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. https://yourstation.org/senate-race-heads-to-end.html is not as search friendly as https://yourstation.org/Bill-Smith-and-Andy-Markumski-statename-senate-race-2018.html.
  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.

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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.
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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.
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