Google nest mini on a cluttered desk

Voice Search SEO and Digital Publishing

Only recently, voice search SEO felt far enough in the future to not be a concern. But, such is the nature of digital publishing, it’s become a priority topic in the search industry seemingly in a matter of seconds. While voice search technology overcame its teething issues with the proliferation of smartphones, the popularity of sophisticated voice assistants (smart speakers and compatible smartphones) has snowballed into something of a voice search revolution.

number of voice assistants worldwide 2019 to 2023

  • 20% of mobile queries are currently done with voice search.
  • Nearly 40 million Americans currently own a smart speaker.
  • 5.8 million UK households had a smart speaker as of the end of 2019, meaning over 10 million regular smart speaker users nationwide.
  • 58% of people have used voice search to find information about a local business.
  • 72% of people who use voice search devices claim they have become part of their daily routines.
  • 43% of smart speaker owners use the technology to shop.

Thanks to its speed and ease of use, voice search is a critical area for publishers aiming for SEO success. Much noise has been made about its importance. So, let’s take a look at some surefire ways of successfully optimising content for voice search.

Optimise for Rich Answers

This one’s easier for some publishers than others, but worth exploring all the same. An SEMrush voice search study found that "70% of all answers returned from voice searches occupied a SERP feature (with 60% of those returning a Featured Snippet result)." In plain English: 70% of voice search answers came from Google’s quick, summarised results (as opposed to a listed search result), like this one:

what is a rich answer rich answer

Here are some effective ways to optimise for rich answers.

  • Implement schema markup to tell Google what part of your article directly answers a search query - it’s a type of data you can add to your HTML to make your site easier and quicker for search engines to crawl
  • The more directly your article answers a search query, the more likely it is to be selected by Google’s algorithm as the rich answer for that query

For more information on rich answers, we recommend Grizzly’s quick guide.

Write With a Conversational Tone

Voice search queries are, by definition, conversational: voice searches are a conversation with the voice assistant. Remember this. The more clinical and “typed” your language reads, the less likely it is to directly address a voice search query.

Google relies on Natural Language Processing (NLP) to refine its voice search results by processing voice texture and rhythm, and the searcher’s interests and search behaviour. With time, it “learns” the user’s language, accent, and other patterns in the way they speak, and uses them to focus on the semantics of their search query.

When you search in the traditional way, your query might look something like “pubs south East London”. But, a voice search with the same intent might run something like “what are the best pubs near deptford high street station”. 

The technicalities of NLP are intricate, but all publishers need to know is studying the query style of a voice search and anticipating it in their articles will pay off. It shouldn’t mean major stylistic compromises, either - if anything, writing conversationally enhances readability. 

Target Long-Tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords are those over three words, and regularly appear in conversational search queries as a result. Optimise for the long-tail and you’ll inadvertently help yourself to optimise for rich answers simultaneously.

Minimise Your Load Times

The potential downsides of a slow load time make it a primary ranking factor for voice search SEO like never before. If a voice searcher isn’t returned an immediate result, the conversational nature of voice search is undermined. In practical terms, if you have a slow website that takes an eternity to load, your content won't be selected as the answer to a voice search query. Google’s PageSpeed Insights is an invaluable tool for minimising load times. 

As search assistants proliferate at an exponential rate, refining voice search SEO could be a major competitive advantage for your title. The digital publishing world hasn’t quite started this conversation yet, and you won’t regret getting ahead of your peers.

The Athletic when subscriptions are linked with Facebook account linking

News Subscription Account Linking on Facebook Brings Results for Publishers

As an effective digital subscription strategy continues to become more important for digital publishers than ever before, Facebook has developed a new account linking tool that improves how Facebook users interact with news content from publishers they subscribe to. While it has yet to be gifted a catchy name, the tool allows users to link their digital news subscriptions to their Facebook profile and access them easily, all in one place. News subscription account linking works by matching digital subscribers to Facebook profiles, then sending these profiles an invitation to link their subscription accounts.

