double duty of informing readers and enticing them to click into the content. Although editors should focus on keywords, they should approach the meta description as a sales pitch to potential readers. It must be a brief summary, include keywords, and reflect the quality of writing in the article.
BCBusiness Online writes two to three sentences for meta descriptions, and sometimes copy and pastes the deck, depending on its length. The deck can sometimes be suitable, but in most cases the meta description needs to be a more detailed summary of the article and be economical with its words. Google displays up to 154 characters of the meta description on its search results pages. Descriptions exceeding this size will be truncated, and the meaning could be lost.
Links within the text should be added to articles where applicable. Editors should especially focus on opportunities to link to their own content. The most important element of links is the anchor text—it should be concise and related to the content on the linked page. Links should be structured around keywords or phrases rather than single words like “article,” or irrelevant phrases like “click here.”
Keyword-rich anchor text is for both the search engines and the users. Using proper anchor text gives Google a better idea of what they will find on the linked page. It is also a clearer call out for readers and easier to spot within the text.
BCBusiness Online has a reciprocal link relationship with its sister sites Granville Online and BCLiving, and links to their pages with strong anchor text whenever possible. With more editorial time for print-to-web articles, digital editors could create more links, whether to their own site or to an external source.
Breaking a long article into numbered pages aids readability and navigation. The only time breaking one page into multiple pages will negatively affect SEO is when the pages get into the double digits and higher. When a larger consumer site, like a retailer, takes its online merchandise pages and breaks them into multiple pages for ease of navigation, the higher-numbered pages are not indexed well by Google. These subsidiary pages are improperly indexed and can bury content and limit their potential to be indexed by Google. Because print articles do not have the same excessive length as say, a listing of hundreds of shoes on Zappos.com, magazines do not face this same issue.
BCBusiness Online Google analytics indicate that visitors enter articles on the proper main article page when arriving via search, and not subsequent pages that have been broken off with pagination. The majority of visitors arriving at a page that is numbered two or higher have done so via the article’s main page.
Image meta tags <alt>
Optimizing images is a twofold form of SEO that should never be overlooked. It involves naming the file when saving, and creating an alt tag. Keeping the image file name short and keyword-rich improves its visibility in search engines. On the backend or in the html, digital editors can name images (in the same way as the file naming) with an alt tag. The alt tags are used by search engines (such as Google Image Search), revealed when readers mouse over the image, and used by screen reading technology.
BCBusiness Online has naming conventions for image sizes, and names image files with relevant keywords pertaining to the article content. All embedded images are given alt tags.
Inbound links are cited as one of the most important factors for a website’s ranking in search engines—both in terms of volume of links and quality of anchor text. Inbound links are the key to increasing a site’s PageRank in Google. PageRank is Google’s calculation of a website’s importance and relative authority to all other sites on the Internet. Google gives sites a PageRank from one (lowest) to eight (highest), and uses these numbers to determine which pages have more influence online and which websites’ articles are most likely to show up in the top of search engine results. Every link pointing to an article is like a vote in its favour, and the more votes it receives, the more influential Google perceives it to be.
Although extremely important, this part of a digital editor’s SEO strategy is harder to influence and cannot be executed as simply as the above methods. Publishing high-quality content is the best strategy to attract inbound links. But even if other sites are linking to your article, you cannot control whether or not they are using proper anchor text. Community-building through social media often results in valuable and consistent inbound links.
If the goal of SEO is to drive traffic through search, the goal of social media is to drive traffic through the online community; social media in magazine publishing is like SEO for the people rather than for the search engines. Broadcasting to the community to draw in visitors and build the magazine’s brand equates to the practice of boosting PageRank and driving traffic through search. And much like in SEO, the reader remains top of mind.
Having a social media presence is not an element of SEO, per se, but it is inextricably linked to the digital editor’s workflow. Although social media does not fall within the traditional parameters of SEO—which involve directly manipulating an article or its html code for search engine visibility—it is a joint exercise in branding and self-promotion that brings visitors to the site. Social media is most closely related to generating back links, another borderline-SEO concept. In this case, however, the editor has more direct control over the process of acquiring visitors—specifically, through the frequency of messages being broadcasted through social media channels and the number of connections with peers.
Social media should be regarded as secondary to SEO, but still a crucial part of the editor’s workflow. Links created on social media are ephemeral, whereas good SEO will nest an article in Google search results pages creating a permanent long tail of traffic. Organic Google searches outweigh the number of visitors arriving from all social media channels combined, but the branding power and impact of directly connecting with readers on sites like Twitter is invaluable.
The final stage of an article’s life should be when it is promoted via social media, whether it is Twitter, Facebook, etc. Promoting content through social media helps generate inbound links and spreads the brand throughout the magazine’s community.
It should be noted that Twitter surrounds its tweeted links (any link included in any tweet by any Twitter user) with a “no follow” tag that tells search engines to ignore the links. This is so that Twitter users cannot send out a high volume of hyperlinked spam tweets to affect search engine results. However, linking to your content on Twitter gives followers the opportunity to retweet your links to their followers, subsequently increasing visitors to your website. Many Twitter users will also take links from tweets and include them on their website or blog, indirectly creating valuable inbound links to your content (and this boosting PageRank).
Connections made on social media sites influence readers beyond the act of simply clicking on article links. MediaShift, a PBS blog, credits social media with introducing a “new era of pass-along” in magazine publishing. Passing content (links) to your readers is like personally putting a magazine in their hands. And through the ease and speed of social media, it is that much easier for them to pass that article on to a friend.
Social media also provides a venue outside of a magazine’s website for readers to connect and discuss content and related topics. Some social media venues take as little encouragement as posting a link or discussion question to engage readers with each other on the magazine’s behalf.
BCBusiness promotes itself as a single brand (representing both the print and digital teams) on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Twitter and Facebook are obvious—almost compulsory—choices for social networks in which to participate, and LinkedIn is on BCBusiness’s radar because of its association with the business world and business professionals. Based on global traffic, Facebook and Twitter are the two most widely used social media platforms in the world; they are also the most popular choices in the publishing industry. Facebook and Twitter presences have become as standard as having a website.
Facebook is the social media channel that was there from the start. The ways in which magazines interact with their readers through Facebook have evolved over the years and have since settled on fan pages. Making connections with readers via Facebook (getting them to “like” your fan page) lists your brand on their personal profile and spreads your name throughout the Facebook community. It is another channel through which a magazine can build its brand and bolster its reputation through the support of the community.
On Facebook fan pages there is an implicit self-promotional agreement—the majority of content pertains to the magazine and not to material like one would find on Twitter. Although the level of discourse around articles does not match LinkedIn—both in its volume and its quality—the number of visitors who arrive from Facebook are great enough to warrant the upkeep of fan pages. In 2010, Facebook drove 12,174 visitors to BCBusiness Online and was the number seven overall traffic source.
BCBusiness posts feature articles and noteworthy blogs on a semi-weekly basis. Although Facebook fans know a magazine is there to promote itself and share content, flooding one’s fan page with content can clog fans’ news feeds with your articles and cause them to “unlike” your fan page. Like all social media endeavours, there is a fine line between self-promoting and self-obsessing, and timely updates and unrelenting content pushing.
Any magazine with a website or any semblance of a digital strategy also has a Twitter account. The immediacy of Twitter lets readers communicate directly with the brand in real time. A linked tweet holds just as much clout as a verbal recommendation. Twitter is especially useful when leaking print content online before its newsstand date. Alerting your Twitter followers with a short teaser and a link directs them to the site and creates anticipation around the forthcoming print content. However, using tweets sparingly to promote content sets the tone and lets your readers know that not just anything will be broadcasted.
