Sunday, February 13, 2011

Is SEO the future of news?

Media companies looking to make money from online viewers have turned to search engine optimization to drive traffic to their websites.
SEO is used by respected news organizations as well as upstart companies who game the system with low-quality content.
Increasingly media and news organizations are writing articles based on search queries – in other words, information people are looking for online.
Old-school news organizations base the articles they publish on what’s in the public interest – things the public should know to keep up on how the government and private sector are impacting their lives.
But in the age of SEO-driven news, more articles are based on trivial things like Christina Aguilera botching the National Anthem at the Super Bowl or the upcoming royal wedding of William and Kate.
Search engine optimization could contribute to a dumbing down of news. Maybe this is part of the slow and steady slide toward “Idiocracy.”
Newspapers used to define what news was. But now the public is in control via their search queries on Google and elsewhere. But a lot of those queries are for lowest common denominator news like celebrity gossip.
News organizations always have had to balance giving the public what it needs vs. what it wants. That means nutritious (good for you) stories along with junk food (bad for you) stories.
Sadly respected news organizations are devoting more resources these days to junk food stories. For instance, USA Today has five journalists assigned to Congress and 27 covering entertainment.

SEO in the news

Search engine optimization and its impact on the news business have been hot topics lately.
AOL earlier this month purchased the Huffington Post, a new-media firm known for exploiting SEO to generate traffic to its website, for a lofty $315 million.
That deal comes on the heels of Demand Media launching a successful initial public offering of its stock that raised $151 million in January.
Demand Media is considered a “content farm” for cranking out thousands of poorly researched and written articles designed solely to generate hits on its websites, including eHow and Answerbag.
Just five years old, Demand Media is worth more than the New York Times Co., based on market capitalization.
Another content farm, Associated Content, was purchased by Yahoo last year.
Some pundits worry that SEO-driven news devalues journalism and will push more journalists into the low-wage sector of the economy. An op-ed article in the Los Angeles Times makes such a claim.
It’s not a pretty picture for the future of journalism.

Web links:

“Web Words That Lure the Readers” (New York Times; Feb. 10, 2011)

“HuffPo’s Achilles’ Heel: Search engine optimization won’t work forever” (Slate; Feb. 8, 2011)

“Good news for journalism: no way is Demand Media really worth more than the New York Times” (Virtual Economics; Jan. 28, 2011)

“The New York Times, Demand Media Edition” (Search Engine Land; Jan. 27, 2011)

“In Demand: A week inside the future of journalism” (Columbia Journalism Review; Nov.-Dec. 2010)

“Hitting Pay Dirt on Content Farms Is All About the Traffic” (AdvertisingAge: Nov. 15, 2010)

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