How is journalism evolving in the digital era? What are the needs, challenges, and opportunities for web journalism in 2017 – and in the years to come? We are interviewing web writers, journalists, and publishers to understand the state of the art of digital journalism and try to predict future trends.
In the middle of the Nineties, my father used to buy – and read – a newspaper two or three times a week, plus one or two weekly magazines – and he also watched daily news on TV. In early ’00 online media started to erode, year after year, the space of printed media and television. Nowadays most of the information diet of the Millennials is based on articles and news published online by several kinds of sources and repurposed seamlessly by search engines and social media.
The publishing industry has evolved more quickly in the last 25 years than in the previous 250.
Journalists and web writers are facing this evolution. Sometimes they’re surfing it like a good wave, sometimes they are just overwhelmed. In this article you’ll find the opinion of three expert web writers who deal with the challenges of online journalism in their daily work.
We’ve lost 4 seconds of our attention span in just 13 years: how long will humans be able to keep attention in 13 years from now?
According to a recent study published by Microsoft, human attention span is gradually dropping, year after year: in 2013 average human attention span was around 8 seconds – which means that we stay focused for less time than a goldfish!
For journalists who write articles and want people to read them, this is a real challenge: what kind of strategies can you use to keep a high level of attention over your content?
“I use to write emotional articles and I use storytelling techniques to make them appealing. I also link similar stories and deep insights into my text in order to give something more to my reader and engage him within the website.”
A similar advice comes from Ben Dickson, Software Engineer and Contributor at TechCrunch, The Next Web, Venture Beat, and more.
“I’m focused on two areas in terms of editorial planning:
Timely writing: Delivering articles that relate to things that are happening now or will happen in the near future
Evergreen writing: Articles that will be worth reading for months and possibly years to come.”
2. What happened to the truth?
In the end of 2016 post-truth was elected ‘word of the year‘ by the Oxford Dictionary, even if fake news are not new at all: there have been hoaxes as long as there’s been someone reporting news, more or less.
Readers’ (bad) habits: today many people only scroll the latest news on their smartphones and sometimes they share articles without reading anything but the title
Hoax production is easier than ever: if you have a look at the most famous historical hoaxes, you’ll notice that – at least – creating a hoax required some effort. Today anyone can produce them with a device connected to the Internet.
The fear of missing out is forcing digital journalists to write more and more news – sometimes regardless to the most elementary fact-checking.
In this scenario,fake news spread like wildfire, and people seem more likely to be engaged by any news which appeals to emotions, rather than actual facts.
Today fake news affect social life, politics and even economics: just as an example, many commentators claim that Trump’s election was influenced by fake news about Hilary Clinton. In the latest months, search engines and social media are preparing their weapons to detect and fight fake news.
Meanwhile, media and journalism are losing their trustability, and to gain it back they need to work harder on fact-checking and quality. How?
Here is the experience of Ben Dickson:
“I think fake news is not new. Mainstream media has been dabbling in biased reporting and misrepresenting the truth for a long time. Although for the most part, mainstream media don’t go as far as bringing up falsified facts (such as the Pope supporting Trump), they do tend to only reflect the part of the story that serves their own end, or quote unnamed and anonymous sources that can’t be verified. There is more than one case where top news outlets have reported events in ways that represented or worked towards furthering the political ends of the political party or school of thought they represented.
However, with the explosion of social media and online services, fake news has become democratized and it’s now within everyone’s reach. This is a deeply social, ethical and political issue. There’s not consensus on what’s true and what’s fake. And though I’ve seen some tools and efforts to fact check and evaluate the reliability of a site’s content, I’m not sure if we can develop a tool (or set of tools) that will ultimately rid the web of fake news.
I personally think the truth is out there (wow, X-Files meme!) and I believe reader discretion and research is the key to separating fact from fiction and hype from reality. When I read something for a fact, I always try to find the counter argument and see the other side of the story. I always check a fact from several conflicting sources and then try to find the median. It’s tough work, but it’s rewarding!”