BCBusiness’s digital editor controls the Twitter account with a mix of tweets, some with links and some without. He creates a balance between link-sharing, opining, and cracking jokes, which results in a useful feed of resourceful material, but with a clear voice and personality. Shoveling your website content onto Twitter like coals into a fire misses the point of tweeting. And linking only to your own articles creates a one-dimensional twitter feed with less credibility. Linking to outside sources, staying relevant, and indulging in self-promotion when it is appropriate is how BCBusiness manages its Twitter feed. It uses the same successful formula as The Walrus magazine: “Witty, upbeat, and personal. […] Engaging with the community, not broadcasting.”
Linking to articles via Twitter is also a proven method of increasing website traffic, and draws in more visitors to BCBusiness Online than any of the other social media platforms. Promoting an article with a tweet is like dropping a rock in the community pond—one tweet can cause a ripple effect and reach readers that are not even BCBusiness followers.
Starting a group under your magazine brand on LinkedIn is an effective method of connecting with readers and starting discussions around your content. As a LinkedIn user, every connection you make, whether to a person or an organization, is tied to your professional reputation. Members of the BCBusiness LinkedIn group page are more invested in discussions than their counterparts on the BCBusiness Facebook page; where Facebook has a more casual brand interaction with “likes” and often one-sentence comments, LinkedIn has more ambitious users who are dedicated to professional networking and fostering robust discussions. According to a recent survey on Mashable, more than half of LinkedIn users belonging to groups participate in discussions. Connections and associations are more carefully forged and curated in this online community, and. When Mashable polled a group of 500 LinkedIn members from entry-level workers to top-level executives, it found that the majority of users, no matter the stage of their career, identified networking in their top three uses. It is strictly for professional purposes and group discussions generally revolve around topics germane to the brand.
Because the nature of LinkedIn as a social network is more serious and career-oriented than Facebook or Twitter, discussions and comments are generally more constructive and well developed. In the same Mashable survey mentioned above, users called LinkedIn “more professional than Facebook.” Where 10 readers might simply “like” an article link on your Facebook fan page, two or three members of a LinkedIn group would engage in higher-level discourse around that same article. This makes LinkedIn a good resource for developing high-quality readers who know the brand more intimately, spend more time interacting with the content, and are more likely to share links.
Members can start their own discussions that are not directly related to magazine content, but they are still communicating and gathering in a forum under the magazine’s brand. As an editor, visiting sporadically to stoke the fire of discussion and provide article links drives readers to the site and keeps them engaged.
Although not a traditional form of social media, eNewsletters are another important tool in the editor’s arsenal. eNewsletters are best used for calling attention to new and popular content or, like with Twitter, generating buzz around an upcoming print issue by leaking articles prior to the newsstand date. Subscribers to eNewsletters are similar in their behaviour to LinkedIn group members—they are high-quality visitors who spend more time on the site.
It is not enough to use optimized content in online magazine publishing—editors must also have intimate knowledge of how it is impacting website traffic. Using Google Analytics to evaluate how content is performing, how visitors are reaching articles, and which topics are popular is a key part of the editor’s digital strategy. Analytics should help trace trends and inform the editor’s treatment of different types of content, especially once that content has reached the social media stage of its workflow. Identifying the top traffic sources tells an editor where her time is well spent.
Google Analytics provides insight and numbers on a macro scale—like how much traffic a website gets each year, or which day of the week receives the most hits —down to the finite details of which keyword is drawing in the most visitors on a particular article. Editors can adjust their timeline window in Google Analytics by selecting any date range from years at a time to a single day’s worth of visits. For example, after the annual BCBusiness Top 100 Luncheon, the digital editor can measure the spike in website traffic for that one day and determine where the traffic came from. By looking closely at any article’s statistics, editors can see exactly how many hits an article receives and when, where those visitors are coming from, how long the visitors are staying, who is linking to the article, which keywords visitors are using to find the article, and how long visitors are staying on the page. Google Analytics provides these same details on a site-wide level.
Identifying popular keywords in analytics can create new opportunities to optimize content and pages around topics that readers are already interested in finding. Each month the names of BC business leaders figure prominently in the top 10 keywords used to arrive at BCBusiness Online. Because BCBusiness has existing profiles on these people, the digital editor can optimize the articles around the business leaders’ names (if he has not already), and promote them in social media with the goal of driving traffic and inbound links. Google Analytics is useful in this way, as it helps an editor find and fortify his strengths.
Identifying top sources and the articles they lead to can allow editors to target those source audiences with appropriate content. Singling out specific articles that have been optimized and promoted through all of the magazine’s social media channels can shed light on how readers are interacting with the content and how they’re finding it.
By analyzing the short article “Personal Branding Lesson from Jim Pattison” compared to the feature print article “Taxi Drivers: Vancouver’s Road Warriors,” we can get a better understanding of how social media audiences interact with the content. Each article was optimized, promoted through social media, and included in a weekly eNewsletter.
“Personal Branding Lesson from Jim Pattison”
Date Published: November 2, 2010
Total visitors: 1490
Average visit length: 2:57
eNewsletter: 306 visitors, average 1:06 on site, 68% bounce rate
Twitter: 164 visitors, average of 1:46 on site, 83% bounce rate
Facebook: 168 visitors, average of 2:52 on site, 86% bounce rate
Google: 101 visitors, average of 3:48 on site, 78% bounce rate
“Taxi Drivers: Vancouver’s Road Warriors”
Date published: November 3, 2010
Total visitors: 775
Average visit length: 5:19
eNewsletter: 143 visitors, average of 3:25 on site, 68% bounce rate
Twitter: 7 visitors, average of 4:06 on site, 75% bounce rate
Facebook: 24 visitors, average of 1:04 on site, 75% bounce rate
Google: 304 visitors, average of 2:50 on site, 81% bounce rate
The top eNewsletter spots are guaranteed to receive an influx of traffic; articles in the top two positions of BCBusiness eNewsletters each receive an average of 500 direct eNewsletter visitors. No matter the length, eNewsletter visitors tend to interact with the content in the same fashion. Both articles in this case had a 68% bounce rate, with each article holding readers for a period time relevant to the article’s length.
Although it is difficult to discern the reasons a link receives a click-through on Twitter, the above analytics tells us that shorter articles and quick hits of content (lessons, how-to articles, blogs, lists, etc.) are more popular than long-form journalism. “Taxi Drivers” only received 7 visitors via Twitter after being promoted through BCBusiness’s Twitter feed, while “Personal Branding” received 164 visitors. The personal branding article had the added glamour of “Jim Pattison” in its title, but even BCBusiness’s wildly popular feature article on local sports hero Trevor Linden only received 56 visitors via Twitter after being promoted through BCBusiness’s Twitter feed. Compared to the other social media channels at an editor’s disposal, Twitter seems more effective for sharing short pieces that can be scanned, understood, and shared quickly, rather than for sharing feature stories and long-form journalism.
Reviewing the analytics is very revealing of the behaviours and preferences of the readers who participate in each social media channel. By understanding the audience for whom they’re optimizing content, editors can adapt their approach depending on which channel they are using. Not every article should be pushed through all of a magazine’s social media channels. But if an editor takes stock of what works well in each channel, she can use these tools to give each audience the content that speaks the most to them.
Understanding the fundamentals of SEO and putting them into place gives the digital editor a tool for long-term growth, while social media act as catalysts for that growth. The strategies and tools discussed in Part Two help editors drive traffic and spread their brand, but they also give editors a better understanding of whom they’re trying to reach and what that audience comes to them for.
Identifying a brand’s strengths plays a key role in properly optimizing content and targeting the right audience. Editors have the power to tailor their SEO and social media treatment of each article depending on the patterns they see in analytics. Part Three takes a closer look at the BCBusiness Online Google Analytics that inform the digital editors’ online strategy.
