YESEO app embraced by newsrooms looking to amp up SEO while keeping data safe

Ryan Restivo

One year after the launch of YESEO — a free Slack app created by Ryan Restivo during his 2022-2023 RJI Fellowship — the app is helping news organizations increase the visibility of their stories through guided search engine optimization.

YESEO has been downloaded into over 400 workspaces in the last year, and it has assisted with over 8,000 stories across the United States, Canada and the world. It supports stories in English as well as 10 other languages.

“Ryan’s work is exactly the kind of success that the RJI Fellowships Program is meant to create,” said Randy Picht, executive director of RJI. “Using that support as a launching pad, he has built an app that has real, immediate benefits for newsrooms looking to grow their audience. There is no better proof of that than the fact that the industry is embracing YESEO.”

For Restivo, the app’s adoption in newsrooms all over the country means that his mission of making SEO more accessible to news organizations of all sizes is well on its way to realization.

“It’s cool that something I’ve put out there is being used by so many people who value it,” Restivo said. “Building something that simplifies how people can get information — lowering the barrier of entry for folks who want to be able to improve their stories — is what I’ve tried to do with everything I’ve built.”

YESEO differentiates itself from other AI-assisted apps with its emphasis on usability for newsrooms, focusing on using machine learning to deliver data on keywords and using ChatGPT to generate headline and subhead suggestions. But most of all, it’s designed to be easy to use and is available on Slack, where news audience workers already are.

One of Restivo’s adventures is learning who has used it and seen value from it. Since it is free, he can only learn about its users after they have installed and tried it.

“I’ve learned so much in the last year since YESEO launched,” Restivo said. “I have been fortunate to learn and tell stories from six different newsrooms of how YESEO has benefited them. Part of the fun is discovering even more from all across the country.”

Planet Detroit, a nonprofit environmental and health equity news organization covering Detroit and the state of Michigan, largely uses the app to create optimized headlines. The outlet’s audience strategist, Jennifer Hack Wolf, said she uses YESEO with more than half the stories that come across her desk.

“[Restivo] has built something really incredible,” Wolf said, noting the app harnesses the creative potential of machine learning without the unwieldy, unfocused nature of a basic chatbot. “It means I don’t have to type in the same prompts over and over again when I’m trying to figure out, what is the SEO headline? What is the SEO description? All of the things that help the reader make sense of a story and help them find a story on search.”

Wolf sees the app as part of a journey toward stronger collaboration in Planet Detroit’s newsroom. She hopes the app will build on its Slack integration — which currently allows users to share their results with colleagues in Slack — to make closer collaboration possible.

“In a small organization, the whole team plays a role in audience,” Wolf said. “As much as possible, I want the reporter who wrote the story and the editor, who has gotten to know the story, to be deeply involved in making these decisions about how people are going to find a story.”

But while Restivo continues to incorporate this kind of feedback into his work on the app, YESEO is also evolving to keep pace with an AI boom that continues to provoke anxieties about what happens to the information that is shared with AI models.

Jane Seidel, the audience analytics manager at nonprofit newsroom Rest of World, said the staff at her organization has had a lot of questions about what would happen to the information shared in YESEO.

“They are asking, when I paste in a story, where does that go?” Seidel said. “Where does that live? Are there data privacy protections in place?”

Rest of World, which, true to its name, covers global tech stories outside the West, is making the most of YESEO’s ability to identify keywords that will increase a story’s online visibility and incorporate them into headlines. This functionality requires users to paste in a story or excerpt.

“I tend to use it when I just don’t know where to start,” Seidel said. “Because our coverage is so wide-ranging — we report on companies I’ve never heard of and regions I’ve never been to — I find it really useful just for getting a rough place to start on a headline or a deck.”

But despite these benefits, concerns and uncertainties remain at a time when AI models continue to become more capable and influential in the industry. By default, when ChatGPT is integrated into an app like YESEO, any data entered into the app is not used to train the model unless the developer chooses to opt in. Restivo does not plan to ever opt in.

Building something that simplifies how people can get information — lowering the barrier of entry for folks who want to be able to improve their stories — is what I’ve tried to do with everything I’ve built.

Ryan Restivo

Still, conversations with YESEO users and potential users have made it clear to him that relying on OpenAI’s policies is not enough. Now, he has taken things a step further.    

“Over the last six months, I have heard concerns from newsrooms about information security,” Restivo said. “That is why I am happy to announce that every story YESEO has processed to date is fully encrypted when stored. Every story, going back to prior to launch is encrypted and protected, so even if someone had unauthorized access before I could block them, they would never be able to get any data from a story.”

On top of that, Slack messages sent through YESEO that are related to a story are encrypted as well.

“It adds less than a second to secure this data, but it is worth it to protect everyone’s story,” Restivo said. “I am looking to protect as much data as possible.”

These measures offer both a very real layer of data security and a sense of peace of mind amid what sometimes feels like the Wild West of the AI era.

It’s also part of Restivo’s effort to keep YESEO laser-focused on what newsrooms need from an SEO tool. The field of news product development has become more prominent as news organizations explore different funding models and new ways to reach audiences, but Seidel said most available tools designed for audience work leave the “news” out of the “product.”

“So many trainings and guidance and tools are built for marketing products, but very few have the needs of news in mind,” Seidel said. “It’s not just about keyword stuffing but actually doing useful SEO that helps Google surface your content to readers who actually want to read your stories.”

One year on from launch, one thing is clear: YESEO, too, is surfacing as it finds its way to news organizations in need of a tool tailored to their work. 

“I’m thankful to Kat Duncan, Randy Picht and RJI for putting me on this journey,” Restivo said. “I came to the fellowship program with an idea and I have learned so much on this adventure — about myself, about the industry — and met so many amazing people on this journey. I’m excited my project continues to help people tell their stories to a wider audience.”

Cite this article

Fitzgerald, Austin (2024, May 2). YESEO app embraced by newsrooms looking to amp up SEO while keeping data safe. Reynolds Journalism Institute. Retrieved from:

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