Sistrix, the industry-leading SEO tool favoured by Amazon, recently announced Mathematics client Kerrang! as the brand which gained the greatest search visibility through SEO for 2019: Kerrang! reported growth of 364%, as a result of SEO, across the year. That puts our beloved music title ahead of editorial heavyweights like Metro, Huffington Post, and even the New Yorker when it comes to overall growth from search engine optimisation.

We helped Kerrang! achieve this success with a process we call ‘Editorial SEO’: a collaboration between publisher and agency that comprises two key facets:

  • We continually offer advice on editorial SEO best practice, allowing editorial teams to implement it into all aspects of editorial practice
  • We manually update carefully selected articles and pages on a weekly basis

Editorial SEO advice and best practice

This project with Kerrang! started with editorial team training. Luke Morton, Kerrang!’s Digital Editor, arrived to the publication with a strong knowledge of SEO, and recognised Kerrang!’s potential for serious growth through search. He wished to ensure the full team understood the ins and outs of SEO best practise, so after working together to build a set of goals we ran training sessions and Luke ensured this practice was assimilated fully within his team.

Mathematics is a publisher-specialist agency. We understand how editorial teams tick, so our approach to SEO considers the voice of a publication at every step – audience loyalty doesn’t arise from stuffing articles with keywords or creating content based solely on popular search terms. As we advised Kerrang! when we started working together: Editorial SEO must never compromise the quality of the journalism.

Instead, we spoke to the team about tools that could aid them, and changes to processes that would increase search traffic without hindering quality. Among the tools we walked the team through were CoSchedule’s ‘Headline Analyzer’ and Answer the Public. CoSchedule’s tool is vital for its intuitiveness; it aids users to craft a version of their headline that will find greatest favour with Google thanks to in-depth analytics presented in refreshingly simple diagrams. Answer The Public is a search insights tool into which a user enters a topic, and is presented with all pertaining questions, prepositions and comparisons that featured that topic and have been searched in Google, in order of search volume.

Next, we walked the team through short tail and long tail search terms. A short tail search term could contain one word, so may be the name of an artist or band – let’s say Kerrang! favourites Slipknot. Three words and below is still classified as a short tail search term – eg. ‘Slipknot drummer’. Anything over three words is a long tail search term; often specific questions for which users want specific answers. As such, they drive fewer clicks but tend to be of a greater value, making them of equal importance to short tail. Let’s say someone searches ‘when is Slipknot’s new album released’ – an article with the headline ‘Slipknot Announce Release Date for New Album’’ is a shoe-in for their click as it guarantees an answer to their question. As they’re often questions, long tail keywords tend to begin with prepositions, making the aforementioned Answer the Public a handy tool for identifying them. A site hosting plenty of pieces optimised for both short tail and long tail search terms will find itself a domain authority with persistence and patience.

We also discussed headlines, title tags, subheaders and meta descriptions with Kerrang!’s team. The title tag is the headline of the page as seen by Google and Google users. It’s first seen within a relevant search result. Title tags should feature the main keyword, and not be too long: Google typically displays the first 50-60 characters of a title tag. The rules for headlines are the same and often the headline of a piece of journalism will serve the same purpose as its title tag. 

Meta descriptions aren’t a Google ranking factor, but can impact a page’s click-through rate. They should never exceed 160 characters. If they do, they’ll be truncated by Google and won’t appear in full. Subheaders are valuable when they include the chosen keyword. Appearing in sequence below a headline that also features the keyword reveals to Google a complex ‘headler hierarchy’, signalling a wealth of information on the topic covered.

Craft, the CMS Kerrang! was built upon, makes it easy to categorise and tag content, so a strategy was devised to ensure Kerrang! builds a complex, sophisticated network of internal links in order to become an authority on the subjects it covers. Jumping into the CMS we took the team through the importance of image SEO, showing them how to quickly edit filenames and alt tags to help readers find content through image search, and introducing tools like ImageOptim that minimise file sizes without harming image quality.

The team set about integrating our SEO advice into their day-to-day work, and quickly developed a deft ability for writing journalism that a reader would never guess had been optimised for search.

Manual SEO updates to existing content

As the Kerrang! team creates content with search in mind, we’re focusing on analytics, making SEO improvements to existing content and suggestions on areas for the team to tackle in the future.

Our Data Analyst starts out by surfacing stories that have performed well on-site, but have gained a suspiciously low click-through rate on search engines, suggesting that they may be in need of optimisation.

This data is then passed onto our Growth Officer, who analyses the list to choose articles to tackle. Because we’re optimising to maximise long-term growth we always ensure that the pieces we tweak are evergreen, or can be tailored to be. That way, we ensure that every piece we revise has the potential to drive great traffic in the long term, not just the short. Naturally, we tend to optimise long-form features more often than news. 

Next we look at potential terms a person may search for, using tools to measure the amount of times a phrase is searched for each month and the amount of competition. We find terms that are relevant, popular but realistic in terms of competition – when we spot a good opportunity we get started on optimisation.

Each story is carefully edited to maximise its traffic-generating potential. With our analytics research as our guide, we restructure headlines, subheaders and body copy, image alt tags, meta tags and internal and external links. Where feasible we add extra context, videos or additional content to stories, presenting our suggestions to editorial for sign-off before pushing them live. Particular attention is paid to ensuring the tone, message or house style of the story is never affected by our changes.

The result of this approach is an increase in high-quality visits to the website through search. Director and musician Rob Zombie receives 201,000 monthly searches, and this Kerrang! article optimised manually by Mathematics ranks highly on the first page of Google’s results page for searches of ‘Rob Zombie’. It’s the highest-ranking result from a publisher by a long shot. Rob Zombie directed Halloween, so a Kerrang! article about him regained traction at that time of year, leading to a huge increase of traffic.

Testament to the seamlessness with which Kerrang!’s team integrated editorial SEO into its practice are the results for searches of ‘Green Day’. The band receives 165,000 monthly searches. A Kerrang! article appears on the first page of results as the highest-ranking publisher. That win stems from the team’s skill as writers, and the fluency they now boast with SEO:

Green Day editorial SEO search ranking

As well as reworking content, we look for opportunities using analytics. By tracking search trends, click-through rates and overall changes in traffic, we’re able to advise editorial teams on artist biographies to create and topics to cover. This bolsters a publications overall domain authority and creates a web of internal links; an enormous SEO help. After identifying high-impression, low-click queries with Google Analytics, Google Trends is used to filter the number of queries down to a reasonable amount. We send the team a list of suggestions for biographies to assemble and add to an artist/band’s hub page. 

The world of SEO is a famously tumultuous one. We can never stop adapting to the frequent updates made to Google’s core algorithm. Kerrang! has competitors nipping at its heels, some of which focus on news over features. There are countless reasons why complacency is the same as losing the ranking battle.

So, we’ll continue to make our weekly updates and offer our guidance. Luke will keep feeding this back to his team, who’ll ensure it slots neatly into their daily editorial workflow. It’s a symbiotic relationship that ensures Kerrang! remains ahead of the curve. The technical stuff’s on us, while the writers get to focus on what they do best: brilliant music journalism.