Parsing the BCBusiness Google Analytics; Adapting social media; New SEO strategies at Canada Wide Media; Content collections
Once the digital editor has established a workflow and online presence, she can begin to experiment and test the waters with optimizing articles, refining strategies, and adapting social media to her needs. One of the great advantages of digital magazine content is its infinite flexibility; articles can be hyperlinked, repurposed, combined with related content, broken into pieces, and myriad other tactics to increase their visibility, promote the brand, and take advantage of the digital medium. Although optimizing and promoting content seems straightforward, there are boundless opportunities for creativity.
The digital editorial strategy at BCBusiness has come full circle from its earliest workflow; from print-focused, to Web-only content focused, and now back to strengthening its relationship with print. Once inextricably tied to the print magazine, BCBusiness Online was a repository with no digital editorial strategy for magazine articles. Shortly after its launch, the BCBusiness digital editor began developing Web-only content and grew the site as an independent entity from the print magazine. Finally, after nearly six years of significant growth and development, BCBusiness Online is returning to its close ties to the print magazine as a dynamic member of the overall brand. Although the current online workflow involves minimal print-editor contributions, the overall online strategy is connected to the BCBusiness brand as a whole rather than just BCBusiness Online.
Digital editors approach articles with a mind for both readers and search engines, and put all online content through a rigorous, SEO-heavy workflow. They have also branched out from strictly editorial tasks and embraced the external tools that go hand-in-hand with SEO, such as Google Analytics and the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. The digital editors at BCBusiness are representative of an overall paradigm shift in editorial work. Consulting analytics is a part of the editor’s regular duties, and although the reader is still the number one priority, the editor has a fussy new audience member to contend with—Google.
Recognizing the value and importance of SEO has led to various emerging and experimental digital strategies at BCBusiness, many of which blur the lines between marketing and editorial. Although many initiatives are brought forth by marketing, they are developed and executed by editors. Search engine optimization seems to be the common ground where many digital jobs converge. Optimizing an article or a website landing page falls under the editor’s purview, but driving traffic and increasing brand awareness is also a great concern of the digital marketing staff. For example, the BCBusiness digital editors and marketing staff worked cooperatively on the keyword research and naming of the new landing pages and categories for the third iteration of BCBusiness Online. Online publishing has drastically changed the role of the editor into a multi-platform, multi-discipline, word- and Web-strategist. The next step is to pull print editors into the melee of digital publishing and unite the editorial efforts under one brand. In the case of BCBusiness, the company is working toward having a print editor to manage the print magazine, a digital editor to manage the website, and a brand manager to oversee the entire BCBusiness operation. Currently, the print and digital editors work on the same content, but they do not communicate, brainstorm and plan as one team.
Understanding Google analytics can help editors prioritize and plan for future content and social media promotion, and hopefully convert more visitors into loyal readers. Parsing a website’s analytics can indicate who the most valuable visitors are, which audiences prefer certain content, and which keywords are the most popular. Editors can separate high-quality visitors from low-quality visitors by reviewing how long they stay on the site and how many pages they visit. As seen in BCBusiness website traffic statistics below, direct visitors are of the highest quality and spend an average of 4:59 minutes on the site and view an average of 2.32 pages. BCBusiness’s overall average time on site is 2:42 minutes and the overall average page views is 2.31 pages. Higher average time on site is more important than number of page views, as it implies that the reader has found what they were looking for, and “if visitors spend a long time visiting your site, they may be interacting extensively with it.” High page views can indicate that a reader is simply jumping from article to article.
In 2010, BCBusiness Online received 461,140 visits. The main traffic sources (excluding the 89,031 direct visitors—readers who visit the site of their own volition by typing the BCBusiness web address into the URL search bar) from these visits were:
Google: 190,084 visits (41% of all site visits in 2010)
Direct visitors are by far the most valuable visitors a website can have; the goal is convert all other visitors into direct, return visitors who become familiar with and trust the brand. These readers either know what they’re looking for, trust the site to know they can find what they need, or have a genuine interest in the brand. Converting visitors into eNewsletter subscribers is also one of the digital editors’ top goals.
Organic Google search visitors
On average, Organic Google visitors spend 2:00 minutes on the site and visit 2.33 pages. Google visitors tend to heavily search business names and businesspeople. Of the top Google search terms for BCBusiness Online in 2010, the majority were B.C. business figures and luminaries. These results imply that editors would see more success by optimizing content (where appropriate) based on people and business names over business concepts (like management tips, etc.) Profiles and feature stories involving top local companies should be optimized with careful attention to names, especially in image tags. Google image search is a good arena to pick up visitors searching businesspeople.
The BCBusiness eNewsletter includes five stories with hyperlinked images, hyperlinked headlines, and teasers; four articles with hyperlinked headlines only; one hyperlinked reader comment of the week; one hyperlinked poll question; and four hyperlinked events listings. In comparison to its sister sites’ eNewsletters (BCLiving, Granville, TVWeek, Youthink, GardenWise), BCBusiness has the simplest eNewsletter layout with the least number of articles. It is believed that including too many articles dilutes the value of each one and lessens the effect of a carefully curated editorial collection.
Subscribers to the BCBusiness eNewsletter spend an average of 3:15 minutes on the site and view an average of 2.74 pages. These visitors are loyal readers and have a vested interest in BCBusiness content. Because the eNewsletter arrives once a week, some readers use it as their chance to visit the site rather than checking in on their own. Using the eNewsletter as a weekly highlight of the best content—whether feature story or blog—is an effective way to promote content and draw readers to the site. The BCBusiness eNewsletter also has its own set of analytics through the eNewsletter carrier, MagMail. The higher the content is placed in the eNewsletter, the more readers it will attract. BCBusiness eNewsletter subscribers also tend to favour content with local luminaries such as former pro athlete Trevor Linden and real estate professional Bob Rennie. Including magazine content prior to the newsstand date is a good promotional tool for the upcoming issue and it gets a high click-through rate in the eNewsletter. Because of eNewsletter readers’ loyalty and high click-through rates, digital editors can also experiment with the kind of content that they promote.
Digg is a type of social networking news site that allows its users to democratically rank online articles by “digging” (voting for) them using a button similar to the Facebook “like” button. The more people “digg” an article, the higher it rises on the Dig homepage and its respective category page (business, entertainment, lifestyle, etc.). Visitors arriving from Digg spend an average of 1:09 minutes on the site and visit an average of 1.22 pages. These are some of the lower-quality visitors that arrive at the site, but as it will be thoroughly discussed later, Digg visitors are only the byproduct of a new marketing/editorial initiative to increase PageRank. Visitors from Digg arrive at light-hearted, Web-only content that goes viral via social media channels. These visitors are not generally a part of BCBusiness magazine’s target audience, and the rest of the site’s content is not what they would be interested in reading.
Of all the social media channels, the BCBusiness digital editor puts the most time and creative energy into Twitter. Twitter followers visit an average of 2.09 pages and spend an average of 2:14 minutes on the site. However, the number of visits from Twitter seems disproportionate to the number of followers BCBusiness has following its stream. This phenomenon is related to the nature of a tweet. Unlike a Facebook wall post or an eNewsletter, tweets are the most ephemeral of all the social media promotions, and can be completely missed by the brand’s audience. Though BCBusiness may have over 10,000 followers, not everyone on that list will see every tweet as it passes by. This makes maintaining the Twitter feed exceptionally challenging—the editor must manage the precarious balance between over-tweeting and sparse updates. A report by ExactTarget reveals that among the top 10 reasons people unfollow a brand on Twitter, the top three pertain to repetitive and too-frequent tweets. So while the editor must be cognizant of spamming BCBusiness followers, he must also post often enough to make the medium an effective channel for funneling traffic to the website.
Twitter followers respond the most to shorter pieces (blog posts), rather than longer articles (print feature stories). By comparing a cross section of short pieces to a sample of long pieces and evaluating the time spent on each article by visitors who arrive via Twitter, it is clear that shorter pieces are favoured. According to Google Analytics, Twitter visitors rarely spend more than two minutes on a page for feature stories; for blog posts, Twitter visitors spend an average of nearly three minutes on the page. This comparison reveals the tendency for Twitter followers to read shorter pieces and discard longer feature stories. However, buzz-worthy features stories with local luminaries (i.e. Trevor Linden, Mat Wilcox, Bob Rennie, Terry Hui) blow up on Twitter, but are the exception to the rule. These types of top stories are sure things, and grow in popularity no matter which channels they’re promoted through.
