News articles and sites, from Google tips to manage them the SEO way

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How can you effectively manage a news site? How can you approach very short news articles, such as flash news? And what about the press releases? Those who work in the editorial field often find themselves dealing with these (and other) thorny issues, which risk leading – when the solutions taken do not prove suitable – in SEO problems throughout the site: Google’s John Mueller answered some of these doubts, offering its indications to optimize a news site.

News sites and flash articles

The first point addressed by the lead of the Google Search Relations team during a recent appointment with the “Google Search Center’s consulting sessions” concerns a specific aspect of the life of an editorial site, namely the publication of shorter articles. The potential risk is that Google can identify these flash news as thin content, as it consists of little text, sometimes not exceeding the single paragraph; for this reason, an SEO asked directly to Mueller what was the recommended path, and if it could be a valid idea not to index these short articles at all to help the site’s overall performance on Google.

A flash, but useful, news is not at thin content risk

The Googler’s answer is quite clear and reassuring: news sites should not worry too much about the length of the articles, because even very short articles sometimes “go well for the date query” and Google does not automatically label short content as thin content. Mueller reiterates once again that Google does not use content length metrics for ranking – hence, the word count is a parameter that can be taken as a statistical reference, not as a peremptory indication – and indeed says that for the General Search on the Web Google “does not care about the length of the articles“, admitting not to know if there is a different policy for Google News. In any case, in both cases the content of the news is relevant: even short articles, of few words, can provide value if they contribute to give new and useful information to readers or if they answer the question of who performs a query. On the contrary, content that is duplicated or copied from other sources is viewed in a negative way, which does not add new information, as well as those filled with spam and, in general, articles that “do not contribute something unique to the web”. In these cases, no matter the word count and even long articles run the same risk of being seen as thin content. The goal of Google – in Search, but also for news – is to provide for each search the best results, not the longer ones: in Search, “better” means more relevant to the query (based on all the ranking factors that uses the algorithm) while in News may mean newer, more unique information (a scoop), more timely and so on.

How to manage article indexing

We then move on to a more technical issue with a second question, relating to the best ways to manage the amount of articles on a news site. Specifically, he asked Mueller if it was appropriate to prevent the indexing of shorter articles and whether this technique could bring benefits to the entire site. The Search Advocate invites to think in broader terms about the insertion of a noindex meta tag on content that is too short, because the decision depends only on the will of the owner of the site to have or not such indexed pages. To Mueller, the noindex tag is not necessary just because an article is short – because, as said before, sometimes smaller news can go well and you don’t have to worry that they may send out negative signals in terms of ranking – And so you have to think in terms of strategy and understand whether or not it makes sense for that content to be displayed in the search. At most, there may be situations where it makes sense to use the Googlebot news metatag to specifically block content on Google News, so that pages are shown in the Search but do not appear in Google News listings.

Google and press releases, a different treatment

Another question related to the publishing world concerns the approach that Google reserves to press releases: several professionals have noted that the algorithm treats these contents differently from others, and in fact Mueller confirms the perception. The Googler says in fact that “in most cases we try to recognize the situations in which exactly the same article is republished and then treat it accordingly in the search, showing the original or what we think it may come from”. On some occasions, however, it is not possible to determine with certainty this birthright and therefore there are various “points of view”: in the end, Google decides on the basis of its criteria which page to privilege. So, “whenever you have content that is distributed in syndication, it may happen that our systems do not recognize that we should show this version instead of the other version”, but in any case algorithms have the awareness that press releases are made to be published elsewhere. Continuing his explanation, as noted by Matt Southern in Search Engine Journal, Mueller recalls that “at one point, Google News tried to figure out when multiple sites were writing on the same topic” and probably “to some extent we try to recognize press releases and understand these pieces of content that are only republished in many places, trying to act accordingly”.


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