How do I optimise my website for Google News?

Optimising your website and content for inclusion in Google News and a achieving a good news ranking is detailed in this article.

What is Google News?

Google describes its vertical search engine, ‘Google News’, as follows:

To help everyone understand the world by connecting people with high quality news from a variety of perspectives. Google aims to make it easier to stay informed by using technology to organize what journalists are reporting about current issues and events. We don’t have an editorial point of view. Instead, Google products are designed to connect you with a broad array of information and perspectives to help you develop your own point of view and make informed decisions. We’re committed to fostering a healthy and diverse news ecosystem because we know journalism is vital to strong, functioning societies.

Google News Mission Statement

Will Google News content show up in web search?

Yes. In desktop search and mobile search, Google may display a ‘Top Stories’ box:

On mobile devices, there is the ‘Top Stories’ box, which allows you to scroll through a number of news posts.

Otherwise, you can access Google News by clicking on the News tab.

The results displayed in the top-stories box and news tab are found using a dedicated Google News algorithm to rank the results.

When will my website be included as a Google News source?

For a successful inclusion in Google News, the website is subjected to a manual review by a Google employee. The reviewer will evaluate the site against general, technical and content guidelines.

The technical and content requirements for a website to be included as a Google News source are listed below, and we will discuss further below how to go about optimising them.

Technical requirements for inclusion in Google News

  • The article must be in AMP HTML format
  • The website must be search engine-friendly and low barrier, i.e. it must present no barriers to the Google bot and the user
  • A special Google News sitemap should be available and update automatically
  • The headlines and the date of publication must be easily recognisable
  • The URL of each post should be unique and permanently valid
  • There should be no 301 redirects
  • Pay attention to the language used when logging into Google News and, if necessary, translate the topic accordingly
  • In the case of multilingual websites, each language version needs its own application
  • The website should be UTF-8 encoded
  • The HTML source code of a news item should ideally be structured without interruption in this order: Headline > Image > Date > Body text. If there is a large advertisement between the headline and the news body, this can confuse the Google bot. Too many social media plugins tend to also make things worse in this regard.
  • Make sure the pages/individual URLs load quickly, preferably under 200ms per URL/page
  • An additional small document size of less than 10 KB is beneficial
  • Links in the articles must be real HTML links. JavaScript, links in the form of graphics and links in frames are not crawled by Google.
  • The user agents Googlebot and Googlebot-News must not be prohibited from crawling and indexing the page (e.g. by robots.txt)

Content requirement for inclusion in Google News

  • Imprint with all possible contact information
  • All authors/editors must be listed on an editorial page or in the imprint
  • The entire website must be written and maintained by an organisation with several authors and editors
  • It must be evident that the content of the news articles is editorially maintained. Forums and simple blog posts will not be included in Google News. Editorial content with a press character is required
  • The website and news articles should not be overloaded with advertising.
  • Sponsorship must be explicitly noted
  • Create (new and up-to-date) content on a regular basis
  • The content should have ideally been written for your own website
  • Content and articles must be written with a high degree of topicality on a subject area
  • No non-topic content should be published
  • You should not promote only your own activities
  • A high number of articles should already be available before registering with Google News.

As part of the process of becoming a Google News source, a Google employee will take a closer look at the website based on the above factors.

Google help for publishers and web publishers:

How do I further optimise my website and individual articles for Google News?

Provided that the aforementioned technical and content-related guidelines have been followed and the website to be optimised has already been approved as a Google News source, there are a number of further opportunities for optimisation.

Layout of the website

The layout of both the website and the individual news article is important. The fewer elements that there are next to and between the actual news content, the better. The HTML source code of a news article should ideally be structured without interruptions in this order: Headline > Image > Date > Body text.

When it comes to news, Google is even more concerned with speed than it is with web search. New news items should be quickly recognised, adopted and displayed.

Content optimisation, degree of topicality and speed of publication

The degree of topicality is of great importance when it comes to ranking news articles. If a news item is published first, i.e. before the competitors have joined in, it enjoys an advantage in the news rankings. A constant or continuous updating of the news can also be advantageous. Presumably, algorithms such as QDF (Quality Deserves Freshness) of the Google Freshness Updates take effect here.