The aim of this new feature is to strengthen publishers’ relationships with their subscribers, whilst simultaneously improving the news consumption experience on Facebook for those subscribers. It is, in theory, a win-win. One key way news consumption will be improved for Facebook users is that once this new tool is live, linked subscribers will not meet paywalls when accessing articles via Facebook, nor will they be asked to sign-in every time they click an article by a title they’re subscribed to.

Also, subscribers of eligible publishers will see more of their stories in their Facebook News tab. At the moment, these “eligible publishers” are all US-based, but Facebook plans to expand over time.

Facebook user's linked magazine subscription feed

Facebook has tested this tool with a select few publishers already, and the early results look promising for both subscriber engagement and content distribution. In June, a test group who had linked their subscription accounts on Facebook had on average 111% more article clicks compared to those not in the test group. In the same period, publishers’ Facebook followers jumped from 34% to over 97% with subscribers who had linked their accounts.

David Grant, program manager for the Facebook Journalism Project’s Accelerator programme, said: 

Publishers in all world regions are building sustainable, enduring relationships with loyal readers. Through account linking, we hope that Facebook can be a powerful extension of those efforts, helping news organisations drive deeper subscriber engagement and bring more paying readers to their high-quality journalism, which is the foundation of keeping communities informed and connected.”

So, what’s next for this feature? Facebook has outlined the upcoming steps it’ll take to improve the subscriber account linking tool:

  • It’s adding additional partners to the product test.
  • It’s actively working to measure subscriber retention driven by account linking, and other approaches to measuring impact for publishers.
  • It’s testing new places for subscribers to link their accounts within the Facebook app, such as within Facebook News.
  • It’s actively working on an approach that would allow subscribers to directly initiate the account linking process on publisher websites.

Apple News+ interface

Apple News' August Publisher Updates in Detail

Apple’s latest updates to Apple News are geared towards analytics, although some neat new bits of functionality, like time zone-specific notifications and great control over the podcast component, allow publishers to improve UX in their channel.  Here are some of the new features we'd like to highlight:

Send Notifications to Time Zone Regions

Publishers can send notifications to specific time zone regions in specific territories, including: 

  • Australia (Western, Central, Eastern); 
  • Canada (Pacific, Mountain, Central, Eastern, Atlantic); 
  • United Kingdom (London); 
  • United States (Pacific, Mountain, Central, Eastern). 

These are accessible through the Create Notification dialog box under Territories & Time Zones. Time zones have been added to the notification metadata, and publishers can see time zones and territories in the Analytics dashboard under Notifications.

Apple advises that a successful notification does two things: it increases engagement with your content in the app, and provides a high-value experience for the reader. To guarantee this, publishers must use notifications responsibly, and use them to clearly highlight an experience that only they can provide in 130 characters or less. Teaser notifications are discouraged, as are marketing notifications, and any that feature vulgar language.

For Apple’s full notification guidelines, click here.

Podcast Component

Publishers can use the podcast component to link to a podcast or podcast episode. The link provides a button ‘Listen on Apple Podcasts’ prompting readers to listen to the podcast or podcast episode. The link opens the Apple Podcasts app.

Apple News podcast componentPublishers should know that the component uses two optional properties to provide basic layout and colour theme customisations. By default, ‘Orientation’ automatically adjusts the layout of the subcomponents according to the width of the reader’s device, and ‘Theme’ allows publishers to specify a light or dark appearance independent of the device’s light or dark mode setting.

For Apple’s full Podcast component guidelines, click here

Channel Summary Report for All Channels

The Channels Summary report is available to publishers with more than one channel. The Administrator, Editor-in-Chief, Editor, or Sales role is required to access it. The report includes data for all channels but the data for each channel is kept separate. The maximum date range for the report is 31 days.

Apple News publishers will now be able to see data about notifications and featured/trending articles, download analytics reports from charts or top articles tables, receive recurring analytics reports via email, receive custom analytics reports for single channels, receive the same for multiple channels, and more. Elsewhere, click-through rate has been added to notification reports and the Analytics dashboard.

For more information, click here.

API Updates

Publishers can now use either the Share URL ID or article ID to update, delete, or read article information. Also, there’s a helpful new error message, entitled DUPLICATE_ARTICLE_FOUND. If received, it’ll reveal the original article ID. Developers, consult Apple’s guidance on creating an article and updating an article for more information.

