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I spent the best part of the last three years focused on assisting editorial teams in driving traffic through celebrity searches.

It was fast paced, breaking, and quite often absurd. It is also possibly the most transient search vertical of them all, with the fickle nature of celebrity appeal rising and falling in rapid media driven spikes.

In such a rapidly changing and often odd market, you need to be prepared, so here are five celebrity search takeaways that can translate to real life. 

1. Getting set up with dashboards

Because celebrity search is so transient, it’s essential that writers are set up with the right tools to help them see what’s best to write next at a glance.

Aleyda Solis has written a superb post that includes how to set up a latest news and content ideas dashboard - so I won't take that much further here.

To add, I advocate setting up Netvibes or Google Reader dashboards with RSS feeds from as many competitors from your space. I’d also spend enough time to grab the key blogs from your vertical and dashboard all of those too. Then I’d set my browser to open a number of key dashboard sites:

Real World Takeaway: If you’re a content writer, dashboard as much as you can. You need to be able to do story research at pace.

2. Predicting search trends via editorial calendar

In celebrity, like in many other verticals, search volume is largely driven by media coverage. So if Kim Kardashian appears in several papers, then there's probably going to be a surge in search.

Readers might flick through the paper in the morning, then head to a search engine when they get to the office to find out more. Your dashboard should give you the insight to see the most rapid trends, but you can also optimise in the long term.

Since search largely follows media coverage, an editorial calendar of major events can help you predict who will become big, and when. For instance, the film Zero Dark Thirty has been picked by numerous critics as a likely nomination for Best Picture at the 2013 Academy Awards.

Most of the cast are relative unknowns, but I can assure you they won’t be by the time Oscar season comes around. Just look at the United Kingdom search trend for ‘jeremy renner’ during 2010, when he came from relative obscurity to be nominated for Best Actor in The Hurt Locker.

Jeremy Renner image sourced from Wikipedia.

Any good film journalist would have been able to spot this early: the UK release of The Hurt Locker was August 2009, giving a full seven months to create content and link build.

Since then, and to a degree because of this success, Jeremy Renner has become much more famous, so the efforts for that one peak wouldn’t simply die.

Real World Takeaway: Almost every industry has an events calendar. Think about your key products and where they are likely to get the most press over the course of the year, whether it is through print review, or winning an award.

Make sure you create content and get it ranking in good time before the press coverage. You’ll likely get a spurt of high value traffic, and have the added benefit of piggybacking the product’s success.

3. Creating dynamic ‘hub page’ types

In celebrity search, generics like ‘celebrity gossip’ or ‘celebrity fashion’ might sound valuable, but they pale into insignificance in terms of volume compared to actual celebrity names:

Average volume of searches on Google for celebrities and generic keywords per month. 

Mail Online is the most successful of all celebrity news sites, but it doesn’t do everything right. For instance, there is no central hub page of content around particular celebrities.

For Kate Middleton, both The Huffington Post and Grazia Daily have two very different hub pages. Huff Po’s is updated entirely dynamically. Grazia Daily’s is far less dynamic – but it does have a uniquely written biography and large gallery as the main content.

It is often hub pages that rank towards the top of search queries for celebrity names. If there is a heavy volume of news for a celebrity, then articles may rank higher, but disappear in quieter periods.

Hub pages provide timeless ‘stock’ information such as biography and photo gallery, while articles appear in surrounding feeds which refresh the page for search engines and keep them up to date for users.

They effectively serve as microsites about a particular celebrity, but you could turn this on its head for particular products, topics or brands. Mirroring this approach, I once created an Information Architecture for a fishing website that had a species of fish as its dynamic hub page. All of the content that was relevant for the species was tagged as so, and the page would be dynamically updated.

Real World Takeaway: Do you have particular products or topics in your vertical where you could create a hub page? It might be a particular product, or a brand name. Wordpress categories and tags are pretty much all you need to create dynamic hubs.

Design the User Experience of the hub page to include numerous keyword variations – much like this Rotten Tomatoes review page for Looper.

4. Getting specific with articles

While central hubs can supply traffic over the long term for specific keywords, gaining top permanent rankings for celebrity names is quite hard vs. Wikipedia, Twitter and (if they have one) their official site, so it’s necessary to diversify from the key search term by focusing on ‘phrase matches’.

The best tool I have come across for phrase matching is Soolve – like Google Suggest plus the rest of the major web portals.

It is ultimately articles that are going to give you breadth for phrase matching. For instance, if there is a sudden flurry of searches for ‘pippa middleton’s arse’ as there has been, then hub pages are not going to be able to rank for that keyword.

Mail Online really comes into its own with its sheer volume of article based content (regularly 500 articles a day!), but it does it with a variety of fairly straight forward SEO techniques:

  • Does anyone read the copy? Mail Online’s draw is always in the images – they almost always take up more page space than copy.

    Even so, journalists never fail to improve 300+ words of copy explaining the specifics of who, what, where, why, how? to give the article a chance of ranking for a wide variety of long tail keywords related to a celebrities.

  • Long, long headlines:

How does she do it? Victoria Beckham is super slender in her first lingerie shoot since the birth of baby Harper

This headline clearly illustrates the typical length of a Mail Online headline. Evidently, it enables an editor to get a wide range of mid tail keywords:

  • victoria beckham slender
  • victoria beckham baby
  • victoria beckham lingerie
  • victoria beckham birth
  • …and on

On Mail Online, the headline <h1> is close to what you’d normally expect in a byline. But then they also use some rather more calculating methods when optimising for ‘low brow’ search, such as the aforementioned ‘pippa middleton’s arse’ – with Malcolm Coles finding them to put the variation into the HTML <title>, news sitemap and URL, but not showing it on the page.

Real World Takeaway: If you’re writing articles, then take time to think of a strong headline that uses a breadth of keywords. If you’re able to, put an alternative headline into the <title> tag that adds further keywords.

Always ensure that you can write 250 words of copy – if you can’t, it’s not really worth the story!

Good headlines grab attention and have plenty of keywords.

5. Super curation (with added Pinterest)

While Pinterest became super-hyped at the beginning of last year and content curation fast became digital marketing's biggest buzzword, I sat scratching my head wondering what to do with it.

The audience was really quite small, and those followed links would inevitably be closed soon. I urged people in my company to hold off having a ‘Pinterest strategy’.

Then I figured if you could draw up very specific boards around a particular topic, you could curate images from your own site on these boards – which would be easier to manage than in a Content Management System or desktop.

You could then ‘recycle’ these images on your site in curated lists. For instance, Grazia has a pinboard of smokey eyes, which was then recycled into a curated story on the site. Note that this had didn’t have much to do with extending the Pinterest reach.

The potential UK following on Pinterest may never be as large or as valuable as on Twitter, so it wasn’t a focus. The followers were simply a by-product of curating the content and ensuring it was promoted on other social channels.

Glamour Magazine take this approach even further, which the main proposition of their website being about curated galleries that are easy to click through – if you want to see 82 examples of Winter 2012 Hair Trends, then that’s easily accessed.

Meanwhile, their collection of the 100 Sexiest Men of 2012 achieved 20,000 social shares. In a battle of the sexes, FHM.com’s 100 Sexiest Women 2012 was shared 12,000 times – although still an honourable effort.

Real World Takeaway: We know that list formats regularly make highly engaging and sharable content. But have you considered which great lists could be right under your nose?

Perform a site search on chosen topics and see if there is imagery that you could curate and recycle into a new story. You might even build some Pinterest followers while you’re at it.

James Carson

Published 10 January, 2013 by James Carson

James Carson is Director of Content at Made From Media and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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