Lately publishers everywhere seem to be jumping on the bandwagon of condemnation with Google as the primary target. And really, at first glance, who can blame them?
Google has been earning record profits while newspapers are struggling to pay the rent and make payroll each month. These newspaper publishers feel like Google is making money off of their content, which is distributed for free through Google News. It’s true that Google News delivers hundreds of thousands of news stories to readers each day, and its true that its all free. But honestly, it’s the publishers who made it that way, not Google. Over a decade ago, Newspapers (with a few notable exceptions) made a decision that, in 20/20 hindsight, was akin to shooting themselves in the foot.
In their rush to open up the online world and build their audience, publishers made a deal. Google came to them and said, we will deliver hundreds of thousands of readers if you play by our rules – the rules of SEO.
Publishers are in the business of making money. When I first got into the business of print media (as a journalist), my publisher told me that his job was to sell the magazine’s audience, not its content, to advertisers. With this mentality firmly in place throughout the industry, Newspaper publishers everywhere thought Google’s offer was a win-win proposal.
However, publishers did not count on the sheer volume of information that would be available. Right now, there are 2,094 news stories about todays’ session on climate chance in Copenhagen. If you wanted the news, you could click-through to a dozen different sources and you would probably forget which newspapers you read before you finished. Advertisers are not willing to pay for such a fickle audience, and so advertising rates continue to plummet and ad inventory continues to sit empty.
Publishers cannot blame Google for this. Google lived up to their end of the bargain. They delivered the audience. Google has even taken it one step further and said that it is their moral imperative to help the newspaper industry.
Publishers simply failed to build any loyalty within that audience.
However, there are a few newspapers who are bucking the trend. In the UK, the Daily Mirror’s publisher Matt Kelly (who has a background as a journalist, not an ad sales person) is putting SEO in its place – the back seat.
His theory is simple – Yes, search engine traffic is important, but it is not omnipotent.
The Mirror has launched millions of dollars (pounds) in new projects that are designed to reduce the paper’s reliance on SEO and build audience loyalty. The paper just launched two highly successful new websites and they continue to operate with only 10%-15% of their traffic originating from search engines.
Now, I am in no way saying that publishers should block Google – quite the opposite in fact. Use SEO, but use it to your advantage. Build an audience and keep them coming back for more. Produce content that begs to be emailed around. Make you audience passionate about your publication.
Basically, build your brand.