Public Radio SEO, Public Radio Websites

Most daily newspapers have paywalls.  Most Public Radio Stations do not.  If fact, I can’t think of one who does and a paywall would cross the line of our public service mission.

Driving traffic to your website from paywalled sites

Most paywalls give a visitor a limited number of article views before demanding they register or pay to gain further access. There are discounts, often as low as $1 a month, for new subscriptions.  

Savvy web users know they can often bypass that article limit by browsing in “private” or “in cognito” mode that prevents the users IP from being registered on the site, thus giving them pretty much unfettered access to the newspaper site.

Recently, Tribune (nee Tronk, nee Tribune) papers, including the Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel have started limiting access by private browsing windows to nonsubscribers. They’ve been experimenting with various systems and recent checks have indicated there are some days where private browsing works and some it doesn’t.  But to be sure, newspaper sites are dedicated to figuring out how to get users to pay for their sites AND prevent nonsubscribers from circumventing their paywalls.

Make your site rank along with the daily for key words in stories

  1. Rename the page url to be as SEO friendly as possible. In fact, if the story you’re getting ready to publish is already up on a competitors website then take a look at their url and use words as close as possible to theirs. 
  2. But make sure your url is search friendly.  It’s hard to guess at what the public will use to search a particular story.  And most stations don’t have an SEO Keywords staff member who can figure it out; and that would take too much time anyway.   Make sure your url contains the most relevant word you can think of.  If you’re doing a profile of a person then make sure that name (not their position) is in the title.  Alter the url to include any other famous name that might be mentioned in the story. is not as search friendly as
  3. As we mentioned before, it is always a good idea to get those words and phrases in the top 1-3 lines of your story.  This reinforces what the story is about to Google and other search engines.  You can do it in a “quick read” bullet or two at the top of the story before the text begins.  Writing for the web is much different than writing for radio where we might delay mentioning the candidates names to set up the scene in a listeners head.  Search engines don’t get that.

Our goal is here is to make sure we rank as high as possible and as close as possible to the site most people in your market turn to for news first.  Once they hit the paywall, they may search words used in their headline and you want to be right up there when then do.

So should we promote our No Paywalls policy on the air?

I an not entirely sure.  My marketing side says yes, it is an advantage over the competition.  My Membership side that could cause resentment among members.  But maybe not if it was communicated properly.  I often say that Public Radio is supported by the few for the benefit of the many.  That might work, but I will have to think about it.


Public Radio SEO
I was asked why I’m so enthusiastic about public radio stations SEO after writing the first couple of posts.    I taught myself the basics of SEO to push my resume site up the Google results for my name and public radio.  In the process I saw a steady increase in visits to the site and a few phone calls about opportunities.  It wasn’t hard to learn the basics and I’m steadily increasing my understanding of the ever-changing complexities of search engines. 

I believe you can attract new listeners to your air signal by converting casual web site visitors to your station by adopting just a few SEO principles.  It’s a group effort to.  Reporters, editors, producers and managers can keep share the responsibilities and get your content out to more people.  Plus, the increase in page views helps your underwriting department generate more web-based revenue…. and be sure to ask your general manager for a cut of that chunk of change!

Google Loves Links

We used to call it the World Wide Web before we called it the Internet.  That web word conjures up visions of the interconnectedness of information and that foundation is still one of the top criteria for search engines in evaluating your rankings.  Simply put, Google Doesn’t Like Dead End Streets. 

There are two kinds of links.  Outbound linking and Back Links (or Inbound Links).  Google and Bing like both of them, but they really like Back Links.  They use the number of links back to your site from other sites to create your Domain Score and they use the “quality” of the sites linking to you to create your Trustworthiness score.  When you combine the DS and the TS and a couple of other factors your site is assigned an “Authority Score” that affects where in the search rankings your pages show up.  Want to see your station’s Authority Score?  Click Here.

What’s a good Authority Score?  It’s on a scale of 1-100.  NPR’s score is 93; WNYC is 84; KQED is 86.  Any score under 60 could be improved by paying attention to these SEO rules.  

Outbound Links come in to types.  Internal (links to other pages on your site) and External (links to other sites).  You want to have a few links on your page to other pages on your site.  This is usually done automatically by your CMS but Google and Bing know these links are in the footer or other section.  What they really like is links within the text of your story.  So link to the original source material for your story or the business you’re covering. And link deep into their site to a specific page, not just their domain.  

