Wall Street Journal SEO director advises a focus on core content to win at AI search

By Sonali Verma


Toronto, Ontario, Canada


If — after reading my recent newsletter and blog about the good and bad news of AI-powered search — you’re worrying about the impact of search generative experience (SGE), you’ll want to hear from Edward Hyatt, director of SEO at The Wall Street Journal. 

Hyatt, who appeared at an INMA Webinar recently, pointed out that AI-powered search is focused on commodity news.

A look at search generative experience on Google.
A look at search generative experience on Google.

“The question is how to provide something that nobody else can provide — more scoops, more in-depth analysis. Google will provide answers for generic stuff,” Hyatt said.

In other words, understand deeply what it is that makes your publication and its content distinctive.

“While commodity news is easy to summarise for AI — and easy for other publishers to mirror — exclusive and high-quality journalism is not. Focusing on the never-ending parade of trending topics is not the answer to Generative AI and the new landscape of search. It’s the production of meaningful journalism that is audience-first.

“Our strategy is to really focus on core coverage. We will provide something that Google can’t do itself. Trying to shoot for the moon on every single topic and story is not going to play in this new world.”

Google actually wants high-quality content, he said, pointing to criteria used in search engine optimisation (SEO) and adding that Google favours results that provide high-quality, authoritative coverage. 

In other words, our instincts as journalists to write well about topics we know well are perfectly aligned with the future state of the Internet. We simply have to ensure those topics are also aligned with our audience’s interests.

“Focus on your brand and the type of content that your audience — your existing subscription base — and your future audience find valuable,” Hyatt said. “If you have valuable stuff, Google will show that. Our exclusives perform really well.”

Hyatt suggested checking to see which content is most at risk from SGE and then optimising it — but also ensuring the content is not being crawled by GenAI platforms as training data. 

“You want your content to be indexed by Google and other major tech firms, but do you really want to help them build a product for free and get little traffic back in return? Making news costs money. Don’t give it away.”

Building trust with readers is vital, as are using images in search and possibly changing the format of an article, say, from text to video, and creating a subscription journey for the reader that works well with search.

He also spoke of search intent: “You have to understand what users really want when they go into search and meet them where they are.” 

Most SGE features include the bar at the bottom that encourages readers to ask a follow-up question, which can be valuable in understanding reader intent. Readers could interact with these questions and provide “great fodder for understanding what audiences care about.” 

Hyatt was speaking 10 days before Yahoo and Perplexity both said they will look at search intent, in real time, when evaluating whether to present a user with AI-powered search result summaries or an old-fashioned list of blue links.

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About Sonali Verma

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