There is also another face of the moon, and I’d like to show it to you through the voice – well, the words – of Alfonso Biondi, Web Content Specialist at Banzai and Co-founder at Lercio, one of the most popular satirical news journals in Italy.
“The Lercio-man adores fake news: they’re what he can do best after drinking for free. I would like to clear up any misunderstaning: fake news I love and enjoy writing are those with a satirical slant, I’m not talking about hoaxes. Where is the difference? Let’s make an example (the same you find on Bufale.net).
Take these two news:
1) Boldrini: “Disgusted by Referendum’s result, I quit politics, you don’t deserve me!”
2) Boldrini: “We should educate fetuses not to kick their mothers”
Both news talk about the same person – Laura Boldrini, an Italian politician well-known for her feminist battles – and both are false. So, they are two examples of fake news, right? But, as you can notice, in the first example there’s nothing fun, it’s just a hoax indeed, a bait for ingenous fishes; in the second case, the satirical intent of the news is obvious, you can’t misunderstand it: it’s Lercio, baby.”
3. SEO is a must, or…
Dead or alive, SEO is a matter of concern: you need to stay up-to-date and sometimes you feel like you’re walking on the thin line of a delicate balance between spam and optimization.
Ben’s strategy is quite sophisticated:
“I mostly focus on content and intent than technical SEO tricks. As far as SEO is concerned, I’m focused on writing human-friendly content and stick to writing best practices (short sentences, active voice, short paragraphs, subheadings…). In some cases, when writing evergreen content, I also do a little keyword research and optimization.”
Again, Valentina agrees with Ben:
“I only follow SEO rules for cold, evergreen content, which can attract visits without regard to timing.”
Sometimes, you can even ignore SEO and still rule the traffic game, here is the experience of Alfonso Biondi:
“When I write for Lercio, I enjoy keeping SEO in the drawler of the useless things – not far from my gym pass. It’s quite obvious: satirical fake news are 100% creative pieces of content, due to their eccenticity and singularity. They just can’t be kept in a keyword’s cage.
Well, I know that our case is extraordinary in the context of online publishing, where SEO is a primary need in content creation and writing. I know what I’m talking about, since I work as a web content specialist and I use to deal with SEO daily.”
4. Long-form articles are coming back
For long years, journalists were convinced that readers don’t consume long articles online, but only quick, straight-to-the-point, short content. In the last five years, a countertendency emerged: there is space for successful long-form articles, containing more than 1.000 words – and up to 20.000… that’s truly a lot to read! – and often enriched with visual media such as pictures, graphics, and videos.
As you can see from the Quartz curve, chances of success are at their lowest between 500 and 800 words
A lot of interest over long-form article was raised by Kevin Delany, Editor in Chief at Quartz who in 2013 presented the so-calledQuartz Curve to explain his editorial choices. This U shaped curve, shows that articles with less than 500 words and articles with more than 800 are more likely to have success.
“People read short, fast content on the web” he said “and also long-form, analytical pieces. Articles of between 500 and 800 words are too long to be sharable, and too short to be in-depth”
It may look like a contradiction in the context of a shorter attentionspan. To get deeper, we asked Ben Dickson, who uses to write many long-form articles, if this kind of content is a gamble or a winning strategy. Here is his what comes from his experience:
“I think that if you start with a strong lede, and structure your article in a compelling way (with smart use of sub-headings and bullet points) you’ll be able to cater to the needs of both readers who are looking to skim over the subject and those who would like more in-depth content.”
5. Time management is complicated
We use to say that writers should write but, actually, they are super-busy with many other activities beyond writing.
In every newsroom, the lack of time is one of the major complaints – and if you ask freelancers their pain is the same, or even harder. This is not an emerging question, but with tons of distractions, a multitude of available sources and – often – even new tasks to accomplish, timing is more crucial than ever.
