3 Keys To Creating News Content That Matters

When planning your website, take the time to be thoughtful about your news content. Three keys to creating news content that matters.

It shows up on a lot of sitemaps: a section called “News.” Therein lives Very Important Information about your organization and its myriad happenings. So important! Everyone’s gonna want to read this. Extra extra!

But will they? News is not implicitly valuable, simply because we call it such. Does our idea of “news” gibe with the members of our target audience?

The goal of news and PR content should be to build brand-aware, action-oriented relationships between you and your audience. News should be both aligned with your business objectives and relevant and actionable to the reader.

But it’s easy to let the news section become a repository of self-congratulatory, obligatory, or otherwise irrelevant content that takes a lot of time to produce but doesn’t yield meaningful results and overall detracts from your site user experience.

Don’t let that happen to you. When planning your website, take the time to be thoughtful about your news content, not only in that bucket labeled “news” but contextually across your website, as well as how you will promote it via social, email, and other channels as a meaningful hook to draw people to your site to take action.

Make the most of this opportunity to communicate useful, interesting things to your audience. Because once you make that connection, that’s when the magic happens.

Here’s the Scoop

The way we’ve long thought about news content is changing. Whether you’re a small nonprofit, a large public university, a privately held B2C company, or a major media conglomerate, we’re all wrestling with it. Here are some of the constructs and concepts that are shifting:

The press release is becoming a dinosaur

To which press are we releasing? And releasing what exactly? The very term “press release” connotes a sort of exclusivity -- our organization sharing news directly with the media in the hopes that they will cover it in some way. While media relations is still critical, it’s no longer the only way to get the word out. In so many ways, we are the media now, with the ability to directly reach our audience across a range of platforms. To make the most of that opportunity, we need to create and share news content in a way that is meaningful and actionable to them.

Our audience is more savvy and less patient

When we publish news, no matter who we are, we’re competing for attention with The New York Times, whatever is happening on Twitter, and cat videos on YouTube. That’s a tall order. In addition to having a plethora of content to choose from, our audience is increasingly savvy about knowing when they’re being marketed to. And no one wants to be marketed to. They just want to be informed or entertained.

Findability is essential

It doesn’t matter how relevant your news item is or how well it is crafted if no one can find the darned thing. That means taking SEO into consideration - how we write and structure our news content - as well as social media promotion. Also, we can integrate our (awesome, relevant, high quality) news content into our social advertising strategy. Now we’re cooking with gas!

Text is now just one content type in the toolbox

Who says news has to be text? What about Storify collections of social media content? Or a video? Or a collection of photographs with short captions? We have a lot of methods at our disposal for telling good stories, and we need to find the right one for the job. We shouldn’t be held back by the antiquated idea that news = several hundred words of text.

What News Needs

There’s a lot to grapple with here, but if we approach news content the same way we approach our overall site content -- with a focus on process, planning, and people -- we will be set up for success.

Process and standards

The success of news isn’t found in writing a news story -- it’s in planning news coverage and establishing standards and processes to support its effective publication. This includes:

  • Defining goals and success metrics

  • Identifying audience(s)

  • Establishing criteria for what qualifies as news

  • Creating an editorial calendar

  • Setting up a measurement plan

In addition to these offline, spreadsheet-y type things, during wireframing, design, and development you want to keep in mind the unique requirements of a news content type so your site’s look-and-feel, UX, and backend supports your communications needs.

Findability and visibility

Once you’ve worked hard to create it, you’ve got to make sure people can find it! There are a few factors to consider:

  • Search engine optimization: How do we intelligently integrate keywords into news content? Are we crafting meta descriptions for news? How might a page title different from an on-page headline? What formatting and structuring do we need to take into account? Remember: the most important news page on your site isn’t your news homepage -- it’s going to be the dozens or hundreds article pages floating around the web that people come across via search. Those are the key gateways to your site.

  • Structured content: If we want to reuse news across our site -- say, a feed here, a tease there -- we need to structure it in a way that enables smart reuse. Are we breaking out headlines, subhead, photos, captions, and so on? In addition, have we created a news taxonomy that allows us to reuse news content contextually where appropriate across our site?

  • Social promotion and sharing: News content can be great fuel for the social media fire, but make sure your social strategy is in alignment with your news strategy. Which subjects play best to which channels, given the audience? How can we effectively tease stories via social channels? (It is likely not be repasting the headline!) Also, are you building prominent, seamless social sharing functionality into your article pages? Sharing is caring, after all.

Also, after you’ve done all that work to get people to your news, you want to make sure they know where to go next. Create clear, relevant calls-to-action. (Remember! We’re not creating news content just for kicks -- it’s meant to motivate people to care and to act. So be sure to give them a next step.)

Roles, workflow, and internal buy-in

Surprise! As with all things content, it ultimately comes down to the people. So much tougher to wrangle than pixels. Yet we need them to succeed. Here’s how people are the key to our news:

  • Subject matter experts: If we’re working in the communications or web team, chances are we’re not an engineer. Or a teacher. Or a doctor. And that’s cool. We’re good with being communicators. But we need the time and input from those subject-matter experts to make our news content sing.

  • Internal coordination: Who’s running social media? Email marketing? Print materials? Our online news efforts are just one prong of an organizational communications effort, and that means there must be internal coordination among all the players.

  • Stakeholder buy-in: Whether it’s the dean or the CEO, the folks who write the paychecks need to be on board with our needs and goals for news content.

There’s a lot to consider, to be sure, but the real value of our news can only be unlocked by being thoughtful about what we say, how we say it, and to whom we say it. If we do that, “News” becomes more than a bottomless, default bucket on our sitemap -- it becomes a cornucopia of potential.

Show Me the Money

Or at least some examples. Okay then!

Here are some news websites we’ve built at OHO:

And here are some others that we like (including some great sites featured on Social Media Today)

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