Top Stories & Google News Guide for News Publishers and News SEOs - 2020 Edition

Most news publishers and media organizations want their top story -- especially a breaking news story -- to rank highest among the most read and shared news articles.  As SEO specialists with extensive newsroom and publishing experience, we would like to share some insights and tips for ranking within Google News SEO.   How can you optimize your news story to be the leading source among your competitors on Google News?  What are some best practices and tips for news optimization?  What is SEO for news sites? 

In this extensive guide we will highligh and discuss in depth the following topics:

  • What are Google News Surfaces? 
  • “Google News” vs “Top Stories”
  • Why is Google News important?
  • How to get into Google News
  • Google News prerequisites
  • Google News Disapproved and banned content
  • How is a top story selected in Google News?
  • What are Google News Ranking factors?
  • What are “Top Stories” Ranking factors? 
  • Google News & Top Stories Technical Guidelines

 

What are Google News Surfaces? “Google News” vs “Top Stories”:

You definitely want your story to be featured on Google News Surfaces to rank for a trending news topic and among other source competitors. The exposure to your article can span across different news surfaces, devices, feeds and even countries.  Ideally, your site will be a go-to news resource for the reader to highlight in their preferences to gain loyal readership. 

Google News Surfaces are displayed across multiple platforms and devices.  Within Google there are 3 places where you can get News; Top Stories, News Tab of Search and Google News. For all these surfaces Users can get the latest "continuous flow of articles organized from thousands of publishers and magazines" that are deemed credible news sources by the search giant. News not just limited to articles, but also include YouTube videos, blog posts, weather forecast, and more from around the world. 

Google News is both a web destination and app. Some time ago Google consolidated their Google News, Weather and Newsstand apps into one app. While on the web, Google News results show up at news.google.com. Google News provides anywhere from 3-8% of the total traffic for top publishers. . However,  ranking in Google News doesn’t guarantee placement in Top Stories carousel, different rankings factors, different algorithms, etc.

 

Top Stories section appears on the top of the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) when Google detects newsy or trendy keyword searches. Google service relevant quality news content from multiple sources primarily news sites found in Google News. But it is not limited to these sites, you can often see other sites like reddit, twitter and other news crowding sources. 

Top Stories used to be called “Top News” but the name changed with the rise of “Fake News”. Google solution was to change the name to “Top Stories” along with fighting such fraudulent news sources and content. It has a different algorithm from Google News and provides a massive amount of traffic for news publishers that can reach 20-50% of their traffic based on how much news vs. other types of content they have on their sites. 

In mobile devices, Top Stories are primarily AMP Stories with some few rare exceptions. They appear as a mix of 1-2 Text Links and/or 1-2 Carousels. Total links can reach up to 32 links depending on how important the Topic is, the search demand for such a topic and the new coverage by publishers. These factors also determine the location of the Top Stories section within the SERPs; while mostly it is located on the top of the page, there are instances where it is located in the middle of the page with 1-3 links.

 

News Tab of Web Search is an extension of Top Stories where users view all ranked news within Google Search. News Tab has the same algorithm of Top Stories but it doesn’t deliver as much traffic as Top Stories. As you may know from your own search behavior not many users click the search tabs directly on top of SERPs, that's why Google introduced Universal Search & Blended Results many back in 2008. These tabs used to be called the “Invisible Tabs” due to low engagement from search users.

When SEOs refer to “Google News'', many of them actually refer to Top Stories and not Google News itself. In this Guide we will mainly focus on Google News and Top Stories and would use such official terms to distinguish the two.  

Google Web Top Stories Example:

 

Google News featured top stories example:

Why is Google News important?

Trust in News: Throughout the history of digital news, trust and credibility is more crucial than it has ever been.  News media has suffered from a lack of public confidence over the past several years -- especially when it concerns  bi-partisan political coverage.  Identifying and combating “fake news” is a constant challenge. Google News feed is a credible source and held to higher standards.

“In a research survey, 60% of people surveyed trust Google’s News section over news that gets indexed as part of regular search” 

For those of us who have worked for publishers or been in the newsroom, we know that helping readers find coverage of the top trending news stories and topics is the ultimate goal. Newzdash through reporting on Top Publishers in Google News homepage, sections and topics provide a glimpse on the trust factors and authority of publishers with the news industry as seen by Google.

 

 

 

News Publishers Authority Indicator: Knowing your authority for each of the news sections and topics provides you a decent indication on your authority on that vertical/topic.  