We asked Ben, Valentina, and Alfonso what are the activities that take them more time and how they deal with them.
Ben: “I do a lot of research and fact checking for my articles. I like to interview subject experts and corroborate my research with thought leaders and people who have experience andknow-how in the domain that I’m exploring. I believe that it slows down my production rate somehow, but it’s worth the effort. It forces me to socialize and get in touch with wonderful people. I think this is an important issue in a day and age where Google is trying to answer your every question and social media platforms such as Facebook try to dictate their knowledge to you.”
Valentina: “Digital relations, partnerships, and alliances are a must. Like it or not, cooperation in these days counts more than anything else!”
Alfonso: “If we agree to keep out of the list of the most time-consuming tasks the keyword cleaning from muffin crumbles, I don’t have doubts: the most difficult thing is to turn that ‘misterous something’ floating in the air in an actual idea you can write about. This is the stage before writing, but here is where writing takes place: the idea before the idea. Besides being the most difficult part, it is also the most beautiful one. Can I have the ice-cream you promised me?”
Some key learnings to think about
What did we learn from the experience of these digital journalists?
Use emotional writing and storytelling to keep the reader on your page You can also add internal links to help your reader get deeper into his matter of interest: WordLift can do that on the basis of a semantic text analysis, so you’ll be able to retrieve old articles – even if they are written by other contributors of the same website.
Research, fact-checking, and counter arguments: these are the weapons you have in your constant search for the truth.
Focus on writing for humans and optimize SEO keywords for evergreen content After years of online writing under the diktat of machines and keyword optimization, focusing on a human-friendly text is actually a good strategy, since also search engines are moving from keyword to natural language processing.
Structure your article to fit the needs of all your readers (those who are just scanning content and those who need some deeper insight) We would also add to this structure the entities, as a primary brick to build the meaning and context of your content.
Relations and cooperation count more than ever.
Ben, Valentina, Alfonso and many other web journalists out there are working really hard in a world that produces data and information like never before, and that’s way more complex. Online journalism needs new tools to match the growing need of valuable, trustable information in a World Wide Web which is evolving in the direction of semantics.
Well, semantic publishing may not turn the day into 48 hours, but… by automating tagging, on-page SEO tasks, and categorization, it reduces the amount of manual work and helps sparing precious time.
It can be a valuable content marketing strategy to brilliantly overcome many of these challenges turning them into opportunities to shine in the market. How?
It enriches content with a context and helps publishers build their trustworthiness and find data that can support their writing process.
Linked Data helps engage different kinds of readers with a personalized experience, giving little bits of information to those who need a quick answer and giving many chances of getting deeper in the matter to those who want to learn more.
The internal vocabulary can be used asa shared knowledge base within the newsdesk, helping journalists to cooperate with their peers.
Wanna learn more?
If you are curious about semantic publishing, you should give WordLift a try: book a live demo now!
The latest release of WordLift comes with a set of new features and with a brand new user experience that will delight any web writer. Let’s dive into the new changes and see how you can take advantage of them.
1. User Experience
The UX is gonna be slightly different: you’ll be able to navigate easily on WordLift’s entity categorization to focus on one W at a time and you’ll also see fewer icons.
We wanted to simplify WordLift‘s use and let you focus on writing: we think sometimes less is better, don’t you?
See how you can navigate through entities. It’s useful, especially for looooong texts.
Link-no-link is this easy!
You now have the power to choose whether to link or not your article to your entity pages while adding schema.org markup.
This new feature is going to change dramatically the way you experience blogging with WordLift: that’s why we decided to get deeper into this new feature with a blog post.
From now on, you can add one of your blog’s categories to your entities. In this way, your entities will be shown on your category pages adding their value to your users’ path on your site.
If you spent a lot of time curating the content of your entities and making them meaningful in the context of your website, they deserve to be reached from several entry points since they really give an extra benefit to your readers.
To add a category to your entities, just choose a category from the right box.