Back Links take a bit more effort and they come in two flavors as well.  There are No Follow links and Do Follow links.  Some sites tell search engine crawlers Not to follow the links on their pages back to your site.  This pretty much negates the value of the link your Authority Score.  You’ll have to do some work to find out if the site that linked to you is a No Follow site. You can install an SEO browser tool like Moz Bar or look at the source code (ugh!) of the page linking back to your site.  FYI–while social sharing is important, Facebook and Twitter are No Follow sites.  Sorry to burst your bubble on that one.

So how do you get a good quality Do Follow Back Link?  Frankly, you have ask, or at least provide the site with the link you want them to include.  As public radio stations, the people and places we cover often link back to the story they were featured in.  That’s a good thing, but don’t be shy about sending your source the link to the story and asking them to include it if they post it to their site.  Of course, there maybe stories where this is not appropriate—if you’re covering a controversial topic or person—but routine stories are fair play.  

Back Links from sites with high Authority Scores are most helpful to you.  These sites often include your daily newspaper, NPR, or an educational institution.  Pro Tip:  While no one can really prove it, some SEO experts believe that links from .edu and .gov domains are scored higher than links from .org, .net and .com domains.  Like chicken soup, it couldn’t hurt for university stations to get links in multiple places from your licensee. 

There is a lot of advice about Back Links on the web, but very little specific to public radio stations.  My advice is to make link trading part of your conversations with your sources when appropriate.  Your station’s marketing department should be creating promotions that encourage back linking.  At one station I managed, we created a promotion with area bands where they helped fundraise for us.  This gave us a bunch of Do Follow Back Links, though these sites had low Authority Scores.

Confused yet?  Just remember that good reporting and story telling is the key to everything.  Relevance matters.

Public Radio SEO

Google Doesn’t Listen to Public Radio

Writing a news story for the air and writing for the web are two different things.  Listeners need to hear a story full of sound, natural cadence and they don’t need the topic of the story reset in every paragraph.  Google doesn’t read public radio news stories the way humans listen or read.  stephen yasko talks about public radio news stories and SEO

The whole point of Google and other search engines is to deliver the most relevant results in the top position.  People who search for certain terms don’t want to page down to find the best information; they want it up top.  That’s the premise of the algorithm and everything else supports the premise.

If you want your public radio news stories to rank high in Google you have to remember to adjust your copy when posting.  The first thing you have to do is figure out what search terms people will be using to find your story.  We used “Florida Recount” in a previous example.  Given the Thanksgiving holiday some others could be: “Black Friday,” “Outlet Mall,” or “Parking Garage.”   You’ll also notice that I bolded the keyword at the top of this paragraph.  Google can see bold and other font attributes and sees bold settings on a key word as a plus.  Hopefully if you Google PRNS (spelled out) and Yasko, then this page should pop up in the top three results pretty soon.  I abbreviated the key word in the previous sentence because Google will downplay your results if it feels your are Key Word Stuffing; using the key word over and over again to game the algorithm.

So let’s say your editor assigns you a story about Black Friday in your community.  Your piece might start with a parking lot sound effect and then your first lines might be something like this:

It’s a cold day here at the Lake Worth shopping center and bargain hunters are out in force for Black Friday Shopping.  We spoke with Andy McMan whose checking out the power tools at the Sears store.

You’ll notice that only one of the search terms “Black Friday” is used in the first paragraph of the story.  Most folks in the market would know that Lake Worth is an Outlet Mall and it may have a parking lot instead of a parking garage.  But these are the words Google is using to score and rank your post.  Plus, Google knows where the searcher is geographically located and delivers results based on that location so being clear about the location of the shopping center helps Google rank you higher in and around Fredrick, Maryland.

Your first few lines of your story on the web should include all those terms and a Dateline (something we’ve gotten away from in public radio writing).  Don’t hem and haw. You may have already written this into your introduction that the host read prior to the start of your piece.  Make sure it gets included in your full post.

Here’s what the top of your post should read like prior to the start of your transcribed radio story:

It’s Black Friday at the Lake Worth Outlet Mall in Fredrick, Maryland and the parking lot is full and so are the stores.  We sent Bill Ryan out to find out what Black Friday has become to mean to shoppers at outlets looking for the perfect gift.

You’ll notice that we got two of the search terms in the in the intro twice and got as close as we could to “parking garage” since outlet malls are usually sprawling complexes without garages.  How likely are you to rank high up in the results?  As with anything in Google and Bing, it’s hard to tell.  Good rankings takes using best SEO practices over time so that Google -trusts- your site more and more. We’ll talk about that in a later post.