Visitors arriving from StumbleUpon fall into the same category as those arriving from Digg. They are the byproduct of a marketing/editorial initiative to increase PageRank, and are only visiting content that has gone viral and flooded social media channels. These visitors are low quality, staying for an average of 0:25 seconds and visiting an average of 1.2 pages. The BCBusiness digital editors do not put any effort into promoting content through StumbleUpon (or Digg); all visitors arrive at the efforts of an external company hired by BCBusiness to promote its articles.
Facebook brings in a surprising number of visitors considering the minimal editorial time that goes into its promotion and maintenance. Visitors who arrive via Facebook spend an average of 1:44 minutes on the site and visit an average of 1.80 pages. Although Twitter has thousands more followers than Facebook has fans, Facebook brings in nearly as many readers in a year as Twitter. Facebook is an untapped resource for visitors that could exceed Twitter’s visitor numbers with very little time required. Currently, the BCBusiness digital editors spend a fraction of their time on Facebook, yet still draw in high traffic numbers. With a more developed strategy and more time spent toward Facebook promotion, Facebook visitors could surpass the number of Twitter visitors. Posting magazine content can be done as few times as three times each week. “Facebook users are more likely to stop engaging with a brand because that brand sends out too much information too frequently,” which makes updating the page less laborious than maintaining a Twitter feed. Facebook visitors show no overwhelming preference over feature stories or shorter blog posts. Traffic arriving from Facebook is consistent, and since the digital editors began posting weekly, it has increased.
Yahoo! and Bing
Combined, Yahoo! and Bing do not come close to bringing in the number of organic visitors that Google does. This is popular knowledge among search engine optimization experts, and for that reason, many people do not pay as much attention to deciphering search algorithms other than Google’s. Bing brings in significantly higher quality visitors than Yahoo!. Bing visitors spend an average of 2:01 minutes on site and visit an average of 2.49 pages; Yahoo! visitors spend an average of 1:26 minutes on site and visit an average of 1.98 pages. This disparity in quality could be attributed to Bing’s superior search algorithm that provides more accurate results; according to search algorithm experts, Bing’s results are more accurate than even Google’s search results.
Although LinkedIn does not generate a high number of visitors, it is valued for its intangible qualities. LinkedIn is a venue in which readers can interact under the BCBusiness brand and extensively discuss magazine and Web-only content, as well as current issues and news. By looking at the discussions in the BCBusiness magazine LinkedIn group page, we see that the topics predominantly relate to professional improvement and business tips, politics, and social media. The readers who spend time on the BCBusiness magazine LinkedIn group page are high-quality visitors when they arrive at the site; LinkedIn visitors spend an average of 4:03 minutes on site and visit an average of 2.47 pages. LinkedIn does not require the same amount of creative energy as running Twitter, or even Facebook; posting articles related to the above topics spark discussion and generate site traffic.
In terms of overall priorities, digital editors should spend the most time making their articles web-ready and well optimized for Google, using business people’s names as the main keyword when applicable. Google is the overwhelming leader in web traffic and has the high-quality visitors to back up its utility. Digital editors should have a targeted strategy when promoting content through social media, avoiding the shotgun approach at all costs. It is about understanding the readers and accommodating their preferences—they get what they’re looking for, and in return the site gets more, higher-quality visitors.
There is no debate about whether social media or SEO is more valuable to BCBusiness’s visitor traffic numbers. Google visitors outweigh all social media channels combined, and organic search accounts for the long tail of traffic that arrives at old web-only content and BCBusiness back issues. However, the effects of social media also have an intangible quality that cannot be measured against numbers or PageRank. Community building and audience communication via social media is growing in importance, and a magazine that lacks the ability to interact with its readers is missing out on valuable branding opportunities. The Internet is ripe with stories of businesses communicating with their customers, and the subsequent impact that that creates on the community. As discussed in Part Two, social media is a kind of SEO because of the way it builds links to content, but it should be seen as more of a complement to SEO.
Digital editors need to find new ways to wield platforms like Twitter and Facebook. To encourage readers to interact with the magazine on social media, BCBusiness needs to create social-media-only content. Rather than use social media as content promotion, editors need to use social media for content creation—developing new material that can only be consumed on its respective platform. Spamming the same messages and content across the brand’s various platforms decreases the value of each one–there is no incentive for the reader to visit the Facebook page if it is merely a mirror of the Tumblr or the Twitter feed.
This idea follows BCBusiness’s arc of magazine publishing from print-only, to print plus an online repository, to print plus dynamic web content, to its current state combining print, dynamic online content, and using various social media platforms. Social-media-only content is the next phase after Web-only content that will drive readers to interact with the brand in another venue.
The BCBusiness digital editor already has a unique style of content creation on Twitter, one in particular being the “first tweet haiku.” Most mornings his first tweet is a haiku; sometimes serious, sometimes funny, sometimes topical, but no matter the subject, the haiku tweets are always popular among followers. It is a clever way to engage with readers within the 140-character limit while letting them know that there’s more than a robot sending pre-scheduled tweets. It also provides the reader with unique content that he cannot find on any of the brand’s other platforms. Any magazine can promote on Twitter, but it is the voice, original content, and style that make the real impact. Maclean’s magazine is a good example of an ineffective magazine Twitter account; it only links to its own content, and the majority of tweets are cut off mid-sentence, indicating that they’re taken from the article’s deck or description, and not written specifically for the Twitter audience. This creates distance between the reader and the brand, and does not offer content that cannot be found elsewhere. Lots of companies treat their Twitter account like an RSS feed and miss the step of adding value with a real voice.
Magazines commonly use their Facebook page to promote articles in the same way as on Twitter. Even though a brand might promote different content on the different platforms, the idea is the same. By adding Facebook-only content, editors give their readers a reason to visit the page and return often. As proven with the BCBusiness Facebook page in March 2011, creating behind-the-scenes photo albums of cover photo shoots are popular with readers. After posting a short gallery of how the photographer and BCBusiness art director created the conceptual March 2011 magazine cover, there was an immediate reaction of “likes” and comments, and an increase in the overall “likes” for the fan page. Multimedia content, such as photo albums and embedded videos, fits well within the casual culture of Facebook. Two sections of the BCBusiness print magazine—“Primer” and “After Hours”—have section-opening, full-page photographs by accomplished BCBusiness contributing artists, but the images are never used online. Collecting all of the images in albums is another way of engaging with Facebook fans using BCBusiness content that cannot be found elsewhere. The BCBusiness digital editors are experimenting with various new Facebook-only content, including an “editing the editor” post, wherein the digital editors create poetry from the monthly Editor’s Note.
Although it is generally more acceptable to only self-promote on Facebook pages (as they are “fan pages”), including newsy links every now and then that do not pertain to your own brand can be a good way to spark conversation.
In the dynamic publishing landscape, editors also need to consider how they can work across multiple platforms. Something that can be recreated in or adapted to other publishing platforms has more value and potential to engage multiple audiences. The BCBusiness digital editor has considered matching up his haiku tweets with photos from the BCBusiness Daily Photo blog to create a coffee table book. Occupying more spaces than just print or just a website makes the brand dynamic and more likely to reach a wider audience. The key when creating social media content is to offer something unique on each platform that the reader cannot get anywhere else.
Using Tumblr to create unique content will be discussed in more detail in Part Four when exploring the cross-platform migration of print editors.