Don’t want to show an entity on a category page? Don’t worry, because if you don’t add any category to your entity, it won’t appear on your category pages, just as any other piece of content.
4. Customize your Entity Type Archive Pages
So you want a single page with links to all your archived entities organized by entity type? WordLift creates these pages automatically to form the main gateway into your blog’s entities (for example you can look through the contents of this blog by looking at the entities type person that can be reach at https://wordlift.io/wl_entity_type/person/). You can now customize the title and description of these archive gateways for each type of entities.
For example, if you talk about literature, it may be useful to define “persons” as “Writers” and collect all your entities on a new archive index that is meaningful for your readers and good for SEO purposes.
Adding a category title is super-easy and good for your SEO!
5. Entity Cloud
Now you can add to your article an entity cloud, which is pretty much similar to a tag cloud, with the difference that it is linked to your own knowledge graph. In this way, you’ll be able to move from tags – which mean nothing to search engines – to entities. Isn’t it great?
To add the entity cloud to all your articles go to the Widgets and then drag it where you want.
6. Add Publisher Information
As you may remember, with the previous release of WordLift, new users were able to add information about the publisher whether it is a person or an organization. Now also those clients who were already using WordLift before the 3.10 release can add their publisher information with a very easy setup.
If you are using WordLift for a while, you know that all the magic is based on the creation of entities, on their semantic markup and on the interlinking between articles and entities. It all happens with a few clicks on your WordPress editor, with no need to code anything.
Well, we listened to the needs of our clients and we changed something for the better. There is one major change you need to know: you will have the power to choose whether to link or not your article to your entity pages while adding schema.org markup.
Whaaaat? This is a big big thing, and so I will let our biz dev Gennaro explain it for me. See this short tutorial for thelink-no-link feature.
Why should you add a link to your entity, and why not?
Now that you know what and how, let’s explore why. To link or not to link, this will be the question from now on. How do you choose?
Well, the first thing you should ask yourself is: will this link add a value for your reader or distract him/her?
Here is a short list of typical cases we collected from our client’s experience and from our own.
The most typical case is that you are using an entity which is the very basis of the topic you are exploring and you assume your readers already know it enough. For example, if in this article I used the word website, I could be quite sure that no one of my human readers would need any explanation about such an obvious thing, but search engines’ spiders still need it to better understand the context I refer to.
You need to markup semantically your article with many entities, but you are afraid that links could distract your readers. Fine, select the entities which are more likely to add something meaningful to your readers’ experience and then took off the link from all the others. Think carefully: this is an editorial choice and it’s completely up to you!
Also, you may have a SEO concern about the number of links on your page. Given that it’s a good rule to keep the number of links (both internal and external) below the 100-link mark, you may need to be even more careful while selecting the entities that will be linked to their own pages. Try not to have too many links to the entities per article, and – of course – try not too have to many links at all.
Finally, sometimes you annotate your text with entities, but you don’t have the time to curate the new entity pages before publishing your article. This may happen because in some cases timing is crucial for your content to reach a broader audience. In this kind of situation, you’ll better add semantic markup to your article without a link to the entity pages. You can always add links later -when you’ll add some piece of information to your entity pages; until then remember to use “no-index” for those incomplete entity pages.
What if – instead – you’d like to give your readers the opportunity to go deeper into some entity, but don’t want them to leave your article? Well, we are also thinking about that…
How to embed the content of an entity into your article
As you may know, our entities are represented as JSON-LD objects – the format suggested by Google – this means that any time you create an entity you are publishing data which can be reused and which – da-dan! – is layout-independent, so the entity can adapt itself to the style of your website. Pretty cool, uh?
“What we should do is insist on optimizing our content using semantic SEO practices(emphasis mine), in order to help Google understand the context of our content and the meaning behind the concepts and entities we are writing about.“
To make your content relevant it is crucial to have a change of paradigm.
Keywords are not enough. What can you do? Let’s find out!
