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January 15, 2007

Newspaper Mantra 2007: Give Them What They Google

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The Wall Street Journal (via WebProNews) comments that while Belgian newspapers are doing their best to get out of Google’s index, newspapers in the United Kingdom have decided to become intelligently proactive. They’re optimizing their sites and launching effective paid search campaigns to help them rank better for the terms users are most likely to be searching for.

The WSJ notes:

"The Daily Telegraph, for example, bought the phrase “North Korea Nuclear Test” after the country detonated a nuclear device last October. People in the United Kingdom and the U.S. using English-language Google who typed the phrase into the search engine saw an ad for the Telegraph Web site on the top right of their screen."

As long as it’s done intelligently, pay per click campaigns are 100 percent worthwhile for newspaper sites. By design, newspapers should be writing about topics that readers are most apt to be searching for. Forgive the vapid nature of this example, but when the whole Michael Richards debacle was going on (I know), savvy news sites ran pay per click campaigns that focused on securing those high traffic search terms they knew searchers would be using. For example, when a searcher performed a query for "Michael Richards" or "Kramer Laugh Factory" they saw the site’s ad in the paid search section, which linked back to that site’s coverage of the situation. Newspapers leveraged the explosive nature of the situation to bring targeted users into the site and saw its effectiveness. Smart.

It can be a highly efficient process considering it’s fairly easy to guess which terms users are most apt to type into their search box. By aggressively targeting those keywords into your pay per click campaign, you help put your story in front of an audience who is already salivating for it.

The brand effects of launching such campaigns are obvious. Though The Daily Telegraph may be widely read in the UK, its audience isn’t quite so large in the United States. Having pages appear in the sponsored section of the engines’ index, as well as in the organic side, helps to strengthen a site’s credibility and image, enabling users to associate "finding news" with "Site X".

But no good deed goes unpunished.

Everyone knows if it bleeds, it leads, but what I don’t want to see is newspapers just giving readers what they google (sorry, Google trademark team). It’s one thing for newspaper sites to keep the engines in mind while optimizing content, but it’s another for them to try and manipulate the system. Quality should never be sacrificed for rankings, regardless if its search engine optimization, pay per click, or spouse selection.

I received my BA in print and multimedia journalism, so I have a lot of respect for the system and for the "real" journalists (as opposed to the fake blogging kind) out there who cover the stories that matter and educate the masses. I never want to read something and think that the story was covered or written a certain way because those are the terms that receive a high level of traffic. That would be very saddening.

There’s a difference between speaking the language of your potential audience and keyword stuffing. There’s also a fine line between giving readers what they want and giving readers what the engines respond to. I don’t even want to see newspapers trying to find a medium there. Newspapers are supposed to inform and that should be their goal. Use the Web to target a new audience, but don’t sacrifice your mission.

Newspapers are just starting to play with using pay per click campaigns in order to grab and entice readers. There’s a great potential for good and to help expose readers to the information they’re already after. I just hope it continues to be about that, where the newspaper sites continue to view readers as their customers, not the search engines. Otherwise, I’m moving to Belgium.





One response to “Newspaper Mantra 2007: Give Them What They Google”

  1. Schuyler Haussmann writes:

    Mrs Barone, thank you for expressing a balanced opinion on the relationship between paper press and google. Really. Should you be forced to exile in Belgium, it will be my pleasure to invite you to a good “cornet” of fries. In the name of King Albert.



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