A news item must always be published by several Google News websites in order to be displayed in organic search as a universal search integration. If a website is the only one to publish news on a certain topic or subject area, the topic of the news article may not be given sufficient weight in order for it to be displayed in organic search as one of three indented hits (see graphic above).

Google News Sitemap

Creating a simple XML-Sitemap will not get you far with Google News. A special news sitemap based on the XML protocol is required here, and it must contain the publication date for the individual articles.

This Google News XML-Sitemap should update itself automatically and without delay with the latest published news URLs. It is important to note that only URLs of news articles published in the last 48 hours are entered. Google only accepts the last two days as the publication period of a news article.

Optimise images

The image used in a news article in the order Headline > Image > Date > Body text is measurably responsible for the click-through rate (CTR) and can be used as a thumbnail for the ranking of the news within the organic search as well as under news.google.com.

The image must be hosted on the same web host as the rest of the domain content in order to serve as a thumbnail in Google News. A caption is very important for news articles. The ALT attribute should also be used. In addition, schema.org or og:image tags can be used to suggest which image should serve as a preview.

Furthermore, images should be available in standard file name extensions, such as JPG, JPEG or PNG. Of course, this should be in a small file size, but also not too small. The pictures should have a size of at least 60 x 90 pixels. It is not enough to simply link the image. It must be regularly integrated in the HTML source code within an <img…> element.

Content optimisation

Freshness, relevance and speed of publication of a news story on a particular topic or subject area is a ranking factor in Google News.

Technically, an article needs at least 80 words to be considered a news story. However, a minimum of 125 is recommended for headline news stories and a minimum of 250 words for any other type of news.

The important thing to remember about the minimum 125 or 250 words is that no word (or words) of it should be linked internally as well as externally. Also, the 250 words of a news story should be written without interruption, i.e. without social media plugins or advertisements placed within the text.

Optimise title and H1 heading

It should be short and crisp. Concise and encouraging to click / want to learn more. The focus keyword should be at the very beginning. The CTR (click-through rate) is a ranking factor and also influences how often results from a news source are displayed as a universal search integration within the organic search.

Please also bear in mind that Google is a machine and therefore cannot interpet sarcasm, puns or allegories.

There is also a 100-word limit on the length of the headline. This results from the regulations for the “Article-Markup” which must be used for news articles if they are to have a chance of a place in the “Top Stories” carousel.

Avoid comments from readers / load via AJAX or iFrame

If the readers of a news article have the opportunity to comment on it, this can be problematic for the ranking of the individual news article. It can also be removed from the news ranking.

User-generated content (UGC) can cause Google News-Errors such as ’article fragmented’, ‘article too short’ or ‘article too long’.

This problem can occur if users have the option of writing comments and these comments can be read by the Google bot in the HTML source code of the news article.

This can unintentionally reduce or disrupt the relevance of the news article when it is evaluated and processed by Google. A solution here is to close the comment function for news articles.

If, on the other hand, you want to allow comments, Google recommends three ways to ‘hide’ the comment functionality or the user-generated content and make it unreadable:

  • Reload the comments using AJAX
  • Load the comments in an iFrame
  • Move the comments to a separate subpage

For more information, read ‘Crawling-Fehler von Google News in der Google Search Console erkennen’.

Use structured data! Distinction according to schema.org

Whether structured data currently brings ranking advantages remains to be seen. However, their use according to schema.org can in no way be harmful and is in any case beneficial for search engines. Therefore, it should be ensured that a correct schema.org syntax is used for Google News articles.

To the description of the document/article: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/data-types/article

If a video is included in the continuative part of the news article after the 250 words mentioned in the ‘textual optimisation’ section, it can also be correctly marked up using our Video Rich Snippet Generator according to schema.org Markup.

Do I have to use the meta element (meta tag) “news_keywords”?

For years, Google News used the Meta-Element (Meta-Tag) ‘news_keywords’ to classify news articles. This information is no longer used! So it can be safely ignored.

If your system is already set up to assign ‘news_keywords’, you do not need to adjust the system. Google simply ignores the entry.

Shorten the loading time of the news article / optimise PageSpeed

In addition to a high degree of topicality and a high publication speed (be the first!) of a news article, the loading time of the URL is another ranking factor. 