A number of updates have been made to Apple News Format, too, including deprecations of some objects and properties. Publishers, we’d invite you to get to grips with these changes here.

Google Analytics on rollerskates

Publishers Can Now Determine Google News' Traffic Value

Google has formally introduced a new feature to Search Console which will finally disclose how much traffic Google’s News areas give publishers, who also now have the ability to analyse the traffic that arrives via the News tab in search results. This new functionality will reveal impressions generated solely by the News section. Here’s how the filter looks in Search Console:

Google's new News search type filterAccording to Google, this feature has been heavily requested for quite some time. And yet, its recent addition means that archived data is unavailable. The tech giant offered further details in an email sent subsequent to the announcement, which states:

“We’ve recently added new data to the Performance report in Search Console: Google Search’s News tab data. This data shows clicks, impressions, and click-through rates for any links seen in the “News” tab in Google Search results. To access this data in the report, click the “Search type: Web” filter on the top of the report, then select “News”.”

This addition to the Search Console is a valuable one that will undoubtedly help inform numerous digital strategies with a view to succeeding in Google News. If you’re a publisher who’s recently decided to investigate the platform further, you might be relieved to hear that you no longer need to submit your site in order to be eligible to appear in Google News. Google’s official guidance reads: 

“Publishers are automatically considered for Top stories or the News tab of Search. They just need to produce high-quality content and comply with Google News content policies.”

Also, consider taking a look at Google’s “Webmasters” series. Here, it features a list of essentials publishers must consider if they’re going to succeed in Google News. 

Unsure your publication receives the traffic it should? Mathematics’ gap analysis service is designed to identify holes in your digital strategy, and increase readers and revenue with a thorough investigation into distribution platforms, personalised to your publication’s unique goals and needs. Head here if you’d like to know more.

Apple's official News+ audio user interface

Apple Has Launched the News+ Audio Tab in the US

When it launched in June, Apple’s latest iOS 13.5.5 beta revealed some seriously noteworthy new Apple News+ functionality in the form of audio versions of stories, as well as an audio news briefing hosted by Apple News editors.

The Audio tab wasn’t available for everyone when the Apple’s beta dropped, but 9to5Mac’s documentation of their exclusive access revealed audio versions of articles from The Wall Street Journal, Variety, WIRED, People and New York Magazine.

Now, Apple News+ Audio is officially available to paying, US-based News+ users. Non-News+ users will receive previews of audio articles, reports 9to5Mac, but paid users will have full access to everything the Audio tab offers. That said, the daily audio news briefing - entitled “Apple News Today” and co-hosted by Apple News editors Shumita Basu and Duarte Geraldino - is available for free to all listeners every morning, Monday through Friday. It’s also available in Apple’s Podcasts app.

Apple News Today audio article hosted by Apple News editors

The new area operates like a stripped-back Apple News, with a daily featured audio article and a reduced “For You” section. Once the user hits play on a piece of Audio, the interface resembles that of Podcasts, with 15-second rewind and skip options. Users will also be able to adjust the speed of playback. Also, like Spotify and other DSPs, users are able to “cue” audio stories to play next. Apple has also introduced “CarPlay”, an Audio support feature that enables users to safely enjoy Apple News+ Audio content while driving.

Apple News CarPlay user interface

“Apple News showcases so much great journalism, and we’re excited to help bring it to life in new ways with Apple News+ audio stories and a new daily news show, Apple News Today,” said Lauren Kern, Editor In Chief of Apple News. “We also greatly value our many local news partners — our new local news feature highlights their work for readers who live, and are interested, in those communities.”

Crucial to the uniqueness of what Apple is offering here is the Audio tab’s ambition. Apple won’t be licensing existing podcast content, but rather producing original audio versions of premium news articles, read by voice actors. Such impressive claims call into question the functionality’s long-term viability, but Apple aims to manage the workload by producing no more than 20 audio stories a week across a wide range of interests. We’re excited to see how realistic this impressive goal is.

Unfortunately, there isn’t any information available to publishers on how they may become eligible for Apple News+ audio stories. It’s such a new feature that as it stands, only those approached by Apple initially have audio stories on their channels. But, if successful, Apple may democratise the process. We’ll be the first to know if this happens, and will update this article accordingly.