This is a topical and time sensitive story.  Google could hours, days or even a week to crawl your site and discover this new post.  Make sure your digital producer or whoever has access to Google Search Console  submits your url as soon as it’s live on your site.  While Google makes no promises, new posts get crawled and added to the index within a few minutes of making the request.  This is an important step in getting search engines to crawl your site as often as possible.  The more crawling, the links it follows the more times it recategorizes your rankings.  This is an oversimplification to be sure….we will cover the never ending nuances of SEO for Public Radio in future posts.


Public Radio Listener Survey Question Construction

Question construction needs to be thoughtful and tested.  Even if you think you have a perfect question, designed to get the information you want, ask staff and volunteers for their response.  It’s measure twice; cut once.  I can’t tell you how many times I thought I had a great question that turned out to be a dud because I had one unclear word in it.

So what is it you want to know?

Do you really know what’s important to your audience?  Answering that question is the over-all goal of any survey.  Listeners don’t always make the distinction between your station’s programming and national programming.  You should always construct your questions to focus your listeners minds on specific programming elements if that is important you.

Let’s go through a series of questions to get at what community issues are important to your respondents.  This is a basic question sequence that can be used to ask about any part of your station including fundraising and news.  We’ll cover the sequence using news focused questions.  Remember too that this is a general sequence and it might take one, two, three or more questions on a topic to get the information you’re looking to acquire.

Question 1:
  Unaided Recall:   What Three Issues facing our local community do you spend time thinking about? The order is not important, just that you spend time thinking about them.

The question should have three text boxes to capture the information.  Notice the words “local community” are used.  Local differentiates from national or state-wide issues and “community” so they focus
on their definition of local, not yours.  Asking someone about issues affecting Baltimore is going to get you different data from respondents who live 30 miles outside the city.  Once we get their home zip code later on in the survey then we can compare and contrast what different parts  of our listening area.

Question 2: 
 Prioritization:  On the left are list of issues many would say are facing our local community. Drag each one to the box on the right and order them by dragging them up and down to put them in order
of you think are the most important to you to the least important.

You can take a few approaches to determine the list of issues for the left side.  I advise that focus on topics from the  beats that your station currently covers. This, combined with question 1, will give you an idea just how well your editorial is matching up with what your respondents want to know.

The topics on the right should be two or three words that can be “semi-specific.”  “Transportation” has too wide a meaning.  “Transportation Infrastructure” narrows it down some and might more in aligned with your content. “Public Transportation Infrastructure” makes it even more specific. I would choose “Transportation Infrastructure” as it would have similar meanings to drivers and public transportation riders.  You may need to add a “how do you get to work question” later on the in the survey to determine if your listeners are more interested in road construction issues versus subway delays.

This question type will return a score and ranking from all of your respondents giving you a nice list of their priorities that you might use to guide the amount coverage you give each topic.  You should also include a free form text box for comments.  “Is there anything you’d like us to know about these topics?  It could be something going on in your community or something about how we covered one of these topics.”

Question 3: 
Performance:  This is the question that gets to the heart of the matter.  Here we ask respondents for their opinion about how well your station fills their needs.  I like to ask this one in a table of statements and use a 1-5 strongly disagree to strongly agree scale.  Generally your listeners are going to give you high marks for your coverage but we’ll talk about that in a future post about analyzing your data but generally, any statement that averages less than 3.75 should be a topic of conversation in the station.

“Below are a series of statements about WXXX. Please tell us how much you agree with each.”
“WXXX covers the kind of stories I need to know about”
“WXXX reporters work to tell stories without injecting their own opinions”
“WXXX covers stories that no other TV or radio station covers”
“WXXX  stories have facts and figures that can’t be disputed”
“WXXX stories are clear and easy to understand”

You can see that you can offer soft or hard statements about your coverage.  I would also include a comments box here for feedback. “Do  you have any insightful comments about our coverage that you think would be helpful in the future?”

I’ll demonstrate how this sequence can be constructed to shed light on your fundraising program in the next post.



The Tools

So now that you’ve answered some questions about WHY you want to conduct a public radio listener survey, it’s time to pick the right tool.

I want to go back to a line David Giovannoni use chant during the Audience 98 study. “Free is not a value.”  There are plenty of free survey tools on the web but they often will not provide you with enough options to fully collect and analyze your data.

My Personal Favorite

I’ve used Survey Gizmo for more than 10 years and it keeps getting better.  It has two versions.  The Business version of an industrial strength version used by Fedex and others.  The Consumer or small business version is perfect for most station who want to accomplish a listener survey, listener polls and online forms.   I even used Survey Gizmo for job applicants to fill out and upload their resumes.  It made the EEO reports a breeze at the end of the year.

