Lifting Journalism by Knowing What Readers Are Looking For

Should search trends determine what journalists write about?

I definitely believe search is important and something they should have a solid understanding of — but it’s also not everything.

Digital tools that reporters regularly use to find news, like Dataminr and Google Trends, can’t replace the beat reporting and other traditional methods that provide stories that can become trending topics or traffic drivers on both search and social.

But S.E.O. can inform us about what people care about most on a specific beat, both in the short term and the long term. So if there’s a breaking news story, you can immediately find out what people are searching for in relation to it and how you want to add it to your coverage. And the statistics that we can extract from tools like Google AdWords and SEMrush can help journalists decide what areas would be best to drill down on further.

In the end, search should be part of a reporter’s process, but it shouldn’t drive everything.

What tech tools do you use at work?

I have a typical setup in terms of hardware, with a laptop and two screens. One is mostly dedicated to search trends and tracking, while the other is focused on long-term strategy and projects that I can focus on periodically throughout the day.

As far as tools, I am a big Chartbeat user and use it to track performance of how well stories resonate with readers. I also use Slack and have alerts to certain key terms so I can assist in S.E.O.-related conversations outside of being contacted for guidance. (People like to claim I never get off Slack or sleep, but I actually do.)

Google Docs is also my best friend when it comes to keeping track of stories we’re watching, working with desks on editorial plans and more. Google Webmaster Tools is important for viewing the overall health of our website. I also use Trisolute, which alerts us when our stories are ranking in search and when they have lost positioning. And I look at SimilarWeb for competitive analysis and SEMrush for keyword analysis. News apps from competing websites keep me in the know about their top stories and general alerts.

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