Facebook Status area

Publisher Essentials: Facebook Updates Algorithm to Boost “Original Reporting"

For better or worse, the USA’s 2020 presidential election is drawing closer. Historically, Facebook’s News Feed has been criticised for giving biased, amateur news and misinformation precedence equal to - and often greater than - quality reporting. To put it bluntly, that’s a dangerous game. Now, it seems, Facebook realises this, and has renewed efforts to uphold the integrity of its News Feed to minimise culpability for the election’s outcome. 

The tech giant will achieve this by “prioritising original reporting”, an executive told Axios. Artificial intelligence will analyse groups of articles on a particular topic and identify those most often cited as the original source of a story.

Isn’t “Original Reporting” Difficult to Define?

Yes, but thankfully, Facebook knows this. They’ve been talking with leaders in both editorial and the business end of publishing to help define this term accurately, and bolstering their results with user research. The outcomes of these processes will be fed to its algorithm, so that it becomes increasingly more proficient at identifying “original reporting” as a news story’s original source.

What Else Should Publishers Know About Facebook’s Algorithm Change?

As it stands, Facebook will focus on English language news sites and stories. It’ll begin integrating other languages in the near future. This leads to another key point publishers should be aware of: right now, the algorithm changes only apply to news.

Facebook’s good intentions have seen it hit a hurdle regarding bylines: the company stated that its new algorithm will limit attention given to stories without bylines or titles that don’t make information about their staff easily available. And yet, they acknowledge that often, anonymity is vital for the protection of journalists. How they’ll address this conundrum remains to be seen. In the meantime: publishers, make your bylines clear, if you can.

The brand expects publishers to see a small but definite traffic boost from original reports. This is a minor but useful algorithm update, but a critic could characterise it as something Facebook will be able to identify as an attempt to fight against misinformation that in fact comes at no great effort to Facebook.

This change comes just as Google announced that in its “new news product” - more details on which will be available soon - it will begin paying publishers for “high-quality content”. Time will tell if tech giants siding with responsible publishers represents the beginning of a significant change to our industry, or merely a PR trend.

Google street sign in Cologne

Will Publishers Really Be Paid by Google’s New News Product?

Google, it seems, has had a change of heart. After years of not paying publishers directly for distributing their work, the tech giant is working on a licensing programme that will pay publishers “for high-quality” content as part of a “new news product” launching in late 2020. For a while now, regulators have been attempting to force Google to pay publishers. Google has always aggressively resisted the idea, threatening to even pull Google News out of Europe should the EU impose such policies. This new product seems to represent Google’s attempt to outrun that threat by making payments on its own terms.

Brad Bender, Google’s VP of product management, has said that the new programme comprises two elements:

  1. Google will pay select publishers to distribute their work - whether it be video, audio, images or text - as a part of a new news product, details of which have not been made public.
  2. Google is willing to pay publishers for access to paywalled content. The company will offer that premium content to users for free.

The programme appears to have been in the works for some time - Google has already signed partnership agreements with national publications in Germany, Australia and Brasil, including Der Spiegel, The Conversation and A Gazeta

Google News on mobile
Details on Google's "new news product" are hazy, but the company will pay publishers for "high-quality" content

Clearly, details on Google’s “new news product” are hazy. The blog post in which it was announced says the upcoming service “will help participating publishers monetise their content through an enhanced storytelling experience that lets people go deeper into more complex stories, stay informed and be exposed to a world of different issues and interests.”

But, many industry insiders are sceptical. Joshua Benton of Nieman Journalism Lab has criticised the announcement as a PR move: a democratic facade that’s only surface-level. Google and Facebook are repeatedly blamed for the turbulence of the news industry, so announcements such as this are wins for these companies. 

“From the duopoly’s perspective, the biggest problem with paying for all the news coursing through their digital veins isn’t the money. (They have plenty of money.) It’s that paying for news in any systemic way would attack their core advantage as platforms: organizing other people’s content,” Benton argues.

