How A News SEO Conference Shaped A Community

This post was sponsored by NESS. The opinions expressed in this article are the sponsor’s own.

“This has been a dream of mine for so many years, to do an SEO conference focused solely on publishers.”

– NESS & Founder John Shehata, Global VP of Audience Development at Condé Nast

Working in SEO is a constant learning experience – there’s always something new to discover, and when Shehata and Barry Adams founded the News and Editorial SEO Summit (NESS), they did with that principle in mind.

“People who say they’ve really mastered SEO are probably lying, or massively overestimating how good they really are.”

– Barry Adams, NESS Co-Founder & SEO Consultant, Polemic Digital

“No matter how long you’re doing it and how experienced you think you may be, you will always have those moments where you’re totally and utterly stumped, and just have no idea what’s happening.

“We always continue to learn. There’s never a dull moment in SEO. It’s a very fast-moving industry with search engines constantly evolving, user behavior constantly evolving, websites constantly evolving – so no one knows everything.”

– Adams

With NESS, Shehata and Adams are carving out a special community within the world of SEO for continued growth and discovery.

NESS Is A First-Of-Its-Kind SEO Conference

NESS is exclusively dedicated to news publishers looking to unite and share SEO knowledge.

Attendees of this online conference have the opportunity to learn from top experts in the news industry.

Whether you’re a journalist or editor involved with the day-to-day publishing of news content, or an SEO professional looking to upgrade your knowledge in the field, NESS is a valuable online conference you simply can’t miss!

NESS Is Creating A Community

When NESS officially launched in 2021, it was a longtime dream realized.

Seeing how underserved the news SEO community was, Shehata sprung into action.

“I went to many event organizers and asked them to do this conference, but I was turned down… And about two years ago, I decided that I’m going to do it, and I’m going to fund it myself, and I’m just going to go with it. And if it’s a win, it’s a win – if it’s a loss, it’s a loss. But I thought there would be a good community out there that may attend this conference.”

The goal for the inaugural event was to sell 100 tickets; they ended up with over 600 attendees from all over the world – more than 50% of whom were from outside the U.S.  

People from massive global publishing organizations down to micro news websites focused on small regional areas dialed in from various timezones to share their experiences, leave comments, give feedback, and exchange information.

“I think that’s something that sets our conference apart,” said Adams. “It’s a niche within a niche conference.”

Shehata and Adams quickly realized that news SEO was a niche worth servicing and specializing in.

“What struck me the most,” Adams continued, “is the generosity of the speakers and the attendees in sharing their knowledge and sharing their learnings with other people who are conceivably their direct competitors. There seems to be a genuine sense of community that ‘we’re all in this together, we’re all doing the same things, we’re not each other’s enemies, we’re each other’s allies, we’re trying to do the same thing, which is generate great journalism and make sure that the biggest possible audience gets a chance to read it.’ And I hope we can continue that over the next few years and continue to service that community as best we can.”

NESS Is Serving The Community

NESS is presented specifically as a virtual conference so it can have a low cost to attend. Shehata’s top priorities when creating NESS were knowledge sharing and giving back.

“A publisher can send 30 people to attend, this would never happen with a traditional conference where they charge $2,000 [per ticket]… The other thing is, I truly believe in giving back. Last year was the pandemic and it was a tough time for a lot of people, so we said, ‘How can we help?’ And last year, we gave about 30 free tickets for any SEO who got laid off or made redundant,” Shehata said.

“We also give free tickets to SEOs from developing countries who cannot afford the conference. So we’re trying every year to do good, and I think this is the ultimate goal. Regardless if you’re an SEO or not, you have to give back to the community and do good.”

This year, NESS also led a fundraising campaign for the Red Cross’s Ukraine relief efforts, encouraging attendees to donate and matching their donations up to $5,000.

NESS Pioneers Online Conference Community Engagement

Instead of a one-way stream with speakers simply talking at the audience, NESS promotes two-way engagement, allowing attendees to participate in the conversation.

The live chat feed allows guests to comment, ask questions, and vote during a presentation.

NESS also allows engagement through virtual tables of around eight people who can talk to the speaker, ask questions, network, and more.

NESS 2022 News SEO Conference Highlights

According to Adams:

“John and I, when we started planning this, we wanted talks that we ourselves would like to see delivered by experts in the field. So we selected topics and speakers based on: ‘What would we like to see? What could we learn from, in terms of SEO specifically for news publishers?’”

Here are some highlights from the NESS 2022 lineup, along with key takeaways from each segment.

How To Successfully Implement Paywalls Without Affecting SEO

Leonie Roderick, The Times, and Ben Dilks, Sunday Times, tackled the dilemma in which readers expect to read news content for free, but publishers still have to make money.

Top tips for implementing a successful paywall strategy include:

  • Have a great understanding of your target market and readers.
  • Offer a unique selling proposition that sets you apart from your competition, whether it’s better quality, analysis, or insight.
  • Don’t be a commodity publisher; have something that makes you stand out. If you don’t, readers will simply switch to another news site with a similar product.

Get all the tips in the recorded session.

Using Automated Articles Successfully: Is It Possible?

This segment of the conference was presented by Carolyn Shelby, VP of Growth at Dawn Patrol LLC.

Matt Southern, Senior News Writer at Search Engine Journal and NESS 2022 attendee, noted his key takeaways from this talk:

“As much as SEO can assist with the distribution and visibility of news stories, it shouldn’t guide the direction of news coverage. Shelby spoke at length about using SEO to help machines understand your stories better. She cautioned attendees not to allow SEO to change their journalistic standards. Covering a story because it presents an opportunity to rank for a popular keyword versus covering a story because it’s the most newsworthy is an example of writing news for SEO. As a reporter, your top priority is to cover the most relevant stories for your audience, while SEO is a tool to help your audience find those stories.”

Top Stories: State Of The Union

This detailed presentation by Shehata featured data from NewzDash, a Google news monitoring system and rank tracker specifically for news publishers.

“With all the tools that John has innovated,” said Adams, “he has this wealth of data about what works in top stories, what is showing in top stories at any given time, and how things have changed.”

Career Growth Panel: What Is Your Next Move?

One of the highest-rated sessions within the conference, this panel included various types of SEO professionals who spoke about their experiences in the industry, how they got to their positions, skills that are needed, etc.

“The importance of committing yourself to a particular practice within SEO was a key takeaway,” said Southern. “SEO is such a diverse field that aspiring to become an expert in every facet of the trade isn’t as realistic as in the early days of search marketing. Moreover, the roles companies are hiring for are getting more specialized. If you’re an SEO who is passionate about news, becoming an expert in News SEO is a viable career option.”

Get access to the full session, now!

Search Engine Journal’s NESS Experience

Our own team members attended the conference; here’s what they had to say:

“As a reporter covering industry news in SEO and digital marketing, NESS was an intersection of my career disciplines. It opened my eyes to the fact that there’s a growing segment of SEO professionals focused solely on optimizing news articles for search engines.”

– Matt Southern, Senior News Writer at Search Engine Journal and NESS 2022 attendee

“It was a blast! NESS is one of the most valuable SEO conferences where experts share their practical experience in publishing, which one can quickly turn into a practice and apply. If you are running a publication or a blog, it is a must-attend.”

– Vahan Petrosyan, Director of IT and Infrastructure at Search Engine Journal and NESS 2022 attendee

Missed this year’s NESS event? You can access video recordings and presentations on their website.

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