The Texas Tribune is one of many new journalism websites that have emerged in the past year to help fill the void of local and regional news that’s resulted from the cutbacks in newspapers and other news media. Its stated goal is to be “a non-profit, nonpartisan public media organization” that reports on public policy, politics and government in the state of Texas. It also informs the public through through events, including conversations, conferences and an annual ideas festival.
The site’s ambitions are high and it has created and aggregated content on a variety of topics related to the government and elections of the Lone Star State. As much as it’s accomplished in its one year history — including raising $3.6 million in funding — it needs some help in a basic element of blogging: search engine optimization.
Using the guidelines suggested by Gina Chen in her blog Savethemedia.org, the Texas Tribune comes up short. The biggest offense is in the headlines for the articles and blog posts. Chen suggests clear headlines with key words. The Texas Tribune does not follow that advice. For example, under the topic of “2011 Budget Shortfall,” headlines for related articles include “Get out the Knives” and “Reopening the Gaps.” Neither of these headlines is clear, nor does either one contain key words that would show up in a Google search.
Googling the term “Texas budget shortfall” shows that the Texas Tribune does not show up until the second page of links. The article listed on Google is the background piece that appears at the beginning of the section on the budget shortfall, which is titled “2011 Budget Shortfall.”
Similarly, the page on immigration contains the headlines “A Hard Line in the Sand” and “The Road to Candelaria.” The headlines in the blogs section of the site violate other guidelines suggested by Chen, such as avoiding abbreviations. In this case, the TribBlog includes a headline that reads “The Shrinking Debt of the RPT.” The link from that headline then lets the user know that the Republican Party of Texas has reduced its debt.
The performance on search engine optimization isn’t all bad. The body of the stories seem to follow the guidelines much better than the headlines. There are frequently links to other stories on the Texas Tribune site and links to other sites. For example, one of the top stories on the day I visited the site (September 19, 2010), was that of the Houston Chronicle endorsing Bill White for governor of Texas. The story contained both internal and external links and had key words in the lede paragraph — another guideline in Chen’s list.
Overall, the Texas Tribune site could use a refresher cource in search engine optimization. If the headlines of the stories could catch up with the lede paragraphs and the links, then the site would probably see an increase in users driven by search.