If you’re a publisher keen for every advantage that wishes to integrate with Google’s upcoming news product then apologies, but that information’s not available yet. We’ll update this article the moment further announcements come. But, we request that publishers are mindful. If Google wants to pay you to keep doing what you’re doing, take the money. But consider that this new product is equally concerned with solving Google’s problems as it is your own.

Facebook logo pin badges

Facebook News Launches in the US - What’s New?

Historically, Facebook’s had a turbulent relationship with the news. That’s putting it lightly. A while back, the tech giant provided users with a shortlist of trending stories from across its network. In 2016, it fired that list’s human curators in an effort to eliminate bias that culminated in its AI circulating fake news instantly. Facebook Instant Articles were great for users but risked stunting the subscription, advertising and recirculation areas many publishers rely upon for revenue. Perhaps most notoriously, in 2018, it introduced its ‘meaningful interactions’ algorithm which prioritised posts by friends and family over publishers. Many titles never recovered and went under. 

Now, Facebook has formally launched Facebook News in the US and hopes this time things will be different. The company has reverted to human curators, who’ll work with algorithms to create, in theory, a well-tailored, personalised news selection. 

Users have a lot of control over what news they’re exposed to. They’re able to react and share (but not comment), and hide articles, titles and topics that they don’t want to see. However, once again, this risks trapping users in an echo chamber of their own views. But of course, having only just launched, its effectiveness remains to be seen.

How do publishers integrate with Facebook News?

If a publication’s audience is large enough, it shouldn’t be tricky to see their content surfaced on Facebook News. Facebook doesn’t describe its criteria specifically, but it factors a publication’s integrity with misinformation, clickbait and engagement bait before including a title in Facebook News. If a user interacts with Facebook News frequently, it transforms from a bookmark to a tab in the app. 

Facebook news tab on phoneFacebook is now testing news video, which is a brand new feature. Also, the company seems to have listened to concerns surrounding the slow disappearance of local news organisations, as it’s introduced a local news section to Facebook News too. It hosts thousands of local and regional publications. As a result, the vast majority of Facebook News’ sources are local and regional titles. 

Still yet to launch on desktop, it’s early days for Facebook News. It appears the company has been reactive and pragmatic since trialling the new feature’s launch in late 2019, and if its team continues to adapt to the changes publishers need, Facebook News could prove to be a very worthwhile venture indeed. Its competition - namely, Apple News and Flipboard - is stiff, but Facebook News has the tools at its disposal to match the performance of its peers. 

Man reading public news display

For Publishers: How to Balance Coronavirus Content With Regular Coverage

It’s entirely possible that your digital publication’s readers are overwhelmed by the volume of news published about the coronavirus crisis. This is to be expected. The number of readers searching for news is four times higher for virus-related stories than other topics, and with developments exponentially increasing in frequency and complexity, who could blame your most loyal readers for feeling overwhelmed by what you publish, let alone everybody else?

News publishers have a duty to cover the crisis at every turn. They may be interested to know that non-Corona related news is still very important. If you offer well-researched, unbiased coverage, then master this balance to ensure yours is a news source prioritised by many. Here’s how and why publishers can master that balance.

Coronavirus news read rate compared to regular content

A study of data from 31 European publishers conducted by What’s New In Publishing revealed that almost 80% of daily readers consume coronavirus-related and non-coronavirus content pretty much equally. It’s not just a marginal trend, either, as the above graph illustrates.

Remarkably, it even illustrates that readers who indicated even a slight divergence from this equilibrium are a fairly significant minority. Those who read over five more coronavirus-related stories than other content barely registered, even when the pandemic was at its most lethal. This is especially noteworthy when we consider that WNIP’s accumulated data set comprised 1.5 billion article reads, due to the sample size.

We advise publishers to hone and refine their recommendations to other stories and their ‘Read this next’ links. These figures imply fatigue after reading coronavirus-related stories, so make sure that unrelated news is easily available to your readers, experiment with the balance, discover what works best and optimise. Readers will return if they associate your site with an experience that while informative, didn’t overwhelm.

With such high numbers of readers finding news through search, it is going to be a battle to make them valuable. As much as making the aforementioned adjustments will up the likelihood of a reader’s return, it can’t guarantee it, not with all the competition from other publishers’ coronavirus coverage.

