Recently there has been a lot of chatter after ComputerWorld dug up and analyzed Google’s recently published patent about their Google News ranking algorithms. Though the patent can effectively protect Google’s intellectual property from competitive news aggregation sites, the patent also exposes the underlying algorithms behind the ranking of their popular news site. While Google’s competitors should stay away from the patent to avoid infringement, marketers can learn a lot in terms of how they create, curate and compose content to better rank in Google News.
Ranking Factors to Consider & Optimize For
Based on a review of the patent, here are the key factors that go into Google News algorithms, and, through reverse engineering, here are some concrete items you can take to optimize your content for better rankings:
Audience Size and Traffic Numbers. Google looks at the number of visitors coming to your site. The more popular your site, the more indicative it is of an authoritative source, and the higher your ranking. It’s not clear how Google is sourcing this data, but it’s possibly that they are looking at click through data, and likely Google Analytics data if you have a tracker installed on your site. They may also be licensing data from other ISPs, or starting to siphon data from their own ISP networks (Google Fiber).
How you can optimize for this: There really aren’t any ways you can optimize for this other than to grow the traffic to your site continuously. Other than that, if you have the ability write contributed content on multiple sites that is indexed by Google News, you may get a higher ranking by publishing your article on the site with the higher traffic.
How many News Bureaus you have. Google considers the number of news bureaus a news source has as a proxy for the clout of the source.
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How you can optimize for this: This number is most likely manually inputted at the time that a source is approved for indexing into Google News. You can’t realistically optimize for this.
Quantity of original named entities. Google looks at how many named entities an article mentions. A named entity can generally be thought of as the name of a person, organization or location which are similar to proper nouns. If a source mentions more named entities than other related articles about the same event, then Google deems that the article to contain novel or original reporting and boosts the ranking.
How you can optimize for this: Use several named entities in your content that may not traditionally be associated with an event. You can do so naturally by correlating two events with each other that many not be otherwise related. For example, if your article is discussing a new iPhone launch, then typically your article would be expected to mention the named entities Apple, iPhone, MacWorld, Tim Cook, Steve Jobs. However, to boost your ranking, you could then talk about how the announcement compares to a recent Samsung launch and introduce the named entities of Samsung, Korea, HTC, Android, Motorola into the text as well.
Breadth of Reporting. The wider the range of content that you cover, the more authoritative Google considers your content to be.
How to optimize for this: Google likely measures this by looking at a common information retrieval metric known as Term Frequency / Inverse Document Frequency (TF-IDF). One way to optimize for this metric is to truly write content about a wide variety of topics. However, that goes against the common content marketing advice of picking and focusing on a niche topic.
To address this, you can create content that draws analogies about vastly different topics to your target topic. This allows you to incorporate a different vocabulary while still keeping the content relevant. As an example, if you normally write about data centers, you can write an article comparing how the managing data center is similar to managing a basketball team.
Staff Size. Google looks at the how large the staff is at a newspaper to rate how prominent it is. The larger the staff, the larger the budgets, and the larger the clout. These days with more and more freelancers, it’s less reliable but still deserves some merit.
How to optimize for this: Have multiple authors regularly publish content on your site to emphasize how large your organization is. In addition, whenever they publish content, make sure they claim Google Authorship, so Google News can reliably extract the author from the post.
Click Through Rates. Google looks at how often people click on your articles when presented to users in their search results.
How to optimize for this: Use enticing and sensational titles along with enticing thumbnails. Google only displays a thumbnail, title and short snippet next to each search result. To differentiate, try to make your search result more attractive than the other ones on the page to optimize your click through rate.
Velocity. Google looks at how quickly you can break a story after an event occurs. The sooner you can do it, the higher your ranking is as a credible fast breaking news source.
How you can optimize for this: Do exactly what this ranking optimizes for. Try to get your content out as fast as possible. Having an efficient content marketing strategy and a team to support it can help make this more effective.
Global Reach. Google looks at where traffic comes from geographically. If your site gets traffic from IP addresses from across the global, your site has a broader reach and therefore deserves a higher ranking.
How you can optimize for this: While it’s not clearly where Google is sourcing this network data, there are a number of tactics you can employ to optimize your content for traffic foreign traffic. For example, you can tweet and promote your content again 12 hours after you initially did after publication. This may attract the attention of visitors on the other side of the world.
Writing Style. Google ranks based on “spelling correctness, grammar and reading levels”.
How you can optimize for this: Run your content through spell check and a grammar check. Many blog authoring software platforms allow you to check for reading level as well. It’s not clear what Google considers the ideal reading level, but at least ensure it’s above elementary school level.
Volume & Frequency. Google looks at the number of non-duplicate articles produced by a news sources in week or month. The more content that is produced the higher the source ranking because it reflects a larger news organization.
How you can optimize for this: Publish content more often. But this is easier said than done. In many content marketing surveys, it has been reported that the single greatest content marketing challenge is creating sufficient content. There are a number of tactics that can be employed here ranging from re-purposing long form content, to curating third party content described in this eBook about feeding the content beast.
Article Length. Google gives heavier weight to longer non-duplicative articles.
How you can optimize for this: Write longer form articles and not just snippets of other people’s content. For those using content curation, rather than simply reposting an verbatim abstract from the original article, take some time to add a significant amount your own commentary as well. It’s also good from a fair use perspective.
User Opinion. Google claims they use polling to determine the opinion and quality of a news source. It’s not known how they do this so there’s no real way to optimize for it.
Putting it All Together & a Small Disclaimer
Keep in mind that inventors often throw the kitchen sink into a patent application and many only realistically utilize a small portion of their protected ideas. At the same time, Google is likely able programmatically measure most of these factors, so they are also likely to be employing them right now in Google News.