Man Boobs, Incest, Sarah Palin and how The Times does SEO

Mariana Bettio has charts, and she is not afraid to use them.

Twice a day, The Times reports internally on what people are searching for and the results are astonishing. People are searching for Man Boobs and arriving at The Times Online - and the highest influx is from Pakistan. It turns out that Google ranks traditional media highly… and then, suddenly, the hits stopped coming. The Man Boob flood has rescinded.

Were people suddenly less interested in Man Boobs? Apparently not, according to Google Trends. The rise and fall of such trends is often inexplicable, and how much of that search traffic is driven to any given site doubly so. Another story on The Times ranks highly in searches for Brother Sister Sex; the story in question having a large number of comments, mostly - but not all - negative. Still, the influx of traffic from search is at a constantly high level.

It’s well known that search-traffic spikes occur in line with news about current affairs - sometimes even ahead of a breaking story. Some of this information is a stock-traders dream; searches for Bradford and Bingley spiked shortly before it was common knowledge that they were in trouble.

The knowledge of what people are searching for can be useful to drive investigative journalism - writing for the market that people are interested in. More to the point, you can also use search-knowledge to predict who’s going to win X-Factor - a bookies dream for odds-setting?

Charting hot-topic buzzwords is interesting as well - you are, in fact, charting the Buzz itself. The Times Online can (and presumably does) use this information to refocus their story-writing efforts. Of course, care must be taken not to write articles that are not interesting to the motivations of those that search, so Google Trend data should be treated differently from search data on your own site.

SEO is not without wide-reaching burden. Whilst search data is used to suggest topics, it is also used retro-actively to boost the results of relevant articles. The modern journalist needs to be aware of how to write in an SEO friendly manner, and not all take to this with ease. Ladening a headline with keywords can be important - but it still has to make sense! With 150 to 200 articles a day published and 20 million articles on archive, it’s a mammoth task to apply SEO pro-actively and retrospectively.

Once you have relevant traffic and engaged visitors, keeping them engaged with further relevant content is no easy task - often done manually. The technology to provide related content automatically is new, but Zemanta comes highly recommended by the crowd.

Conclusion: The Times, they are a changin’…

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This entry was posted on Saturday, October 4th, 2008 at 3:23 pm and is filed under Sessions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “Man Boobs, Incest, Sarah Palin and how The Times does SEO”

  1. Chris Says:

    Yes this is common practise, and I must admit I have adopted this for about 10 years probably, and in various niche areas. Yes, it works, yes you follow a buzz and publish on trends.

    But there is grave downside.

    When we live in a world that is based on “page value” (the latest buzz or trend and page constructed for it, potent ad revenue and search placment) we could possibly be moving farther away from significant broad-based reporting due to funding reduction in un-popular subjects.

    Broadsheets are becoming narrow sheets in the sense of diminished journalist funding in non trendy areas…

    Who will finance the research and journalism in the important subjects rather than the latest blu-ray release, or celeb gossip?

  2. Tom Whitwell Says:

    Chris - the point isn’t that everyone has to write about celebrities - the internet and search means that you can find a vast audience for really niche subjects, if your stories are good and your site is structured in a way that people can find their way to those articles (via search/links etc)
    Online means the subject matter is much broader, not narrower - at The Times we have blogs which publish thousands of words about relatively niche subjects - the Anglican community in Britain, obscure political minutae, French politics/culture and many more - that would never have been published in a broadsheet newspaper where space is limited.

  3. Chris Says:

    Tom, yes, you can find an audience for niche areas, but unless that page is significant in ad revenue and readership economics dictate that it will not be resourced. Metrics allows us to know precisely what a story is worth now.

    “As newspapers have lost readers and advertising revenues to Web sites, for instance, they’ve been forced to lay off reporters and other professionals. A study by the American Society of Newspaper Editors found that between 2001 and 2005 the newsroom staff of US paper declined by 4 percent with a new loss of 1,000 reporters, 1,000 editors, and 300 photographers and artists. “Web 2.0 and the Net in general have been disasters for my profession,” says Philip Dawdy, an award winning journalist for the Seattle Weekly. “Newspapers are dying. Talented people are being forced into public relations work”.

    In early 2007, the US Department of Labour released a revealing set of statistics on the publishing and broadcasting business as a whole. Employment in the industry had fallen by 13 percent in the six years since 2001, with nearly 150,000 jobs lost. These were years when many media companies, as well as their customers and advertisers, had been shifting from physical media to the Internet. Yet the report revealed that there had been no growth in Internet publishing and broadcasting jobs. In fact, online employment had actually dropped 29 percent, from 51,500 to 36,600 during the period. “The Internet is the wave of the future,” commented New York Times economics writer Floyd Norris. “Just don’t try to get a job in it.”

    ” - 2008 Nicholas Carr, The Big Switch, pages 134, 135

    A very good read I would recommend.

    Don’t get me wrong I am not a socialist, of course increased efficiency and reduced labour costs is generally “good business”, but I repeat a page value model will not support, and maintain research where there is no market. In my business I will not pay for research into articles which bring little traffic or low readership.

    In addition the Internet might actually breed narrower choice due to a user being able to filter out content that doesn’t interest one, we may be loosing something by not being presented with information as we are in newspapers. A newspaper actually forces you to read the headlines and content which you may not naturally migrate to. If fact research here also does suggest we migrate to our own interests, and content that bolsters our opinion and pre-conceived ideas. Also, website profiling (cookies) funnels us even more. We are not presented with more choice from Amazon on each successive visit but tighter more focussed content based on our last browse.

    It’s a good healthy debate to have.

  4. Chris Says:

    More on this here:

    http://adage.com/mediaworks/article?article_id=131569

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