Recognizing the vast importance of Google in digital publishing is the first step toward reaping its benefits. Optimizing content is the best way to attract search engine visitors, but this practice can be bolstered by a new digital strategy: increasing PageRank. Boosting PageRank is a more advanced digital editorial strategy that moves beyond just optimizing content, and can actually bolster those efforts in the long run. As discussed in Part Two, inbound links are the key to increasing a website’s PageRank. PageRank plays an integral role in deciding which content is listed on the first page of Google search results. If two different websites feature the exact same article, optimized the exact same way, Google defers to each site’s PageRank to determine whose article will list higher in results pages. Inbound links and PageRank determine whether an article “should […] be result number one, or appear buried on page 22 of the search results for a given query.” Popular and reputable websites like The New York Times (nytimes.com) have a high PageRank, and thus their content will rank well in search engine results pages. The New York Times website has a PageRank of nine out of a potential 10; BCBusiness has a PageRank of five.
Links are akin to one website vouching for the other. The more inbound links your site has, the likelier it is that your site’s PageRank will increase. Links, no matter where they’re from, benefit SEO efforts, but when they’re plentiful and come from a higher ranked website, they’re a stronger force for increasing PageRank.
In order to increase BCBusiness’s PageRank, the digital marketing staff and digital editors teamed with an external SEO consulting company called NVI to create a strategy for new BCBusiness content. Together they created a new digital editorial product (NVI social push article) with the express purpose of increasing PageRank. The articles are better known as “link bait,” and fall under the SEO strategy of link building. The idea of link bait is to create content that is “designed specifically to gain attention or encourage others to link to the website.” These articles do not fall under the black hat link baiting methods, which incorporate keyword stuffing, redirecting visitors to sites different from what they clicked on, and creating inbound links from link farms. (Links farms are groups of sites that link to each other and are devoted solely to linking out to increase SEO clout, with no real editorial or information value.)
Editors come up with broad, sweeping topics that work well in the form of “best of,” “worst of,” and other such lists. They generally lie on the perimeter of the brand’s mandate, and serve as brain candy content—irreverent, witty, and short. The standards of writing and editing remain high, as they would for any other BCBusiness content, but the topics are generally trivial. Although the articles do not align with the print BCBusiness mandate, they are a good fit for BCBusiness Online, which features a broader range of content types and has a lighter tone than the print magazine.
The digital editors work with NVI to prepare the articles using traditional web-writing strategies—short paragraphs, clear subheads, and good use of images. Once these articles are published, the hope is that readers will eagerly pass them on and link to them from various websites, blogs, and social media channels. But rather than wait for chance of the articles going viral, NVI sends them out to its robust list of social media contacts, mostly in Digg, StumbleUpon, and Reddit; they “push” the article. Although the first line of contacts promoting the articles is working for NVI, the hundreds of links that follow are from social media users with no connection to the company, but who genuinely have interest in the article and want to share it with their online community.
Once the articles have been “pushed” by NVI through its network of contacts, the articles go viral, resulting in tens of tweets, hundreds of links, and thousands of visitors. Although traffic to the website immediately spikes, this is not the impetus behind the NVI social push strategy. StumbleUpon and Digg both have a PageRank of eight, and with the number of links now coming from these sites and the various other who have seen the articles and linked to them from elsewhere, BCBusiness’s PageRank should increase over time.
The overwhelming number of links generated through these social networks ends up winning BCBusiness that article’s keyword on Google search results pages. However, the keyword is rarely a highly searched term in the first place. For example, an NVI social push initiated in January 2011 is the number one search result in Google for “dumbest fads,” but that search term does not even register in the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. By basing these NVI social push articles around relevant keywords from BCBusiness’s Google analytics, or even highly searched terms that fit within the brand, the site could win significant words and phrases on Google search results pages.
BCBusiness sister site BCLiving accomplished this with its NVI social push article “7 Spectacular and Dangerous Mountain Passes.” In the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, “mountain passes” has 49,500 searches per month, and BCLiving appears on the first page of this term’s Google search results. The article found balance between optimizing for a highly searched keyword and creating an article with link-bait potential. This strategy adds another layer to the original strategy and makes each NVI social push article more valuable to the site.
Currently, the Google analytics for the BCBusiness NVI social push articles are irregular, with Google not even falling in the top eight traffic sources. The main traffic sources are Digg, StumbleUpon, and Reddit—all of which provide low-quality visitors. Although the main purpose is to increase PageRank, approaching these articles with a different SEO strategy could give them double the impact for the site—inbound links and a high number of organic search visitors. Google gives every article the opportunity of a long tail of organic visitors, while social media promotion often spikes traffic for the short term and dwindles soon afterward. Basing the NVI social push articles around relevant keywords would require more research prior to writing the article (both for the digital editors coming up with the topic and the writer shaping the article), but being on the first page of Google search results is a highly coveted position. The more important keywords BCBusiness can win, the more it will be seen as the authority on these topics.
Since starting the NVI social push articles in September 2010, the BCBusiness PageRank has not increased. It is yet to be determined whether this link bait strategy is truly effective. The overall tactic of creating light, interesting articles and attracting thousands of visitors—albeit, low-quality visitors—and hundreds of links is effective, but the digital editors need to devise other strategies around these social pushes than just waiting and hoping for the PageRank to increase. Multiple inbound links may not increase PageRank over time, but it will dramatically increase the SEO value of the single articles; because we know that part of the social push strategy works, it is important to take advantage of it to meet other ends.
Choosing relevant keywords is the first step toward increasing the value of the social push articles, but editors can also revise past content that has mass appeal and longevity. Resource and “how to” articles have the same quick-read nature as the social push articles, but with more substance and practical business value. The BCBusiness monthly “Need to Know” column is the perfect resource from which the digital editors can start this project. The goal is to win highly searched terms by using similar methods to the NVI social push articles. However, rather than push these articles through sites like Digg and StumbleUpon, which are chiefly interested in humour, these articles would be more successful on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Because these resource articles align with the content expectations and interests of BCBusiness readers, the influx of visitors from the “push” would be more valuable than the traffic spikes filtering into the short and irreverent NVI social push articles. Visitors would be more likely to return, spend more time on the site, and visit other articles after reading the “how to” articles.
Success in “pushing” these resource articles would have more immediate and measurable results; the digital editors would know the strategy worked when their articles begin appearing on the first page of Google search queries. This method was partially tested (without the help of NVI and its vast social network contacts) with a BCBusiness back issue article called “Value Proposition.” The article was renamed “How to Improve Your Corporate Culture,” optimized, and promoted through BCBusiness’s social media channels. Even without the hundreds of valuable contacts from NVI and links that those contacts generate, this article rose to the first page of Google results pages and continues to have a consistent flow of traffic. With the added resources of NVI, these articles could dominate search results queries and boost BCBusiness’s reputation as an authority on business topics.
The ultimate value of these new techniques is twofold—an increase in traffic to the site, and branching out to a new audience. The higher BCBusiness Online’s site traffic is, the more leverage the sales and marketing staff have for selling ads and sponsorships. The digital marketing department initiated the original NVI social push article strategy in order to spike site traffic numbers and improve PageRank. As an editor, the real concern is not the numbers, but who the people are behind those numbers and how they can be brought back to the site again. The editor wants to drive traffic, but the end goal is always reader engagement and building loyalty to the magazine and site. Adapting the original NVI strategy to target more relevant keywords and a more business-minded audience is more in line with this goal. This audience is not the typical BCBusiness audience, but a higher-quality group than the visitors arriving to content like the “Dumbest Fads” article through Digg and StumbleUpon.
The BCBusiness print reader buys the magazine for its long-form journalism and in-depth discussion of the BC business landscape. When the digital editors spend time creating content that can be consumed quicker and has a lighter tone, they tap into a different kind of BCBusiness reader group. With this method, the content is still driving numbers but the editor is focusing on a specific audience.
