When it comes to capturing organic traffic, keeping a finger on your audience’s cultural pulse can be just as important as optimising for brand-relevant search terms.

In an online landscape where every click counts, brands live and die by their ability to keep up with the latest news, digital trends and viral sensations.

Newsjacking, or creating content related to current trending topics, can be an effective means of boosting relevancy and gaining more of that all-important search visibility. But beware of jumping on the bandwagon too quickly – the secret to mastering the art of newsjacking is subtlety, and careful consideration of your target audience’s interests and search intent.

What is newsjacking?

According to David Meerman Scott, who literally wrote the book on newsjacking (and claims to have coined the term), it’s “the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story so you and your ideas get noticed.” A close cousin of clickbait (but less annoying and arguably more algorithm-friendly), newsjacking essentially gives brands the opportunity to share in the limelight of a newsworthy subject.

Remember when Pokémon Go was all the rage and you couldn’t walk down the street without running into someone chasing a Charmander? And in addition to your social media feeds, your industry news and business publications were also bombarding you with endless articles about the app? Classic newsjacking.

It’s not hard to see why everyone was so eager to take advantage of the hype. Google Search Trends shows that at the height of its popularity, Pokémon Go generated more search interest than both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump  – and that was in 2016, an election year.

Image: https://medium.com/@plotlygraphs/google-trends-pokemon-more-relevant-than-trump-clinton-cf53af8a27cc

How does newsjacking help organic visibility?

In short, it’s simple supply and demand.

If thousands of people start Googling specific words or phrases, incorporating those keywords into your own content is a great way to get in on the action while signalling to the algorithms that you’re hip to what’s going on. If someone’s searching for something related to your business, the fact that you’re also referencing something immediate and current will help boost your visibility in the SERPs.

Stories with relevant keywords can also trend on Twitter, leading to exposure on social media. And if you’re able to newsjack a story just as it’s really starting to gain traction, other sources writing about the same topic may link to your article as a reference… as long as it’s relevant.

The trick to making the most of newsjacking comes down to timing. Moving in on a trending topic too soon will put you at risk of peaking before the search traffic wave does, while waiting too long could mean missing the boat. It’s easy to overlook stories in the 24-hour news cycle, so paying close attention to what’s going on in the world is key.

While the topic you’re attempting to newsjack doesn’t necessarily need to be directly related to your business, you need to approach the story from a perspective your intended audience will understand and find engaging.

For example, when a self-driving vehicle causes a fatality, a legal brand may find reason to share its take on the issue, as might a tech brand with a viewpoint on AI. But an FMCG brand? Perhaps not.

What are the risks?

Like most SEO techniques, newsjacking only works when implemented properly. Be discerning when choosing topics to associate yourself with, as jumping on a story just because it’s trending can come across as gimmicky. If you’re not careful, you run the risk of tainting your brand’s integrity and bringing attention to your brand for all the wrong reasons.

Before deciding to include newsjacking in your content strategy, consider these points to minimise the risks involved:

  • Be selective – Not every story can be newsjacked. Fun fads like Pokémon Go? No problem. Horrendous events like terror attacks? Not so much.
  • Avoid inaccuracies – Never newsjack a story from a dodgy source, otherwise you could wind up being branded as an architect of #fakenews.
  • Diversify – Newsjacking can be effective, but like all good things in life, moderation is key.

Proceeding with caution is the best way to approach newsjacking. Rather than rushing to jump on the bandwagon as soon as a topic starts going viral, think carefully about whether the story aligns with your brand and business objectives.

Think about the relationship between the story and your brand, and try to picture how it’ll come across next week or next year; if it’s not a good fit, maybe leave it.

Looking beyond search

Keeping pace with the latest news isn’t just effective from an SEO perspective. Brands can use pop culture to define and refine the way they communicate their values and unique characteristics. If you take the time to develop a newsjacking strategy that suits your tone of voice and speaks to your audience, public perception of your brand will benefit, along with your organic share of voice.

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Jessica Grant

Jess is a Senior Content Executive at iProspect Brisbane. Her hobbies include eating more than the recommended daily intake of Caramello Koalas, trying to avoid embarrassing typos, and spilling coffee on her keyboard.