It is best if each news article is built and rendered within 200 milliseconds in the reader’s web browser. The news page or each URL should be checked and optimised with regard to its loading time, the PageSpeed.

  • Ask SISTRIX: What is the best way to optimise my website in terms of PageSpeed?

AMP for Google News

Google’s AMP-Project was launched to make websites load even faster.

Every publisher who wants their site to appear in the “Top-News” carousel currently needs an AMP version of the article.

Since the “Top News” carousel accounts for the lion’s share of traffic that comes to publishers’ sites via Google, there is no way around AMP for publishers in this case.

The SISTRIX Optimizer offers assistance in the form of an automated OnPage analysis of your websites and shows all SEO-relevant errors. The loading time of individual URLs can also be determined precisely.

In addition to the above-mentioned possibilities for load time optimisation, the migration of the booked hosting package or the used (virtual/dedicated) server should be considered. The use of high availability solutions or a Content Delivery Network (CDN) can bring enormous advantages in terms of PageSpeed. Recommended solutions here are Google’s App Engine and Amazon’s CloudFront.

What is important for Google when compiling its own news offering?

In the course of the Google I/O developer conference, Google put a “How News Works” website online in which they try to shed light on their own mission and approach to news.

The various points made provide a lot of information that can be used to check one’s own strategy.

Let’s start with the points that are most important according to the Google document:

Relevance

The connection between one’s own search and the articles found should be as high as possible.

A basic signal of whether an article contains relevant information is that the article contains the same keywords as the search.

There are, of course, other algorithms that are involved in determining relevance. However, this text should be a strong indication to create articles with the vocabulary that is used and searched for by the desired target group.

Location

The location Google attributes to searchers has a significant impact on what is displayed.

This also gives local publishers the opportunity to receive streams of visitors, e.g. via the “Top Stories” carousel.

Prominence

Prominence is about identifying notable news stories. Google has stated the following:

‘Our algorithms take into account, for example, whether publishers write many articles about a particular news story and present them prominently on their own site, or whether an article is trending.’

As a publisher, you don’t have to write about God and the world. It is much more important to find your own niche and establish yourself as an expert in it.

Authoritativeness

Authoritativeness signals are designed to help Google identify high quality articles and prioritise such sources:

‘Our systems are designed to determine which sites have expertise, authority and trustworthiness on a given topic.’

This statement is rounded off by the fact that these rating algorithms are improved thanks to the work of external quality raters, as part of Google’s quality assurance process.

The Quality Rater Guidelines are made publicly available by Google and should be understood by every SEO. Especially the points concerning E-A-T should be emphasised here.

Freshness

Freshness is about how old an article or its latest update is. News is fast-moving and Google takes this into account. Google itself says that articles with current information are probably more useful than articles with older information.

So it’s not just about the speed of your own site, but also the speed of the reporting itself.

Usability

Usability covers many of the points we mentioned above in the technical requirements. The website should be displayed correctly in different browsers, as well as on most device types and sizes. And the loading time should work well even for users with a slow internet connection.

Conclusion

Johannes got to the heart of the matter in his Plädoyer für mehr Unabhängigkeit:

‘It cannot be glossed over: the GAFA groups dominate the internet. This situation will not change in the short term. Deal with it pragmatically and use the platforms where they send visitors to your central contact point: your own website. Invest a lot of time, energy and love in your own website. It is your investment that will hopefully outlast these platforms.’

    – Johannes Beus – SISTRIX Blog

This applies to normal web search as well as to all other verticals, including Google News. Google has a vested interest in keeping visitors happy. To do this, they need a continuous flow of new, interesting and, at best, high-quality articles. However, there are more than enough publishers who can meet this demand. So Google needs content, but not necessarily yours.

It is therefore also important to strengthen one’s own brand in the news and to bind users to oneself. Unfortunately, this seems to be much more difficult than it might initially appear, as this concluding comment by Jeff Jarvis shows:

‘The problem has long been that publishers aren’t competent at exploiting the full value of these clicks by creating meaningful and valuable ongoing relationships with the people sent their way.’

    – Jeff Jarvis

Further information on this topic:

Video with Barry Adams: SEO for News (2018)

Steve Paine
25.01.2021