As the influence of search on Web users’ habits increases, understanding how to create content optimized for search engines is increasingly important. That is especially true for professional communicators who create online content.
In news, media companies have hired search engine optimization professionals and are training journalists at all levels of the organization to write in a way that search engines can easily digest. Recent data from Hitwise indicate that search engines are responsible for more than 25 percent of traffic to news sites.
Tribune Company, for example, increased its traffic from search engines from 14 million monthly visits to 34 million in two years by optimizing its content. When Boston.com, the The Boston Globe‘s website, was on the cutting edge of SEO in 2007 it was ranked by Nielsen as the fourth most-trafficked news site in the country despite ranking 15 in print circulation. Executives attributed that ranking to SEO.
In the online world, where pageviews equal money, SEO translates into profitable growth. Tribune achieved its growth with the help of a full-time SEO professional, but the responsibility to create search engine-ready headlines and content is spread throughout the company. It is another way that journalists are becoming more responsible for driving traffic to their content.
For newspapers, this often means leaving catchy headlines for the print edition because they only serve to confuse search engines. As blogger Patrick Thornton writes, “Headline writing (in print) is treated as an art form, where editors work tirelessly to find the most creative headlines. Headline writing on the Web is a science.” As a result, many newspapers now write separate headlines for the Web that are rich with keywords that users are likely to enter. That means writing “Michael Jackson dead” instead of “King of Pop dead at Hollywood home”.
Some journalists think that writing for search engines is peddling for traffic — and some sites have been accused of doing so. But Brent D. Payne, who oversees Tribune’s SEO efforts, argues that writing for search engines isn’t as much of breach of the journalist’s code as some make it out to be. He argues that good SEO is just another way to draw readers in.
“Consider the news stand of today. Even though you write a great article, if no one sees that article it doesn’t really matter,” Payne said in a case study published by Wordtracker. “Online you can take a news stand and put it in the middle of Times Square by doing good SEO, or you can take your news stand and stick it in the middle of Kansas by doing no SEO. It’s your choice.”
That’s why some journalism schools are beginning to integrate SEO into the classroom. In fact, Robert Niles, who writes at Online Journalism Review, argued recently that writing for search engines can be as important as AP style for student journalists.
“SEO provides the key to reaching an audience not motivated by existing print brands, including younger readers and readers outside a publication’s traditional search area — folks who might not know to seek out a newspaper website, but who would nevertheless be interested in its content,” Niles wrote.
Additionally, many of the techniques employed by search engine optimization experts resemble techniques that have long been taught at journalism schools. That’s because for many in the SEO profession, writing clearly in the inverted pyramid format is one of the first steps in getting a website to the top of Google’s pages.
How much time should journalists be expected to spend on SEO and how much are journalists responsible for the traffic they generate? If SEO has a place in journalism schools, should it be taught in Web design courses like other Web technology or as a part of writing classes, just like AP style? Does search engine optimization matter to news organizations of all size or just big organizations that cover stories that garner significant search volume? Do news organizations that employ SEO employ methods to turn casual visitors into regular ones?
Twitter — just like most social networks — becomes more useful as you connect with more users. But finding those users can be tough for a newbie.
Other social networks have created tools that automatically generate lists of users to connect with based on a user’s habits, but Twitter has yet to generate a similar tool.
Google’s Follow Finder, launched in April, attempts to tackle this problem. The service works by analyzing the Twitter users you’re already connected with against the people other Twitter users are connected with, and attempts to find similarties.
A company representative explained how the tool works in the official Google Blog: “The lists in Google Follow Finder are generated using public following and follower lists on Twitter. For example, if you follow CNN and the New York Times on Twitter, and most people who follow CNN and the New York Times also tend to follow TIME, we’ll suggest TIME as a ‘Tweep you might like.’”]]>
in the first quarter of 2010, according to data released this month from comScore. That’s 15 percent higher than during the same period of 2009, an indicator to some that the online advertising market is growing.]]>
in the New York area, according to a memo distributed by New York Times executives. The figure is from the 2009 Mendelsohn Affluent Head of Household Survey, and has been cited often in the Times‘ ongoing newspaper war with the Wall Street Journal.]]>
Now it’s liberating, in a way, that newspapers have dissolved, because we can go back to writing inside baseball. Our readers love it. We love it. And there’s actually money to be made in it becuase it’s specialized information.
— Mary Jacoby, a former newspaper reporter and founder of Main Justice, a niche site that covers the U.S. Department of Justice, in an interview with the The Nieman Journalism Lab]]>