For example, if you are a sports news publisher, Newzdash analyzes the top sports publishers that has the strongest visibility for the vertical over the selected period of time.  In our pie chart, you can easily see how traffic to the most credible source for the vertical performs over the last 30 days. 

Sports News Market Share in Google News over 30 Days 
 

Top Traffic Source: Google News is reserved specifically for news relevant stories (REF) which is different from general search results on Google Universal. So the benefits of ranking on Google News, can establish your news site as an established authority or noteworthy news resource. Google News for the average publisher constitutes about 3-8% of organic search traffic based on Parsely latest stats. 

Parsley recorded over the past 12 months that Google News and Search amounted to over 50% of publishers’ referral traffic.

 

How to get into Google News?

New guidelines were issued at the end of 2019. Previously, publishers had to apply and submit their news sites for approval through the Google News Publisher.  However, you no longer need to be verified. Publishers no longer need to submit their site to be eligible for the Google News app and website according to Google News Publisher Help Center. Publishers are automatically considered for Top stories or the News tab of Search. 

While there is no way now to submit your site to Google New, here are few things that you can do to increase your chances of getting included in Google News

  • Produce high-quality content

  • Comply with Google News content policies

  • Create a google news XML sitemap

  • Create an about-us page with a list of staff, managing editors and how to contact you, listing a physical address is a plus

  • Follow editorial best practices 

  • Always include Byline and Date

  • Don’t include any pornographic content in your site

  • Publish regularly and frequently

  • Check our Content and Technical Requirements below

Another important factor that can help you get into Google News is News Content Share: You must be a dedicated news-offering website, solely to provide news. It’s not enough to have a news section on your site or as a vertical/channel to be considered as a Google News source.  

It is important to remember that submitting a feed or a URL through the Publisher Center or applying any of the items above does not guarantee surfacing or ranking in Google News.

We strongly encourage you to review recommendations listed in the Google Publisher Center Help Help section. 

 

Google News prerequisites

  • Dedicated news site. To be considered as a Google News source, your website must be a dedicated news-offering website. Merely having a news section or vertical / channel on your site is not enough. 
     
  • Credible authors. You must have credible contributing authors and particularly writers covering a specific topic or vertical. Credible sources may include the source's authority, accuracy, objectivity in their coverage. 
     
  • Independent and original content.  According to their content policies, the mission of Google News is to “find news that is independent and original, containing a significant source of fresh, original and purposeful content.” 
     
  • Multiple daily updates. Your news site should be updating and refreshing content throughout the day. 
     
  • About us page: Publishers can benefit with an “about us” page that helps readers understand the media publisher and its editorial staff.  It also offers newsroom transparency and visibility.  This page can also list credible authors/writers, their author bio pages and the organization of the editorial staff. 

 

Google News Disapproved and banned content 

It is extremely important not to have certain types of content especially if you haven’t yet appeared in Google News. 

Google News has a strong policy on censorship.  The search engine will pull explicit sites/images, defamation, propaganda or inflammatory language. Any egregious content will be pulled from search results.  

  • No porn or graphic material. Adult content and images that are sexually explicit are not allowed and in violation of the company’s policies.

  • No graphic violent content; No hateful content. Google News does not allow content that promotes violence or harassment against an individual or group based on ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. 

  • Harassment and cyberbullying Google News prohibits content that sends messages intended to harass, bully, or physically or sexually threaten others.

  • No promotional medical content Google News does not allow sites primarily aimed at providing medical advice, diagnosis or treatment for commercial purposes, nor do we allow content from any site that contradicts or runs contrary to scientific or medical consensus and evidence-based best practices.   

  • No dangerous or illegal activities Google News does not allow content that promotes or facilitates dangerous or illegal activities, including self-harm, such as self mutilation, eating disorders, or drug abuse. Content used to threaten or organize violence or support violent organizations is additionally not allowed. https://support.google.com/news/publisher-center/answer/6204050

How is a top story selected in Google News?

Top stories are chosen by algorithms as Google News is its own search engine. 

Google News is a computer-generated news service that aggregates headlines from more than 50,000 news sources worldwide, groups similar stories together, and displays them according to each reader’s interests. […] Our articles and multimedia content are selected and ranked by computers that evaluate, among other factors, how often and on what sites a story appears online. We also rank based on certain characteristics of news content such as freshness, location, relevance and diversity.– Google News Publisher Help Center (REF)

As publishers, consider your angle on certain news topics. What distinguishes your news coverage?  What makes your story different? A different news angle gives an advantage to stand out among the crowd, especially with high concentration surrounding a trending topic. 