You can experiment with a free account and the decide which options (mostly more complex question types) you want to add.  I like the $85/month level since it gives the most question types.  The $25/month version has enough features for first time survey construction.

Survey Monkey Beyond The Free

A lot of folks liked Survey Monkey because it was free.  But everyone knew you were using Survey Monkey so it really didn’t work for listener surveys where you wanted to present a professional image.

The paid plans offer a similar, but not identical, number of features as Survey Gizmo.  You’ll need to compare the product feature tables on their websites to determine which features you really have to have.

I find Survey Gizmo is a little less expensive and has more question types than Survey Monkey.  But Survey Monkey includes quizzes in their mid-priced product and Survey Gizmo doesn’t.  Quizzes could be a really cool tool for station promotion.

Google Forms

Aside from collecting basic information Google Forms isn’t going to supplant a full service survey product.  You don’t have much control over the look and feel of the form so everyone knows you’re using Google Forms.  Reporting is super basic but if you’ve never done a survey before and just want to tool around for an afternoon then Google Forms could be your note pad.

There are bunch of other survey programs out there and you should do a google search and play around with them to determine which one is best suited to you—but I think you’ll come back to Survey Gizmo.

Other Tools

Microstrategy  offers a free desktop client for their extremely expensive system that allows you to do some basic analysis. It allows you to do some nifty stuff.  For example, I use it to come with the Public Triple Play list.  I copy in each station’s play list and then matches up all the song names from each station and totals the plays from all of the stations.

It’s a great tool that you can play around with on a lonely Friday night with a bottle of wine.

Don’t underestimate the power of Excel.  Most of us don’t learn the advanced features, but we really should.

Here’s a list of other software products you  might want to investigate.

In the next installment we’ll tackle the fun stuff: Question Construction.



Don’t call them Public Radio Listener Surveys

Every once in a while you’ll see a post on one of our list servs or Facebook pages asking for examples or help in formulating public radio listener surveys.  I’ll often offer advice based the surveys we did at my station which I think provided us with helpful information as well as the opportunity to cultivate non or expired members.

These really aren’t ‘Listener’ surveys.  If you do them right, they’ll tell you more about your market and why non listeners don’t listen and why non-member listeners don’t contribute.  They’ll also tell you what issues are important to your community so you can adjust your content to better serve them.

The first question you have to yourself is why you want to do a survey.  After talking to several folks who asked for advice; many folks are trying to prove their position in an internal argument or they don’t believe Neilson ratings or other research products.  Obviously these are not good reasons to conduct a survey.

The best reasons to conduct a survey is to add information to the other research your station has at its disposal.  Maybe you’re not sure that your editorial team is covering all the issues your listeners are concerned about.  Maybe you’re wondering why more listeners aren’t becoming members.  Maybe you’re wondering why attendance at your events are lackluster.  You may also want to try to quantify the financial impact of your events on your community.

There’s a lot you can learn.  There is one caveat. The survey you’re going to do is not going to scientifically (unless you’re going to hire a research firm at a big price tag) sound.  The information is used to inform your judgement and maybe even be a good sales tool for your underwriting staff, but it should not be used exclusively to make changes in your station’s focus, schedule or other decision.

A Few Don’ts for Public Radio Listener Surveys

Don’t ask “When Do You Listen?” questions.  Your Nielsen ratings will tell you that.  Of course if you’re in an unmeasured market then you might consider asking this question.

Don’t ask “What other stations do you listen to?” Same reason, you have that information already.  We’re not looking for behaviors–we’re looking for the why  behind the behaviors.

Don’t ask for feedback about specific reporters or hosts.  Under NO circumstances should you share any comments about personnel with staff.  It will cause an HR nightmare not matter if the feedback is positive or negative.  Been There… Done That…. Got The Scars.

Don’t ask which malls or shopping centers they visit.  You have this information in Tapscan or Media Audit.  If your station doesn’t subscribe, use the effort your own survey would take to convince your GM to buy one of these products.

A Few Dos for Public Radio Listener Surveys

Do ask questions about the important issues facing them personally.  Don’t be surprised you’ve overlooked an important issue in your editorial planning.

Do ask them about their satisfaction level with your station along with a space for feedback.  You’re going to get very high ranks here since your pool of responses is filled with listeners who love you.  The feedback will be helpful to learn what you’re doing well.  You’ll need a way to quantify the intensity of the comments.

You might ask them about your events and how much  and where they spend money before and after the event to demonstrate the financial impact your station brings to an event.

In the next post we’ll tackle the tools you’ll need to accomplish Public Radio Listener Surveys and then we’ll tackle question construction.