Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many brands, some of the very biggest digital publishers in the world, down to those just getting started, and regardless of size, it has all been meaningful.
In 2018, I had the opportunity to lead the organic search strategy for Bonnie Fuller and the team at HollywoodLife.com. Decades of legacy work at glossy print mags like US Weekly, Glamour Mag and Cosmopolitan had eventually led her, in 2009, to Penske Media Corp, as EIC of newly acquired celebrity news site, Hollywood Life.
There were nuances with this project that were specific to the celebrity niche and since Freestar monetizes many publishers in this space, we’re sharing these SEO tips here!
By the time I came into the picture, Hollywood Life was a top property in the Penske portfolio but beginning in 2018 had taken a hit in each of the early Google broad core algorithm updates. Our goal was to identify the issues causing the decline, create processes to correct the issues and then, to recover the loss.
Throughout the SEO auditing process, much of what was revealed tied back to quality. Over the years, both editorial best practice and technical debt had taken hits, paired with the up-and-coming Google measurement of E-A-T, which left Hollywood Life dealing with low-quality content, a lack of brand authority and a questionable reputation of the publication.
If you’re a publisher in the celebrity news space struggling with SEO and revenue growth, read on for steps to take to change the trajectory of your brand.
How to Handle Old News Content
HollywoodLife.com had racked up some 25 million indexed pages, if not more by the time they were a decade old. Part of the celebrity news game is staying abreast of all the juicy details that boots-on-the-ground paparazzi unveil. This can result in re-coverage en-masse and depending the strategy, an excess of thin, low quality content stacks up over the years.
If nothing else, SEO trends and best practices have changed over the years and what once was above-board, now isn’t. For example, circa 2010 a content strategist/SEO person might have said that taking a topic, let’s say Kim and Kanye’s wedding, and breaking it up into as many separate articles as possible, was the best strategy. The editors would then publish one post on the proposal, one on the ring, one on what they were wearing, and so on. They may or may not have all been connected via internal links, and post length may or may not have been 150 words. But by 2015 longer, more comprehensive articles were beginning to see favoritism in the search results.
Audit Discovery: A high ratio of indexed content was thin, and poor quality.
Resolution: A project dubbed ‘operation content cleanup’ that involved the tech team, lead editors and data analysis. We received giant crawl files or URLs, by year on everything that was published from 2009 through 2017. Cross referenced by traffic, and sometimes article headline, we would decide what could be deleted.
A popular publisher debate related to this topic is whether or not old news content should be removed, from a journalistic integrity perspective. Feels a little like deleting the past. But if you feel like the quality of your old celebrity news content is low, and bringing down the value of your new and shiny editorial, there are options other than deleting. Noindexing or unpublishing posts are also strategies I’ve seen used, depending on how many 404s this will cause.
Maintaining Media Assets
Looking at HL on the page level, one commonality of those taking a dive were broken media assets. Entertainment news coverage tends to be centered around media in various ways, makes sense. Content generated from news that a celebrity released a product, a book, a song, posted something new on Instagram, or updated their YouTube channel often times embeds whatever that media file is, directly on the page.
Over time, as the amount of indexed coverage added up, files on those pages became unavailable. An evergreen piece on Jen & Brad’s relationship timeline, long outdated, may have broken images, video links, or social embeds that have been removed. Depending on the amount of this, Google may deem your site a poor user exprience.
Audit discovery: Many pages across the site contained videos no longer available, social embeds that had been removed and broken links to affiliate products.
It was also discovered in the process that years prior, an image database was deleted, leaving blank or error-ridden boxes on thousands of pages.
Resolution: Crawls returned to us revealed (on the back end of the webpages, broken links can be identified) a set of URLs and the broken URLs. From there, cross-referenced with traffic, we determined if the ROI was worth fixing the broken image. Fixing it meant manually, their absolute badass managing editor, Dina Sartore-Bodo dug through the trenches with me on this one. Mostly, we ditched these pages, unless it was a relevant evergreen topic that could be refreshed and republished.
The Truth on Clickbait
Celebrity news is a competitive niche. Outside of Hollywood Life, I’ve worked with at least 10-15 lesser known brands that still manage to make $20k+ a month in ad revenue. Some of these sites were one-woman shows, monitoring sites like People, US Mag and others, exclusively re-covering their stories. It’s always encouraged to add your own POV if this is your strategy.
With such a lack of original content to publish, it became standard to highly exaggerate headlines to get the click. I’d bet the entire practice of clickbait originated from entertainment news!
Using language that would shock the reader, enticing them to click, was something Hollywood Life had used, to much success, but it was time to regulate. Crafting headlines that are both interesting, search-friendly and competitive is no small feat, but we recommend finding a way. Not only does Google attempt to weed this type of content out of the search results, Facebook and other platforms do also.
Audit discovery: Editorial frequently embellished headlines, resulting in high bounce rate, low time on page and a sour user experience.
Resolution: Dina was an advocate for quality content at every turn, and implemented guidelines within editorial to ensure content delivered on the chosen headline.
If the brand voice of your celebrity news site includes sporadic eff-bombs, negative news that brings people down, and images of humans in their most vulnerable moments, the consequences are more extensive than a Google penalty.
Readers will at some point catch on to the fact that your brand is only recirculating garbage and will move on to another. In all the various ways we teach publishers audience strategies, creating content that is either positive or at the least, unbiased in how it’s reported will always be the better path.
Google News and Google Discover both have guidelines against violence, hate speech, and profanity, it would make sense that there are filters in place for flagging this in organic search.
This was also an issue when it came to HL landing direct deals. Targeting away from such massive social drivers impacted projections, but the highest paying advertisers often have lists of topics and words they don’t want to appear next to.
Audit discovery: Hollywood Life had gone to desperate measures for traffic throughout the years, publishing every wardrobe malfunction with the most colorful of language. It was recommended that they sponge the site for questionable content that might be impacting search.
Resolution: Dina and I request tech to crawl the site for URLs/body copy containing exact match phrases, like “nude”, “gossip”, “porn” and many others that I won’t type here. Hundreds of thousands of posts were returned and then the process was the same. Cross-check traffic, remove explicit instances if it was otherwise ok, or just remove the post altogether.
It’s Never Just One Thing
There is opportunity for all celebrity news sites to provide value to the user in their coverage. That said, when it comes to the trend of low quality coverage, it’s more common with this niche than any other I see. It’s time to commit to publishing quality content, positive news and accurate stories and in time, you will see audience growth.
Fixing technical errors and managing crawl spend were important then, and even more important as we head into future years with Google.
Don’t expect instant results, it takes time to fix and then time for Google to recognize, gain trust and reward that in tangible traffic results. Be patient, and pay particular attention to traffic around the time of Google core algorithm updates.
If you’re an entertainment site interested in Freestar monetization, contact us today. We offer private consulting with audience experts for SEO, editorial and newsletter programs.