How to make machines understand the classics
Athens 399 B.C.: a chubby man, with a long white beard was standing in front of a jury. We are in Athens, the most developed city at the time. Yet that man was ready to be sentenced to death.
He was not afraid, and although he was in a risky situation he spoke his mind until the last instant. That man was Socrates, and that trial is portrayed in Plato’s “Apology of Socrates”.
Even though this is the most moving trial ever told, Google wasn’t able to understand it before Hummingbird unleashed RankBrain!
Indeed, if you were to use the classic approach to SEO, you would stuff your article with keywords (like you would do with a Thanksgiving’s turkey) hoping that one day Google understood it!
For how crazy that sounds, it is what many experts would do! But isn’t there a better way? Yes, that is!
For instance, that is what Wikipedia says about the “Apology of Socrates”:
“The Apology of Socrates, by Plato, is the Socratic dialogue that presents the speech of legal self-defence, which Socrates presented at his trial for impiety and corruption, in 399 BC.
Specifically the Apology of Socrates is a defense against the charges of “corrupting the young” and “not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in other daimonia that are novel” to Athens.”
As a human, this text is pretty straightforward. Yet to make it comprehended by machines we have to take an additional step.
Google finally meets Socrates
I took Wikipedia’s text and edited it with WordLift and that is what I got:
First, as soon as I placed the text in my WordPress editor and saved it as a draft, WordLift started to analyze it semantically. In short, WordLift understood what I wrote thanks toNLP.
Second, on the right side, WordLift classified the content of my post under the “What, where, when and who” and extracted the relevant entities. What is an entity? An entity is a page that is structured semantically, thus understood not only by humans but also by search engines.
Third, WordLift suggested a set of entities (such as Apology, Classical Athens, Daemon, Plato, Socrates and Socratic Dialogue) that would help me to tell the story both to humans and machines.
With a click, I selected the entities classified by WordLift and saved the article. WordLift marked my content through schema.org, and made it readable to machines!
How do I know?
Within my editor WordLift makes available a box, that says “View Linked Data”.
Once I click on it, and take an additional step I can see how the information I placed in my editor is reshaped until it became organized knowledge.
In short, the information I wrote in the article was reshaped and organized in a set of nodes and edges. Where the nodes are the articles and entities. While the edges are the relationships between those articles and entities.
Why is that relevant?
That knowledge is now accessible to both humans (in the form of text) and machines (in the form of schema.org markup).
In other words, without placing a single keyword in my post I managed to explain the “Apology of Socrates” to my new friend, Google!
The only caveat is to structure your content by creating Entities rather than keywords!
The Evolution of SEO: from keyword to Entity
Throughout this article, we saw a few very interesting points.
First, humans use questions to communicate. Yet we expect answers that are clear and straightforward. Paradoxically, though, that is not the way the web worked until recently.
Second, machines didn’t understand human language. Yet a revolution happened in 2013, when Hummingbird unleashed RankBrain.
Third, now thanks to semantic web, humans and machines are on the same page. Yet to take advantage of this revolution, you have to stop thinking about keywords and start creating Entities!
Do you want to create your first entity? Get in touch with me!
Tao Roma promotes personal development starting from ancient Chinese disciplines such as Tai Chi Chuan, Qi Gong, and Taoist Alchemy, bringing them to the contemporary life.
His founder, Oscar Valentini, is a martial art, Tai Chi Chuan, Qi Gong, and Taoism teacher. He comes from Rome, Italy, and his blog Tao Roma is a focal point for the promotion of his work. We asked Oscar what kind of business goals he was trying to achieve with his blog when he first started it, and his answer was quite interesting:
“It was 2013 and goals was quite a strong word. It started by chance, because I wanted to spread my knowledge about Tao wellness techniques. Blog articles and Facebook shares immediatly worked powerfully to disseminate content and engage with people online. At the time, my main goal was to make people curious to experience how ancient Tao wisdom can impact on their lives with a little personal commitment.”