In order to be indexed on Google News, content must be, according to Google News Publishers: 

  • Timely articles and news covering recent events  

  • Original news content and reporting

  • Good journalism (REF), articles with high standards of grammar and spelling with proper readability 

 

What are Google News Ranking factors?

Ranking in Google News is determined algorithmically based on a number of factors. Preference is often given to news content and sources that frequently stays up-to-date, on trends and a credible news source that is sought after by readers and written by credible authors. 

Google News Ranking Factors (confirmed by Google)

  • Content relevance.  Ask yourself: Can readers find information that they are searching for when your article surfaces as a result? Relevance is determined when a story results for a reader’s query and contains the same keywords or query.  Likely an article will contain the same keyword or query from search.  Having the relevant keyword in the copy is helpful for a news article to be featured in the Top Stories carousel for the query or keyword that is being searched. 

  • Originality of content - Google News algorithm will prioritize original news reporting. .  Original content is preferred with fresh independent content and sources over syndication or news summaries. How does your coverage stand apart from the rest?  

  • Prominence: Prominence is a way to identify noteworthy news stories. Articles that cover a key topic that is currently trending will have more chances to be surfaced. 

  • Authoritativeness: Credibility and  trustworthiness is associated with authoritative  news sources. As a content authority on topics, relevance to that query and topic, authoritativeness prioritizes high-quality information from the most reliable sources available such as credible news sources and authors on certain topics.  Other factors such as reader preference to a particular source, click-through rates in SERPs and backlinks also influence this factor. 

  • Freshness of content: Make sure you have the most up to date information. Fresh content is updated frequently with the most recently published content. Freshness refers to how recently the article was published with up-to-date information, These news articles have a higher chance of being surfaced over older articles if they provide additional information as news can change minute by minute. Breaking and developing stories provide continuous coverage, a key to rankings over time. To stay on top of news topics, article series or related stories with frequent updates will usually take the form of writing  various angles or perspectives about the keywords, such as analyses, context pieces, timelines, profiles, editorials and opinion pieces, and so on.

  • Location: Your location influences which articles you see. If you’ve ever searched for a tragic event somewhere else in the country, you may have seen a smaller news organization from that geographic area rank above international news  SERPs. Local news related to where you are and regional nuances in search queries are taken in account. 

Local NY News Market Share in Google News over 30 Days 

 

  • Language: Language of articles based on domain language preference 

  • Trust of source: Credibility and authorship is a major influence for trust of source.  Legacy media orgs and trustworthy media sources may be sought after by readers.  Authoritativeness for certain topics is also a key factor for prominence. You need to have a proven track record of publishing high-quality, engaging content that users signal as valuable, by clicking through your stories and reading your content.

  • Publishing Time: It’s important for news sites to publish often throughout the day but frequency also helps.  Other factors that can help determine publishing frequency and optimal times can be when your target readers are active on mobile, search and social media platforms. For example, breaking news or best news of the day consumption could be early in the morning versus leisure and entertainment would be read later in the day or evening. Analytics can help determine optimal times of publishing for your audience. 

Other ranking factors Google Consider selecting Stories: 

  • Diversity of content - Google News wants to surface relevant and useful content across multiple sources including news blogs along with articles. Additionally, Google News recently announced an initiative challenge to "promote diversity, equity and inclusion" to help support publishers who cover underrepresented audiences. REF

  • Rich textual content - Don’t just rely on images.  Format your content.  Rich-text is any kind of textual content that can have media, semantic, style formatting or formatted embedded features.  

  • User preferences for  personalized content, topics or publishers: Users can select Google News settings for certain topics/categories/sources of news and avoid others. Interests may help determine results in personalized content experiences such as Discover and the For You tab in Google News. User interests defined when setting up Google News determines the kind of news that a reader will see on the Discover and For You tabs. 

  • Usability - Usability assesses how easy it is to view content on a site and device types. Google News also considers page load speed, responsive design and mobile-friendliness as part of the user experience.  

 

What are “Top Stories” Ranking factors?

It goes without saying Keywords have a strong influence in Google Top Stories results.  Readers will often look for certain keywords or queries to get the best and most recent story for a certain topic or event. Some keyword entities that have a strong influence as news develops and breaks can be considered when writing your story.  These keywords should be prominent in the headline, subheadline or lead paragraph of the story. 

  • Keywords: The best keyword, phrase or query that readers are searching on a news article topic or trend. What is the best keyword from a news perspective and search volume perspective to lead your news story?  

