Search engine optimization expert Vanessa Fox spoke to Cronkite students Monday night about the growing need for journalists to understand the crucial role search engines will play in journalism as the online medium continues to grow.
“The content of the news is still important and vital, the way we access information has changed over time,” Fox said.
Fox said that readers have begun to actively search for content, rather than a brand, when it comes to looking for their news. She said that writers must learn to cater to those who search for topics directly, rather than just those who browse the entire page of content on a news site.
“I think a big thing to do when you are thinking about your audience is looking at how they are thinking and trying to use their language,” Fox said.
In her presentation Fox brought up examples of good and bad search engine optimization, including a gaffe by a UN website on climate change that lead to more visits to sites denying the existence of global warming.
“They not only didn’t meet their goal, they helped meet their anti-goal,” Fox said.
Fox also warned users that while learning to write for your readers is important, it was also important for sites to keep content rife with integrity and purpose and not just stories that garnered higher view counts.
“They don’t want to get into a position where they are just pandering to the audience,” Fox said.
Fox’s lecture culminated with the idea that journalists need to understand how people today want their news, and how they are going about finding it.
“If you want to know anything about what people are interested in, look at the language they use when they talk about something,” Fox said.
Dawn Gilpin, the Cronkite faculty member who introduced Fox, said that students needed to take heed of what Fox said in order to capitalize on the shift to a more online-focused future in journalism.
Gilpin said it was important for students to “understand the way content gets to the people who want to see it,” she said. “That means understanding search engine optimization and being able to take advantage of the kind of techniques [Fox] was talking about.”
Gilpin said that all journalism students, regardless of their specific focus, needed to know that labels like “print” or “broadcast” are coming down, and that the journalist of tomorrow needed to have some skills in all fields.
“We’re doing away with the specific specializations. There’s not going to be any such thing as a print journalism or a broadcast journalism track, you just decide which capstone you want to do,” Gilpin said. “That marks a real shift, an understanding of the convergence that is happening.”
Cronkite senior Heather Fulton said that with Fox’s practical tips and tricks, from using more keywords to understanding the importance of headlines, she came away with a better idea of how to enrich her own content as she goes forward in her career.
“It was really informative,” Fulton said. “I really liked the fact that she clarified that I really don’t have to do anything drastic if I want to get my information onto a bunch of different websites.”
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