And then, in the end of 2015, Oscar was one of the early beta testers of WordLift. What did it change on the blog results?
“Wordlift was revolutionary: for a while I stopped writing new articles, and worked on my own vocabulary of core concepts, the so-called entities. Then, I edited many of my articles to connect them with those crucial concepts – which where implicit when I first wrote my blog posts. When these concepts were published as web pages and linked to the articles and to each other, they allowed me to build a knowledge graph into my blog. While I was writing, I din’t even get how essential this change was going to be, but then everything became clearer. Now I better understand the importance of a consistent editorial plan thanks to the content organization that WordLift allowed me to see and live into my blog.”
And talking about the results…
“In time, WordLift effect also impacted on our results: I reached more people, who are interested in our offer of activities and courses, and I noticed great improvements in SEO. Today, when somebody calls me to offer a SEO consultancy, I always say that there is already someone working on it, but I never say it’s a software!”?
How WordLift supported Tao Roma with content marketing
Since December 2015, Oscar used WordLift to support his articles with a meaningful galaxy of terms and definitions that could be useful for those who are approaching martial art, Tai Chi Chuan, Qi Gong, and Taoism for the first time. Each of these terms is an entity and is part of an internal vocabulary which helps people – and machines as well, such as search engine’s spiders – to understand the referral context.
Until now, Oscar created 142 entities, represented as linked data in the JSON-LD format thanks our plugin. These entities are linked to DBpedia with the ‘sameAs‘ property and are described through the schema.org vocabulary: since they are connected to the web of data, they inherit some properties from DBpedia and schema.org that provides search engines with the required meaning and context. The more entities he created, the more he reinforced the connection between Tao Roma’s website and its specific semantic domain.
In the histogram below, you can see the 50 most recurring entities of Tao Roma’s vocabulary and discover how many articles and other entities are connected with them.
In the pie graph below, you can see the content classification of the entities inherited from DBpedia. Notice that one of the main topics of the blog is Tao Massage and this can explain why so many entities are classified as anatomical structure.
Got it, now show me the numbers!
Here is a diagram from SEMrush describing the organic increase Oscar has experienced on his blog thanks to the WordLift effect.
The overall results have been impressive and way beyond our expectations. Let’s look more closely at the metrics to understand why organizing your website with structured data matters:
New users from Google (organic search) – Oscar installed the plugin and started to organize the content architecture of his website in December 2015: since then the website received a 42+% increase of new users coming from Google’s organic search.
Pageviews – We went from a monthly average of 5.662 pageviews in September, October and November 2015 to a monthly average of 14.699 pageviews in the months of December 2015, January and February 2016. This is an 88+% increase (in the last three months since writing this article the monthly average of pageviews is up to 17.368 – so the effect is continuing at a stable rate) – this is an interesting metric but as we know, it is way too generic to help us get a clue on what we’re doing right.
New sessions from organic search – Comparing to a benchmark of 26.686 websites worldwide in the sport vertical (with daily sessions ranging between 100-499), Tao Roma’s Analytics showed a +36,22% (80,03% vs an average of 58,75%) of new sessions coming from organic search.
Sitelinks – As you probably already know, guiding visitors of your website is a great advantage provider. These links are displayed on the SERP and highlight the main sections of the website, improving brand reputation and user trust. Sitelinks cannot be added by webmasters. They are the result of a well-structured website and the first thing that proves how well a website is organized.
Dwell time – Three months after the creation of the initial vocabulary, the average time spent on page increased of 17.27%. This metric certifies an authentic interest from user’s side.
Today, thanks to this impressive results, Oscar is looking further and thinking about the next revolution for his website…
“Our website is going to be transformed again from the graphic and UX point of view – moving from a blog look and feel to an actual online magazine, where we’ll see different home pages based on the season of the year and on our calendar of events and initiatives. This flexibility is also a consequence of the strong contribution of WordLift to the content writing and structuring process.”