At BCBusiness, content collection pages are referred to as SPACs—special ad content packages. SPACs are generally sponsored by one advertiser, and combine a targeted sales initiative with SEO. A SPAC is a landing page that aggregates articles under one topic with adjacent advertisements that are germane to that topic. For example, the clothing chain Wear Else sponsored the 2009 BCBusiness Style Guide SPAC, which included articles about business fashion in Vancouver. SPACS are not, however, strictly limited to sponsored content—the SPAC format is a good way to bring value to readers by collecting popular content in one easy-to-find location. The “how to” social push articles discussed in Part Three fit into the SPAC strategy as a collection of business resources. A SPAC is composed of a headline, a short keyword-dense write-up, and rows of articles, each with a linked image, linked title, and short promotional teaser of no more than roughly 85 characters. Building SPACs increases the number of links pointing to those articles and generates more clear opportunities for internal linking on BCBusiness.
By nature, SPACs are a reactionary type of editorial content. They are strictly based on popular keywords that are thought of as guaranteed winners. Rather than anticipating what the readers will be searching, SPACs use highly searched terms from BCBusiness’s Google analytics, popular topics, and hot current events. Alternatively, SPACs can be built on sales-driven topics, around which the digital editors must commission new articles and collect past articles that are still relevant. Using existing content can result in a more highly optimized SPAC, since these articles generally already have inbound links and have been indexed by Google.
As politics in British Columbia heated up in November 2010, the BCBusiness digital editors created a SPAC as a go-to reference for readers looking for current coverage and relevant past political commentary. Within the B.C. politics topic, they focused on HST in B.C., as they found that it was a top search term in BCBusiness Google analytics. Adding to the past content and incoming blogs, the digital editor put out an offer to all of the BC Liberal and BC NDP leadership candidates to add an article to the SPAC on why they should be leader. This series brought a proactive element to the SPAC strategy and resulted in more traffic, more opportunities to link between BCBusiness SPAC articles, and increased the credibility of the collection as a whole.
Aggregating similar content in one spot gives editors the chance to have an overview of many articles in one stop, which makes it easy to find connections and build up internal links. As discussed in Part Two, link building is an important part of SEO and increasing a website’s PageRank. The SEO aspect of SPACs complements the NVI social push strategy, as it focuses on evergreen articles and building a long tail of traffic. As PageRank increases, so will the Google search results for SPAC pages.
In addition to their sales and SEO elements, SPACs are also beneficial for reader navigation—not only for the website, but for mobile applications as well. BCBusiness has two mobile applications, one for the iPhone and one for the BlackBerry. Using a SPAC as an app category is a simple way of directing readers to popular and useful content, since searching the site on an app is not possible. The apps have four sections: “Latest,” which is a reverse-chronological list of all content; “Blogs,” which is all of the blogs in reverse-chronological order; “People,” which consists of profiles and event slideshows; and “Business Intel,” which aggregates all of the “how to” articles from the site. In the case of mobile applications, editors and other staff planning the platforms need to consider what kind of content readers will be consuming. Using SPACs (in addition to “Blogs,” “People,” and “Business Intel”) as a way for readers to navigate is more logical than listing all content (“Latest”) as one big mixed-bag of content. The only new content listed in latest that will not show up under the other categories is lengthy articles that do not translate well to app reading on small devices. Smart phone apps are a different experience than websites and should be treated as such by offering less content with more direction and purpose.
The sales team sold a SPAC for the BCBusiness April 2011 issue based around the topic MBAs. This SPAC was based on a sales initiative, and combines older content, new print content, and new complementary web-only content. This SPAC displays the opportunity for print and digital editors to develop a collection of content for both print and digital, working together under one brand.
The digital editorial workflow at BCBusiness has evolved to include sophisticated approaches to presenting and promoting content online, and with tools like Google analytics, the editors have a better understanding of who their readers are, where they’re coming from, and what they’re looking for. This understanding of the magazine’s online audience is key when developing new strategies that build off SEO and social media. Part Four will look at the methods discussed in Part Three, and what a complete workflow looks like when incorporating these strategies in an article going from print to online.
Bridging the gap between print and digital; From type to Twitter: An optimal workflow
As print and digital become more entwined and dependent on one another to create a strong and well-rounded brand, print and digital editors are finding that they need to open the lines of communication more often. It is not enough for print editors to hand off the completed magazine—they need to be involved in its digital life and the brand’s online presence.
In the past year there has been a fundamental change to the world of media and the ways in which its readers consume content. These changes are reflected in recent research by the Pew Center, who said more people consumed their news online than ever before. For the first time ever, more people got their news from the Web than from newspapers and magazines. Just as magazines flocked toward website creation, then social media, they are now reimagining their publications for smart phones and tablet computers to account for this seismic industry shift. Popularized by Apple, apps are now just another way for readers to consume articles and entire issues. Gone are the days of online content as a digital afterthought—online creation is in the forefront of magazine strategies as print sees few innovations. As the magazine publishing industry affixes its gaze on the future of digital publishing, we see more and more “digital editors” on magazine mastheads. Advertising is being increasingly sold in packages that include both print and digital exposure as the two entities grow ever closer. Publishers are mastering new digital technologies and methods—like social media and SEO—and they can manipulate those tools and use them beyond their original intended uses. This stage in publishing is opening new doors for editors to rethink content creation and delivery.
As digital becomes a more important form for BCBusiness magazine, the gap between online and print needs to gradually shrink. Integrating print and digital editors can improve workflow, but it also strengthens the brand when the two teams are working toward the same goals.
Integrating print and digital practices is an important step for magazine publishers in order to strengthen their brand. In the attempt to create more agile workflows and dynamic editors, Canada Wide Media publications with both print and digital editors will be slowly merging from separate departments to one larger department of editors. As the first gesture toward print and digital collaboration, all of the BCBusiness editors (print and digital) were moved into the same physical space in the office, and the digital editors now attend the print editorial meetings. The next step will be to combine budgets and begin cross-platform contributions. Rather than have a publisher who oversees just the print magazine, each publication will have a “brand manager” who looks after the best interest of the brand as a whole. This vision represents the trend in the magazine publishing industry of editors broadening their roles and companies fortifying their digital efforts. Within this joining of departments, BCBusiness editors will be encouraged to pursue work outside their nominal tasks, and digital editors will also put time toward the creation of the print issues. Some tasks will be formed to improve workflow, while others will simply give editors the opportunity to work across multiple publishing platforms.
Getting print editors involved in search engine optimization is the first step in helping them understand the goals of online publishing. As discussed earlier, SEO can be mistaken for a process that compromises the editorial integrity of the writing. Having print editors research keywords and work them into subheads and decks of print articles is an effective method of improving workflow while performing one of the more creatively satisfying SEO tasks. The print editors work closest with the articles before they are passed on to the digital editors and have intimate knowledge of the subjects and topics, thus it would be easy for them to identify the most pertinent keywords and names in each story. One of the most time-consuming optimization tasks is splitting the articles into sections and writing subheads. Transferring this task alone to print editors would save significant time for digital editors. When digital editors publish print content online, they often have to read the entire article to get a better understanding of its main ideas, and the best keywords to research; only from there can they write optimized titles, decks, and subheads. Print editors could even provide a list of keywords with each article for the digital editors prior to optimizing the articles for the Web. Not only would this save time in the article’s workflow from print to Web, but it would also begin the integration of print editors into the online lives of the articles. Print editors can also make suggestions for internal links, whether they are to articles in the same issue, a past issue, or to Web-only content. Using the black and white proofs (“black and whites”) as a message board between the print and digital editors is an effective way of communicating these ideas. Once the black and whites have been proofed, print editors can mark up them up with notes for the digital editors, such as pointing out names, companies, and terms that can be linked to other BCBusiness content online. Because the print editors work more intimately with the text than the digital editors, they have more time to consider how the content relates to past articles.
