December 9, 2013

Google is increasingly emphasizing the ways it can be of service to the media, and the company held a summit in Chicago last week sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists, the Online News Association and Northwestern University’s Knight Lab.

I won’t get into the weeds of how to build Fusion Tables or use the Maps Engine in this recap of the event — see Google’s new Media Tools site for detailed resources. Instead, here are three simple strategies for taking advantage of Google’s products that you can implement right away.

1. Sign up for Google+ Authorship

Google’s Nicholas Whitaker opened a session on Google+ by asking how many of us had a Google+ profile. Most of us raised our hands. Then he asked how many of us actually use our Google+ profiles. The majority of those hands went down, triggering laughter.

To be fair, a comprehensive introduction to any social network, including Facebook and Twitter, would likely be as overwhelming as this one was. The difference is that getting people to use Facebook and Twitter never required quite as much convincing — adoption happened more organically, whereas using Google+ feels like jumping through fiery hoops at a circus with sparse attendance.

I’m still not convinced diverting major social-media resources to Google+ posts makes sense, but news organizations and individual journalists should take a minute to sign up for Authorship. If you have an email address on the same domain as your content (e.g. an email if you write for, it’s easy to link your bylined stories that show up in Google Search with your Google+ profile and other articles you’ve written. That’s good for discoverability and doesn’t require any extra work once you’ve set it up.

Google is, of course, the dominant search engine. So that makes this hoop worth jumping through even if you don’t buy into the social sharing aspect of Google+. Noted Whitaker: “As a journalist, the best thing to do is take ownership of your Google+ profile and your authorship online.”

2. Try Google URL shortener

The folks at Google didn’t lead a session on this particular tool, but Fernando Diaz, the managing editor of Hoy, Tribune’s Spanish-language paper in Chicago, said during a panel that his publication uses Google URL Shortener. A big advantage over Bitly: It breaks down clicks by browser (such as Safari vs. Firefox vs. Chrome) and platform (such as Macintosh vs. Linux vs. Windows).

How many of your readers visit you via mobile devices? Which devices, and at what time of day? These answers can help determine the best time to tweet stories, and whether to use mobile-friendly links if you have them.

One caveat: These analytics are public, so if you want your click analytics to be proprietary, Google URL Shortener isn’t for you. But it’s a good option for journalists who want a very simple way to track what’s happening to their links after they tweet them or tout them with a Facebook post.

3. Become more visible on Google News

News organizations can’t afford to miss out on the referral possibilities from Google News aggregation, so Google’s Natalie Gross offered best practices for making sure the crawler picks up your stories as efficiently as possible — by submitting a Google News Sitemap, for example.

Publishers should also be aware of keyword metatags to emphasize subject matter that might not be obvious from certain headlines (see: “WALL ST. LAYS AN EGG”) and the standout tag, which can be used up to seven times per week for significant stories.

Related: Google gathers tools for journalists in one spot

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Sam Kirkland is Poynter's digital media fellow, focusing on mobile and social media trends. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a digital editor,…
Sam Kirkland

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