SEO and the digital news media: From the workplace to the classroom


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, in the main, 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 competition 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 best journalism and 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, in this way, any shortcomings, limitations and needs can be identified and a diagnosis can be made of just how the journalism sector can best address the positioning of its content. Ultimately, obtaining this information should allow 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 as regards the competencies and skills that should form part of the SEO training of students of journalism.

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 more 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 the 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.

Table 1 shows the specific functions of the experts selected for interview in each of the three groups of professionals, according to the criteria discussed above (Valles, 2002).

Table 1. Professional profiles
 SEO managers in the digital news mediaExpert SEO consultants for companiesUniversity professors teaching the subject of SEO
Journalist for digital news platform of international importanceSenior SEO consultant working for an agencyProfessor on the Degree in Documentation
Journalist for small digital news platform publishing regional newsIndependent consultant offering SEO services to companiesProfessor on the Degree in Journalism
SEO manager for digital news platform of international importanceSEO expert in an international companyProfessor on the Master’s Degree in Search Engines
SEO manager for medium-sized digital news platformSEO expert in a medium-sized companyProfessor on the Degree in Advertising and Public Relations
Webmaster responsible for SEO tasks on a digital news platformOwner of an SEO agencyProfessor on the Degree in Journalism and Communication
Owner of a small digital news platform performing basic SEO tasksSEO entrepreneur specializing in website monetizationProfessor on the Degree in Advertising and Public Relations
Manager of digital content services and SEO for a digital news platformSEO expert offering expertise via personal blog for different business sectorsProfessor on the Degree in Audiovisual Communication
Subdirector of a regional digital news platformSEO entrepreneur specializing in digital projectsProfessor on the Degree in Digital Marketing
Director of a digital news platformIndependent SEO consultant specialized in training and giving lectures 
SEO manager of a business media groupExternal SEO advising the news media 

Below we outline the five specific dimensions or categories of analysis addressed by the interviews and, for the subsequent exploitation of the responses obtained, we break these down into their corresponding subcategories:

  1. News production routines: SEO routines performed by the journalist, routines developed specifically for SEO, search trend analysis, web analytics and SEO training.
  2. SEO tools: Free SEO tools, paid SEO tools, Google’s own tools, plugins and content management systems (CMS) and other tools.
  3. SEO perception: Importance of SEO in the newsroom, technological convergence, resistance to change, best SEO practices, worst SEO practices.
  4. SEO techniques: On-page SEO, off-page SEO, technical SEO, trending topic analysis and its application in the news media, analysis of trending topics and interactions in social networks and their application in the news media.
  5. SEO opinions and visions: Voice search, business model, new professional profiles, new SEO techniques and search engine regulation.

Analysis and results

Below we identify the most important ideas extracted from the interviews. To do so, we identified semantic networks of the given categories and subcategories using NVivo operated in manual data analysis mode.

1) Key ideas emerging from interviews with journalists/professionals with responsibility for SEO in the digital news media:

