President Obama’s final State of the Union address airs Tuesday at 9:00pm ET on the major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS), as well as the main cable broadcasters: CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. Amazon, Youtube, and the White House will also offer live streams of #SOTU2016, and NPR will broadcast it to radio listeners.
Why do you need a blog post about the SOTU?
It’s a simple enough answer, so why bother to write about it? The answer is search engine optimization (SEO), which Google itself defines as:
noun: the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine.
Another question: What time does the 'Superbowl' start?
In 2011, a Huffington Post editor named Craig Kanalley noticed a spike in search traffic around queries like “superbowl time” and had a stroke of genius. He published a simple article with a simple title: “What Time Does the Superbowl Start?” The post immediately landed prime real estate at the top of Google’s search results for Super Bowl XLV-related queries.
The digital world took note of what Deadspin writer Barry Petchesky called “the most legendary act of SEO trolling ever.” In no time, publications ranging from Gawker to the Los Angeles Times began to copy the “What Time Does the Superbowl Start?” (WTDSS) technique. Eventually, Google took charge, supplanting WTDSS articles with its own instant results.
Nevertheless, WTDSS is still alive and well. Today, enterprising digital journalists can still score a top Google search result placement, such as the re/code piece pictured above, if they play their algorithmic cards right.
What’s that have to do with the State of the Union?
In case you hadn’t noticed, this blog is a WTDSS post. Like Craig Kanalley circa 2011, we were monitoring Google Trends this morning and noticed a spike in search traffic around “President Obama’s final State of the Union Address.” The SOTU 2016 SEO battle is already being fought, so why not throw our hat in the ring?
However, a few websites were able to beat the President of the United States at the SEO game.
Let’s take a look at Politico’s State of the Union 2016 WTDSS post shown above and break down a few of the factors contributing to its top spot:
1. SEO-friendly language
The first sentence of the article: “When and what time is Obama delivering the 2016 State of the Union?” might sound a bit awkward, but its strange construction accounts for the two different ways to inquire about the timing of the State of the Union: “When is the State of the Union?” and “What time is the State of the Union?”
Indeed, the addition of “what time” may have made all the difference. A quick Ctrl-F of https://www.whitehouse.gov/sotu reveals 0 results for the phrase “what time,” and it just so happens that Politico’s SEO victory came on the query “what time is state of the union.”
2. Links, Links, and more Links
The article contains 27 links to relevant pages, such as whitehouse.gov, news articles from other publications, and other Politico stories – one aspect of an SEO process called “link-building.” More on that here.
3. Social Traffic
As of publication, Politico’s “Everything you need to know about the 2016 State of the Union address” article had been shared on social media over 200 times. Because of Google’s recent Twitter indexing upgrade, Politico’s tweets are included in Google search results. In a similar fashion as link building, @Politico’s social marketing likely gives the article an SEO boost.
4. All the Right Keywords
The article is also full of keywords that could be included in a potential searches about the State of the Union address, such as “President Obama,” “SOTU,” “guests,” and “Michelle Obama.”
5. The Elephant in the Room
Of course, Politico is a major news outlet with a well-tagged, deeply-linked website, which almost certainly contributes to its top Google result. Nevertheless, the principles of SEO are just as important, if not more so, for smaller businesses, campaigns, and non-profits. The battle for a top Google search result is fought every time person searches for something, and you can’t win if you don’t play.
SEO and you.
The moral of the “What Time Does the Superbowl Start?” story is that SEO matters.
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to search engine optimization, SEO is too important to ignore. As we say at Veracity Media, a well-executed SEO strategy is a behind-the-scenes PR campaign that pays off in dominating search results. At Veracity, we take a digital-first approach to make sure our clients can grow both online and off, and we make SEO an integral part of our work.
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Wyatt Larkin joins Veracity Media from Capitol Hill, where he served as Digital Director for Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). Wyatt also ran digital for Kyrsten Sinema for Congress, and has led digital trainings for organizations including the Alliance for Retired Americans and College Democrats of America. Previously, Wyatt served as Chief of Staff and Communications Director for Johns Hopkins economist Steve Hanke, where he worked to make @Steve_Hanke one of the top economists on Twitter. Wyatt is an Arizona native who has organized for the Young Democrats of America, the Young Democrats of Arizona, and various state and local campaigns. He graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in Political Science.