The amount of readers reading virus-related stories found through direct traffic (links from WhatsApp, email newsletters, etc.) is still four times higher than those reading unrelated content. 

Graph of how readers discover coronavirus news

As you can see, internal referrals are lower too. Collectively, these results indicate that readers want material on everything relevant from any source, if it gives them the answer they need. They don’t seem to be sticking with publications because they trust the brand, rather, spreading their search across many to accelerate the retrieval of important information. With that in mind, now may be a good time to assemble a live blog or similar sort of directory, if you’ve got the content to make it worth a reader’s time. What we can take from this is that news publishers perform best when they focus on their audience’s behaviour and their brand identity.

WordPress site on a Macbook screen

How WordPress Publishers Get on Apple News

We’re FlatPlan, the Apple News experts. We integrate publishers of all sizes with Apple News. We produce elegant, brand-true channel and article designs. We work behind the scenes, so editorial teams don’t need to make any changes to their busy workloads or expend any more resource than necessary. While your team works hard, we’ll quietly ensure your publication drives loyal, valuable traffic on Apple News with an onboarding process that’s easy, efficient and painless

Anyone can surface content to Apple News, but this typically requires a time-consuming ‘Apple News Format’ build or limiting output through RSS or basic outputs. Publishers including Mixmag, Kerrang!, The Face and HELLO! prefer a FlatPlan integration, because it eliminates weeks of costly development work and delivers stories to Apple news automatically when published in a way that maximises traffic. Multiple Apple News updates arrive yearly, which FlatPlan closely monitor and capitalise upon whenever it will help you.

If you use FlatPlan for your integration, we’ll create a beautiful, on-brand channel, and article designs that ring true to your publication’s journalistic voice and visual style. When you’re surfacing content to 125 million users, you want to look your best. Here’s an Apple News article by a recent client, The Sportsman:

An Apple News story by The Sportsman with Mathematics article design

Looks good, right? Here’s what The Sportsman had to say about their FlatPlan/Apple News integration:

"As a modern publication with a focus on quality editorial, we had a real need to build strong, loyal audiences, to build our brand. Apple’s audience is sizeable and valuable, and FlatPlan helped us reach that audience in beautifully branded pages that allow our content to shine."

Ross Brown, Editorial Director, The Sportsman

We also offer a custom Apple News footer, unavailable elsewhere. It can be invaluable for driving traffic to a location of your choosing. Our client Creative Review uses theirs to encourage newsletter signups:

Creative Review's Apple News footer by FlatPlan

Here’s what Creative Review had to say about the simplicity of their integration:

As a magazine which writes about the creative industry, we have to be a bit finickity about things like the leading of type and how images sit on a page. I think all of us breathed a sigh of relief when we saw the draft templates designed by Mathematics…they got CR straight away. We think the final templates do full justice to the brilliant photography, film and design work we write about.”

Salonee Gadgil, Digital Content Producer, Creative Review

Now we’ve discussed design, let’s talk tech. WordPress is one of the most widely-used CMS’s on the market, thanks to its simplicity. Creative Review is a WordPress publication. Our other WordPress integrations include Huck and Little White Lies. Luckily, a FlatPlan/WordPress integration with Apple News couldn’t be simpler. Here’s how it works.

How WordPress Publishers Integrate With Apple News Using FlatPlan

All a WordPress publisher has to do is send us their RSS feed or install our free plugin, their brand guidelines, their fonts and their logo. We’ll handle the rest, ensuring your title is Apple News ready. It really is as simple as that. Once your channel’s live, you’ll need only to hit publish in WordPress to surface a story to Apple News.

Once you begin publishing, you’ll be able to capitalise on FlatPlan’s suite of tools. This includes instant analytics notifications and ‘out-of-app’ traffic drivers to convert readers into newsletter subscribers or website visitors.

FlatPlan helps drive the revenues of publishers using WordPress and beyond, inside and out of Apple News. We’ll help you deliver display, native and backfill advertising to your new audience, and use your Apple News channel to drive revenues on your site. 

What are you waiting for? If you’re a digital publication that uses WordPress and would like to capitalise on Apple News’ huge readership, let’s talk