With the time freed up from print editorial contributions to the digital editorial workflow, digital editors will have more opportunities to develop concepts for the print magazine. Digital editors can create content for the print magazine from digital-first material, like following up on popular blog posts with more in-depth coverage. Most recently, the digital editors developed a caption contest on the BCBusiness Facebook page using illustrations from Kelly Sutherland, a contributing artist who illustrates the monthly “Complaints Department” column in the magazine. The winner of the caption contest had his caption run in the print magazine alongside Kelly’s illustration. Although this first digital-to-print content is small, it is a gesture in the right direction.
As discussed in Part Three, adapting social media to create unique content is an important endeavour for brand building and expanding a magazine’s Web presence; this is a prime opportunity for print editors to get involved online and explore the different ways that BCBusiness content can be used in digital spaces. Giving the print editors ownership over a social media channel—in this case, Tumblr—helps to diversify BCBusiness’s social-media-only content. By nature, Tumblr is more of a blogging platform than a promotional tool like Twitter of Facebook; print editors do not need to follow the everyday activity of BCBusiness Online as the digital editors do when linking to timely articles through Facebook and Twitter. Editors can use Tumblr to comment on BCBusiness blogs and magazine content as a kind of meta interaction—BCBusiness blogs about BCBusiness blogs, so to speak. Tumblr is more of a blank canvas on which the print editors can make their mark and further develop BCBusiness’s online identity.
In the current magazine publishing industry, putting print content online is only a fraction of a magazine’s digital editorial strategy. There are multiple considerations outside the print magazine, including Web-only content, social-media-only content, and SEO, to name a few. However, if an article is approached with a dynamic strategy that involves both print and digital editors, and looks at more than just having a Web presence, it can make its way through an entirely new and dynamic digital workflow.
Looking at the BCBusiness April 2011 issue—and in particular, a print article called “How to Ace Your MBA Application”—we can trace the workflow from start to finish in a hypothetical, best-case scenario using the methods already discussed.
While the article is being edited, the print editor researches appropriate keywords (using the Google Adwords Keyword Tool), which can later be used by the digital editors. The print editor records the top three keywords or phrases on a sticky note, which he will later add to the article’s page in the black and whites of the April 2011 issue. Once the print editors proof the black and whites, the pages are passed on to the assistant digital editor as her cue to resize, upload, and name the image files with keyword-rich phrases. Having sticky notes with pre-selected keywords significantly speeds up the image uploading process for the assistant digital editor, as she does not have to read each article and research keywords prior to saving the images with optimized titles. On the black and whites, the print editor also indicates phrases in the article that can be linked to past BCBusiness content or external Web pages. Having both the print and digital editors look for internal and external linking opportunities increases the overall imbedded links of the articles, and therefore the overall optimization. Because the digital editors often do not have time to read every word of every article, the print editors find opportunities that would be otherwise overlooked. Even simply highlighting a single name in an article can alert the digital editor to a link opportunity. Having the print editors focus on links helps them understand the importance of the interconnectivity of content when it goes online.
Depending on the size and nature of the article, the print editor adds optimized subheads. Rather than using a vague phrase, like “Making it count,” the print editor gives the MBA article the subhead, “3 MBA application tips.” The headline of the article is not necessarily optimized, but he adds a suggested optimized title to the black and whites for the digital editors to consider.
When the assistant digital editor receives the black and whites, she resizes the images and renames them using the keywords from the print editors. She reviews the April 2011 content and devises an online strategy for the more complex sections, like the Top 20 Innovators in B.C. and the MBA-related articles. She identifies two opportunities for SPACs (one sales-driven and one editorial-driven), and sketches a strategy that will maximize SEO and make it easy for readers to jump back and forth between related articles.
When the production staff upload the XML on the backend of BCBusiness, the images have been resized and optimized and are ready to be uploaded to the articles. With the marked-up black and whites by her side, the assistant digital editor begins optimizing the articles. Based on the keywords from the print editors, she leaves the headline, “How to Ace Your MBA Application,” with one very minor change: “How to Ace the MBA Application.” She writes an optimized meta title that includes the print editor’s suggestion of “MBA admission” as a top keyword phrase. She adds a subtitle (“The 2011 BCBusiness MBA Guide”) that links back to the MBA SPAC. Other changes include rewriting the deck to include “MBA application,” writing an optimized URL, adding H3 tags to the subheads, and creating internal links. The print editor highlighted the phrase “MBA programs” on the black and whites, and after doing a quick search on BCBusiness, the assistant digital editor finds a 2010 article that outlines nine MBA programs in B.C., to which she creates an internal link. The 2010 article is still a relevant resource to readers, and the assistant digital editor decides to further optimize it and add it to the 2011 MBA SPAC.
In anticipation of the MBA content in the April 2011 issue, the assistant digital editor creates a Facebook contest—Facebook fans are invited to comment with their best University application tip, and the winner wins a collection of business books. The digital editor promotes the contest from Twitter, linking to the Facebook wall, and from the BCBusiness eNewsletter. The assistant digital editor adds the photo from the “Primer” section to the 2011 Primer Photos Facebook album, and the photo from the “After Hours” section to the 2011 After Hours Photos Facebook album at the end of March. She reposts both albums to the Facebook wall, but waits until the issue hits the newsstands (April 4) to change the profile picture to the April 2011 cover. After the April issue hits newsstands, the digital editors create a piece of humour poetry from the April Editor’s Note and post it to the BCBusiness Facebook wall.
The digital editor reviews all of the uploaded and optimized content from the April 2011 issue and begins publishing them online on April 1, with all of the content live on April 4. The digital editor promotes various articles from the Twitter account, and puts the best feature story at the top of the next eNewsletter. He focuses on promoting the MBA content on LinkedIn, starting a discussion around the best MBA programs and how to prepare and get accepted, linking to the “How to Ace the MBA Application” article and the MBA SPAC.
The print editors add posts to the Tumblr site, including photos of bizarre inventions, and link to the Top 20 Innovators in B.C. SPAC.
In this digital editorial strategy, one article saw optimization from both print editors and digital editors, and went through every social media platform BCBusiness has at its disposal.
There are endless opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas and tasks between print and digital editors, and even art directors, for that matter. While the first physical gesture has been made at BCBusiness (moving the digital editors into an office with print editors), there is much collaboration yet to be explored. Under the brand manager structure, more editorial projects can be developed with a view for both print and digital. Beyond the workflow discussed above, an integrated print-digital team can brainstorm projects that are deliberately planned for both mediums, not just created for print and adapted to digital.
The above SEO and online publishing research and subsequent modifications to the digital editorial strategy in magazine publishing reflect the shifting tides of the industry. Digital publishing has reached a new phase, in which a magazine’s Web presence needs more than just good content to survive. Few, if any, digital publishing models operate without SEO and Web-specific editing. Digital editors must be cognizant of publishing high-quality content for their audience of online readers, but they must also consider their second audience, Google. The search engine giant is like the digital mail carrier that brings your online magazine to readers worldwide. Publishing an article online without SEO is like dropping your magazine in the mail without postage; someone might see it, but it will soon disappear, never to resurface. Publishing an article without SEO falls under an antiquated online model that relies on the naïve notion that quality alone will prevail. The cruel reality is that in our saturated digital magazine industry, the odds of high-quality getting noticed without SEO or social media are slim to none.
However, there is still a long road ahead for digital editors to fully convince SEO detractors of its indispensable role and value in online publishing. As digital and traditional editorial roles grow closer, as the roles are at Canada Wide Media, print editors will see, first hand, the virtue in optimizing headlines and further altering articles for the Web. After recent firings at AOL and the Huffington Post after the former bought the latter, the now-former Cinematical editor-in-chief Erik Davis identified SEO as creating distance between the reader and the content. “When you concentrate on SEO, you lose your passion, and readers see that,” said Davis. But citing SEO as a hindrance is a cynical view of digital publishing and shows a lack of creativity to use it in more ways than keyword stuffing your content. Search engine optimization is a proven method and integral part of the digital editorial strategy, but agile publishers are thinking beyond just optimizing their content. As discussed in Parts Three and Four, editors need to consider different ways to wield SEO, and new methods of reaching their readers. Online content should receive the same editorial rigour as in print, but without special consideration for its digital environment, even the strongest article can wilt.