  • Entities: Keywords that relate to trending topics or search points of interest for certain news stories can be  determined by:

    • Person or person of interest – When the keyword of interest is a person’s name -- depending on how well the person is known to the public or queries surrounding the name.  Trends to consider could be full name, last name or a nickname. While  the best use might be a full name, the notoriety of a person of interest can be of influence, especially as news develops on certain topics (ex. Sully Sullenberger vs. Chelsea Sullenberger). 

    • Place/Topic Authority – Some news events are more focused on a place. Searches for localities that hold a key interest for headlines or place of event (ex. schools, etc)  would be considered, especially as news develops (ex. Sandy Hook shooting, California wildfires)

    • Event – A specific news event can be a preference of a search context for the reader/audience. (ex. Space shuttle launch, Million Man March, March Madness)

    • Similar approach for other entities like Things (iPhone) or Concepts (Government Shutdown)

  • Trust - Preference is often given to news content and sources that frequently stays up-to-date , on trends and a credible news source that is sought after by readers and written by credible authors

  • (CTR) Click-through rate: How many people are clicking on the article (CTR or click-through rate), and how fresh is the article (when was it last published or republished)? Traffic to a news story has influence on ranking and popularity of the article being read and shared. The story with higher traffic shows preference and move higher in the rankings. 

  • Headlines: Each publisher considers a strong headline for a story to get readers’ interest. The headline field for each publisher to be considered by Google and Google News differs for each publisher.  You want to optimize these headline fields to make sure they are picked up by Google/Google News.  For example, a publisher’s headline can be determined by fields such as page title, headline, h1 or subheadlines.  There are some cases where the subheadline is preferred and picked up by Google News because there is keyword relevancy over the main headline.  

  • Citation & BUZZ: How many other sites or publishers referenced a URL, and what is the buzz around a URL. The buzz could be driven by multiple factors like public Facebook engagement, number of URL tweets, reddit mentions, onpage comments and more.

  • (AMP) Accelerated Mobile Pages: Google Top Stories highlights AMP articles across thousands of publishers. AMP pages can be featured on mobile news boxes as part of mobile search, rich results and carousels.  Google Search indexes AMP pages to provide a fast, reliable web experience. 
     

Google News & Top Stories Technical Guidelines:

 

  • Schema / Structured Data: Make sure to use structured data. Think mobile-first with AMP for mobile readability of news articles.  

    • Consider a news article structured markup as listed on schema.org or structured date by Google

    • AMP with structured data: [Recommended] AMP pages with structured data can appear in the Top stories carousel, host carousel of rich results, Visual stories, and rich results in mobile Search results. These results can include images, page logos, and other interesting search result features.

    • LiveBlogPosting: A blog post intended to provide a rolling textual coverage of an ongoing event through continuous updates.

    • Paywal Schema: for all publishers having paid subscription and gated content, you should definitely use Paywall Schema 

    • Speakable Schema: the speakable schema property identifies sections within an article or webpage that are best suited for audio playback using text-to-speech (TTS). Adding markup allows search engines and other applications to identify content to read aloud on Google Assistant-enabled devices using TTS. Webpages with speakable structured data can use the Google Assistant to distribute the content through new channels and reach a wider base of users.

    • QAPage / FAQPage: A Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) page contains a list of questions and answers pertaining to a particular topic. Properly marked up FAQ pages may be eligible to have a rich result on Search and an Action on the Google Assistant, which can help your site reach the right users. 

    • VideoObject: Video Schema helps videos to appear in Google Search results, video search results, Google Images, and Google Discover.

  • Permanent Site Structure: Make sure your section landing pages URLs don’t change. Google utilizes these pages to understand your site and index news news articles

  • Permanent and Unique Article URLs: Each news article should have a dedicated static URL.  The URL of your article should be descriptive in terms of keywords. 

  • News XML Sitemap: Create a news XML sitemap (articles published last 24-48 hrs) – this helps Google News signify any specific areas that your news site wants to highlight and you are providing the latest articles.  

  • Utilize only one language on a page: Google News doesn’t index sites with articles that display multiple languages in a single article/URL.

  • Include ByLine & date: Make sure your articles have clear byline and dates next or close to the story headline.

  • Internal Links: Make sure your stories have relevant and related content have Section Pages, inline links, tags, etc. Important stories are in homepage and most popular blocks on pages.

  • Content Syndication: All syndicated content must be NOINDEX or have canonicals back to the original source. Top Stories often include syndicated content that ranks higher than original content due to Content Freshnes is such a strong ranking factor. Also if syndicated content is placed on a site with a higher authority that may influence Top Stories to rank that site higher than original content.