SEO and the digital news media: From the workplace to the classroom [information and download links]

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The constant struggle to attract new readers has led the digital news media to adopt search engine positioning strategies within their newsrooms. Given that readers are increasingly opting to consume their news via search engines, such as Google or Bing, this study explores perceptions and applications of search engine optimization (SEO) in the online news media and identifies the future training needs of journalists in this sector. To do so, 33 semi-structured interviews were conducted with individuals representative of three professional profiles: professional journalists, SEO consultants, and academics.

Based on the data collected, we created five semantic categories – with 25 subcategories – and we correlated the perceptions of the SEO experts employed by the news media with those of the academics. The results highlight varying degrees of convergence and divergence in perceptions across these three professional profiles. Similarly, the results confirm the sector’s pressing need to attract readers by implementing search engine positioning techniques and, hence, its need to ensure future journalists are well trained in technical SEO, on-page SEO, off-page SEO, in the use of SEO analytics and audit tools, and in the ability to identify search trends so that they have the necessary skills to win the struggle for more readers.


Digital news media, search engine optimization, online journalism, web visibility, journalism training, University, SEO training, Google


The need for journalism to adapt to the Internet has led to a series of changes in journalistic routines (Cebrián-Herreros, 2009; López-García, 2015; García-Avilés et al., 2018; Caminero & Sánchez-García, 2018), related, mainly, to new modes for disseminating news via digital platforms and, more specifically, for disseminating news via search engines (Smyrnaios & Rebillard, 2009).

The development of search engines, such as Google and Bing, helps users select the most relevant content in response to their searches (Machill et al., 2008; Richmond, 2008), which, together with the increase in competitiveness for information, accounts for the fact that the digital news media are becoming increasingly dependent on search engine optimization (SEO).

SEO, the set of techniques that ensures web content has the greatest chances of appearing at the top of the rankings of Google, Bing, etc. (Davis, 2006; Enge et al., 2012; Orduna-Malea & Alonso-Arroyo, 2017), is a means of attracting the greatest number of readers (Iglesias-García & Codina 2016). Maximizing web visibility in this way means search engine positioning strategies need to be employed in the routines of the digital news media (Maciá-Domene, 2011; Giomelakis & Veglis, 2015a; Google, 2012; 2019a; 2019b; Harry, 2018). In this emerging scenario, traditional journalism is having to face a number of major challenges including the increase in online news, which has triggered the growing dependence of news editors on search engines (Smyrnaios, 2015; Arias-Robles, 2016), and the developing ‘social role’ of journalists coinciding with the adoption of SEO techniques (Carlson, 2007; Ellcessor, 2012; Gonzalo-Penela et al., 2015), developments that require the attention of scholars.

Studies examining the relationship between SEO and the news media confirm that much can still be done to improve the convergence between journalistic routines and those of SEO (Giomelakis & Veglis, 2015b; Codina et al., 2016; Charlton, 2016; Lopezosa & Codina, 2018). And while some recognize that it has become increasingly common to find SEO experts in newsrooms, the need to seek optimal convergence between the best journalism and the best SEO practices continues to be pressing (Dick, 2011; Smyrnaios & Sire 2014).

Despite this research, the use made today of SEO in the digital news media remains largely unknown. To further our understanding, the main characteristics of the search engine positioning strategies employed by newsrooms need to be described and, simultaneously, any shortcomings, limitations and needs can be identified so that a diagnosis be made of just how the journalism sector can best address the positioning of its content. Ultimately, obtaining this information should enable us to propose changes in Spain’s university curricula that can ensure better training for the sector’s future professionals.

In short, the overall aim of this study is to examine the role played by SEO in journalism and to identify the corresponding training needs of students of journalism to guarantee they are able to implement SEO strategies in the newsroom. To do this, we conduct a series of semi-structured interviews, a methodology that, to date, has yet to be applied to the study of search engine positioning in relation to university education. Specifically, we set ourselves the following specific goals:

1) To explore what SEO experts employed by the news media, consulting firms and universities think about the role played by search engine optimization as applied to the cyber media in promoting the success of digital journalism.

2) To determine whether there is a consensus among these groups of professionals about the different elements of SEO being applied to the news media.

3) To make recommendations in terms of the competencies and skills that should be part of SEO training for journalism students.

Material and methods

In carrying out this study, we conducted 33 semi-structured interviews (Coller, 2000; Valles, 2002; Alves & Díaz-Noci, 2019) during 2018 and 2019 with SEO professionals working in the digital news media, with SEO consultants and with teachers providing university training in SEO.

Initially, desired informants were selected on the basis of a prior design that included all three professional categories described above (see below for specific details). Next, we employed one of the most frequently recommended procedures in such cases, the application of so-called critical criteria (Valles, 2002), whereby we identified which professionals had access to the most relevant information, were most socially and physically accessible, were most willing to participate, and best able to communicate their responses with the necessary precision. After sending out invitations to SEO experts identified in this way, we were able to conduct a total of 33 interviews.

A list of the 33 interviewees can be consulted at, where the subjects are classified according to whether they are journalists/professionals with responsibility for SEO in the digital news media, SEO experts in the field of consulting, or university professors that teach SEO. The table also includes information about the specific digital news platform, firm or university in which they work.

Interview responses were recorded either by email or by digital sound recording and subsequently transcribed. The results were then analyzed both manually and using the qualitative research tool NVivo. The latter enabled us to identify semantic networks from which we created categories and subcategories.

SEO and digital news media experts


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How to cite this paper

Lopezosa, C., Codina, L., Díaz-Noci, J., & Ontalba, J. (2020). SEO and the digital news media: From the workplace to the classroom. Comunicar, 63, 65-75.

List of experts and professionals interviewed for the study


SEO experts


  • Bella Palomo
    Universidad de Málaga
  • Cristòfol Rovira
    Universidad Pompeu Fabra
  • Guillermo López
    Universidad de Valencia
  • Javier Guallar
    Universidad de Barcelona
  • Jorge Serrano
    Universidad Politécnica de Valencia
  • Lorena Cano
    Universidad de Valencia
  • Magdalena Trillo
    Universidad de Granada
  • Mariché Navarro
    CEU Madrid
  • Rodolfo Martínez
    Universidad de Alicante
  • Rafael Pedraza
    Universidad Pompeu Fabra