Thinking of social media as an extension of SEO and as another opportunity to create unique content is a step toward a more robust digital strategy. In the same way that digital editors need to develop new strategies around optimizing content, they need to reimagine the ways in which they use social media. Simply being present on Facebook and Twitter is not enough to satisfy an audience; editors need to find ways to adapt social media to serve more purposes than just promoting content.
With the introduction of each new technology and the rapid decline of print media, companies scramble to further develop their online strategies. Looking at print and digital as disparate entities creates a fracture in a magazine’s brand and ignores the opportunity to build ideas across multiple platforms. Canada Wide Media—BCBusiness magazine in particular—is proactive in its approach to navigating online publishing models. In anticipation of an industry where digital will eventually surpass print in terms of reader consumption, BCBusiness is taking steps to increase collaboration between its print and digital editors. Print and digital editors working together under one brand creates a stronger team, a cohesive strategy, and is representative of the publishing industry’s direction.
1 Magazines Canada, “2010 Consumer Magazine Fact Book,” Magazines Canada, http://www.magazinescanada.ca/uploads/File/Ad%20Services/FactBook/2010-Consumer-Magazine-Fact-Book—Eng-Final.pdf. RETURN
2 Royal Pingdom, “Internet 2010 in Numbers,” Royal Pingdom, January 12, 2011, http://royal.pingdom.com/2011/01/12/internet-2010-in-numbers/. RETURN
3 To optimize an article is to rigorously apply search engine optimization with the goal of increasing the article’s online visibility. RETURN
4 Paola Quintanar , A New Digital Strategy at Canada Wide Media: Case Study of the Relaunch of BCBusiness Online (Vancouver: Simon Fraser University, 2009). RETURN
5 For an in-depth look at SEO on the Canada Wide magazines’ websites, see Adam Gaumont, SEO for Magazines: Optimizing Content for Digital Publication (Vancouver: Simon Fraser University, 2009). RETURN
6 Content collections are optimized landing pages where digital editors aggregate relevant articles from BCBusiness Online. RETURN
7 Amazon released the first Kindle e-reader on November 19, 2007. RETURN
8 Adam Gaumont, SEO for Magazines: Optimizing Content for Digital Publication (Vancouver: Simon Fraser University, 2009), 14. RETURN
9 Rachelle Money, “Hearst Magazine Increased Web Traffic By 150% with SEO and Wordtracker,” Cyber Journalist, February 19, 2009, http://www.cyberjournalist.net/hearst-magazine-increased-web-traffic-by-150-with-seo-and-wordtracker/. RETURN
10 Money. RETURN
12 Janice (Ginny) Redish, Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works (San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2007), 4. RETURN
13 Google Webmaster Central Blog, “Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide,” Google Webmaster Central Blog, November 12, 2008, http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/11/googles-seo-starter-guide.html. RETURN
14 Jason Glover. “One Month Working on the Suite 101 Content Farm.” Touch the Stars, July 9, 2010, http://youcantouchthestars.net/entertainment/one-month-working-on-the-suite101-content-farm/. RETURN
15 Google Webmaster Central Blog, “Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide,” Google Webmaster Central Blog, November 12, 2008, http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/11/googles-seo-starter-guide.html. RETURN
17 Ibid. RETURN
18 Google Webmaster Central Blog, “Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking,” Google Webmaster Central Blog, September 21, 2009, http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/09/google-does-not-use-keywords-meta-tag.html. RETURN
19 Google Webmaster Central Blog, “Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide,” Google Webmaster Central Blog, November 12, 2008, http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/11/googles-seo-starter-guide.html. RETURN
20 Ann Smarty, “SEO Best Practices for URL Structure,” Search Engine Journal, July 3, 2008, http://www.searchenginejournal.com/seo-best-practices-for-url-structure/7216/. RETURN
22 Ibid. RETURN
23 John Britsios, “6 Ultimate ON-Page Search Engine Optimization Tips,” Search Engine Journal, August 26, 2010, http://www.searchenginejournal.com/6-ultimate-on-page-search-engine%C2%A0optimization%C2%A0tips/23546/. RETURN
24 Google Webmaster Central Blog, “Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide,” Google Webmaster Central Blog, November 12, 2008, http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/11/googles-seo-starter-guide.html. RETURN
25 John Britsios, “6 Ultimate ON-Page Search Engine Optimization Tips,” Search Engine Journal, August 26, 2010, http://www.searchenginejournal.com/6-ultimate-on-page-search-engine%C2%A0optimization%C2%A0tips/23546/. RETURN
26 SEO Boy, “What is Pagination and How Does it Affect SEO?” SEO Boy, March 2, 2009, http://www.seoboy.com/what-is-pagination-and-how-does-it-affect-seo/. RETURN
27 Google Webmaster Central Blog, “Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide,” Google Webmaster Central Blog, November 12, 2008, http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/11/googles-seo-starter-guide.html. RETURN
28 SEOmoz, “Search Engine Ranking Factors 2009,” SEOmoz, August 2009, http://www.seomoz.org/article/search-ranking-factors. RETURN
29 Mihaela Lica, “Twitter’s Little Known SEO Value,” SitePoint, January 15, 2009, http://blogs.sitepoint.com/2009/01/15/twitter-seo/. RETURN
30 Susan Currie Sivek, “How Magazines Use Social Media to Boost Pass-Along, Build Voice,” PBS, March 16, 2010, http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2010/03/how-magazines-use-social-media-to-boost-pass-along-build-voice075.html. RETURN
31 EBiz MBA, “15 Most Popular Social Networking Websites | June 2011,” Ebiz MBA, June 2011, http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/social-networking-websites (accessed June 18, 2011). RETURN
32 Phillip Smith, “Twitter Done Right By @walrusmagazine,” Community Bandwidth, February 24, 2009, http://www.communitybandwidth.ca/phillipadsmith/twitter-done-right-by-walrusmagazine. RETURN
33 Charlie White. “How Are People Really Using LinkedIn?” Mashable, July 9, 2011, http://mashable.com/2011/07/09/linkedin-infographic/. RETURN
34 Ibid. RETURN
35 Ibid. RETURN
36 Google Analytics, “Visitor Reports Overview,” Google, http://www.google.com/support/analytics/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=60127 (accessed January 4, 2011). RETURN
37 Lauren Dugan, “If You Want to Keep Your Followers, Don’t Repeat Yourself,” Media Bistro, February 11, 2011, http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/if-you-want-to-keep-your-followers-dont-repeat-yourself_b3257. RETURN
38 Dugan. RETURN
39 Dot Com Report, “Bing, More Accurate than Google in Search Results.” Dot Com Report, http://dotcomreport.com/recent-news/bing-more-accurate-than-google-in-search-results/ (accessed July 15, 2011). RETURN
40 Taken from the @MacleansMag Twitter feed on March 4, 2011: “BLOGS: The most expensive game on earth: When it comes to extracting money from local governments, the NHL has i… http://bit.ly/dJSZQu.” RETURN
41 Rebecca Lieb, The Truth About Search Engine Optimization, (New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2009), Electronic Access: Safari Books Online, http://proquest.safaribooksonline.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/9780768687873 (accessed January 2011), 80. RETURN
44 Pew Research Center Publications, “State of the News Media 2011,” Pew Research, March 14, 2011, http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1924/state-of-the-news-media-2011. RETURN
45 Anne Thompson, “AOL’s Huffington Overhauls Online Brands,” Indie Wire, April 6, 2011, http://blogs.indiewire.com/thompsononhollywood/2011/04/06/aol_vs._cinematical_another_film_brand_bites_the_dust/. RETURN
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