  • News production routines: The editor analyzes search trends to identify newsworthy items and timeless topics and converts them into news stories, reports, etc. that can be used to position content on Google. Basic SEO actions have to be used (optimization of headline, image and text for search engines) on the news story. The SEO professional provides editors with support, addressing doubts they might have in relation to aspects of positioning and drafts reports on audience results, internal searches conducted by users and user behavior analysis within the digital news media in general. In this way, an understanding is gained of search trends and editors can be informed about new content that they can create and position. We confirm that the digital news media, thanks to the efforts of their SEO professionals, offer content plans to outside firms to help them improve their brand image and so to create a new business model. Finally, the SEO professional checks the news stories prepared by editors and journalists to confirm they are optimized for search engines.
  • SEO tools: The use of Google tools is widespread today in newsrooms. Likewise, SEMrush is the most frequently used paid SEO audit tool in newsrooms. However, news media companies do not usually have access to paid SEO audit tools, preferring to use their free versions. The most frequently used free tools are Google Chrome extensions and the Alexa Website Ranking online software. As for CMS, digital news media run on a WordPress platform optimize their news with the Yoast SEO plugin (a tool that extends CMS functions).
  • SEO perception: Journalists recognize the importance of SEO for newsrooms as a strategy for capturing readers. Search engine positioning in newsrooms is becoming more widespread because traffic from social networks is on the decline and because many readers consume their news via search engines. In-house training is usually provided for editors informing them about the basic elements of SEO and their strategic importance for the media company. Editors have a fairly basic grasp of SEO, but the transformation from paper to digital format often makes it difficult for them to recycle professionally. Digital native editors tend to internalize SEO strategies much better. Newsrooms increasingly take SEO into consideration, but acknowledge their abusive use of certain practices that are detrimental to the reader and the social task of the journalist. Finally, exceptions exist with some editors believing that 100% of the readers of their digital news media come from direct traffic (without going through search engines).
  • SEO techniques: Results confirm that Google Trends needs to be used in combination with the analysis of comments and hashtags in the social networks to track trends and to convert them into news reports; tools such as NewsWhip and CrowdTangle have to be employed to predict content engagement, which likewise helps create new stories that are not on the media’s agenda; the competition has to be monitored daily to detect which news stories are being published so that all the day’s topics can be identified and worked on and all events can be identified days before they occur, creating a calendar of publications, so that, in this way, on the day of the event (the day when the number of searches increases), the digital platform has already written and optimized its report, news story, etc., and can compete successfully for the best Google rankings.
  • SEO opinions and visions: SEO and its relationship with journalism looks set to be strengthened over the coming years, as it is essential for attracting readers and promoting new business models. New challenges have to be faced within SEO and the digital news media, primarily in terms of achieving the best voice search rankings. The digital news platforms that lead the way in SEO will ultimately be the ones that enjoy success. Likewise, the relationship between journalism and SEO will depend on the links forged between media organizations and search engines. If a newspaper wants to face the future more effectively, SEO has to be included as a training discipline, a daily practice and a constant space for ongoing professional upgrading. As Google’s algorithms evolve, journalists will have to adapt accordingly. Respondents acknowledged the possibility that the EU will end up regulating Google or it is, at least, a possibility that will be debated.
  • SEO techniques: The consensus is that the best strategy for positioning a website is a combination of the different types of SEO: that is, on-page SEO, off-page SEO and technical SEO. Of the three, technical SEO is considered as being of greatest importance, followed by on-page and off-page SEO, respectively.
  • SEO tools: Ahrefs is the most frequently used paid SEO audit tool followed by SEMrush and Screaming Frog. Google tools are also a priority to ensure SEO works well. Finally, other tools used by the SEO experts to a lesser degree include Safecont, XOVI, Moz, WooRank, etc.
  • SEO perception: The experts believe that the national digital news platforms generally implement very good SEO strategies, though they also acknowledge that some media firms have poor or non-existent SEO strategies. They highlight the following as good SEO strategies: the use of AMP technology, the buying of vertical websites to obtain more web traffic and more authoritative links, the creation of quality content, the optimization of the crawl budget (tracking and indexing time granted by Google to a certain website), and the exhaustive study of search trends to create content. In contrast, they highlight the following bad SEO strategies applied by the digital news media: the massive sale of links to third-party sites, the production of duplicate content (copied content that Google considers plagiarized), the use of click-baiting (headlines and flashy links designed only to generate clicks), and search engine over-optimization (techniques employed to artificially manipulate website optimization). According to those interviewed, the digital news platforms that employ the best SEO strategies are ‘El Mundo’ and ‘OKDiario’, followed by ‘La Vanguardia’, ‘ABC’, ‘El País’, ‘El Español’, etc.



List of experts and professionals interviewed for the study

Journalists and SEO professionals in news media

SEO experts from the field

University professor

  • 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


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

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