Discussing/insulting newspaper business models is all the rage these days. Danny Sullivan has had some choice words for the whole “let’s give Google the noindex finger” thing and a few weeks ago Chris Silver Smith offered some SEO advice for local newspapers. Given how on-trend the subject is I thought it might be useful to offer some complementary advice to Chris’ recommendations.
Certainly all newspaper sites should be figuring out how to rank well for news searches and Chris covers how to do this pretty well. The problem is that ranking for news searches is probably not the best business model (the CPMs for holiday traffic accident queries are probably not that great after all) and if that’s your main online marketing strategy then you are falling into the same trap that got your industry where it was in the first place.
I have provided SEO help to some of the largest newspapers in the country. A big problem I typically see (and not just with newspapers) is that these companies have a huge focus on their core business and not so much on how to make money online.
Sure, newspapers are trying to figure out how to maximize the revenue from their web content, but the focus always seems to be how to get more people to read the article so they can generate more impressions to satisfy their advertisers. They often have partnerships with other companies to offer other high value content like classifieds, real estate, jobs, etc., but these bolt-on sections seem to get little more than banner ads from other parts of the site. And the implementations are usually botched from an SEO standpoint because either the partner or the client didn’t know what they were doing to make the content search-friendly.
I once told the digital execs of a big paper that if they all died and some of the SEO guys I know inherited their business they wouldn’t spend much time trying to make the best news product—they would more than likely try to figure out how to exploit their most valuable asset (aka their domain) in search and social media. If twenty-two-year-olds sitting in their bedrooms with no brand and no media experience can make hundreds of thousands of dollars/month in AdSense revenue with 99% profit margins, surely a big trusted domain could hit the ball out of the park from a revenue standpoint.
Now before everyone jumps down my throat and starts calling me a filthy spammer, let me provide some more detail—then you can call me a filthy spammer. Without further ado, here’s how newspaper sites can use search to start making more money in just minutes a day (and perhaps get a free set of Ginsu knives thrown in too):
A newspaper’s domain should be able to rank well for almost any local query. By default, newspaper sites have a lot of SEO factors working in their favor. They get a lot of links from other authoritative local sites. They generate a lot of content so they typically have links with a wide variety of anchor text. They usually have been around for a long time so their domains are well-trusted in Google. And many of them have a city name in their root domain (e.g. miamiherald.com). So in theory they should be able to rank well for a lot of city + keyword searches.
Newspapers should work harder to leverage their natural keywords. Newspapers don’t seem to understand the value of a keyword. Talk to any affiliate marketer and the first thing they want to know before they build a site is how big the payout per lead is. Once you know which products/keywords make the most amount of money, you build content to attract relevant searches. I am not suggesting that newspapers need to start running stories about the acai berry or herbal viagra, but there are plenty of high value queries that they could logically tie into the content they are already running. While I typically see SEO advice on how to write headlines to target high volume queries, how many publishers are also factoring in the monetary value into their keyword research? Which brings me to…
Newspapers should launch a yellow pages site and link to it effectively. A number of companies provide “yellow pages in a box” solutions complete with monetization. Services like Local.com’s PremierGuide, MojoPages and ShowMeLocal can get you up and running in minutes with well-SEO’d yellow pages solutions. These systems on strong local domains can generate a nice amount of organic traffic quickly at CPMs that are much greater than the average newspaper CPM. A well monetized general local search site should be able to hit $25-30CPMs without trying too hard. The phrase “DUI attorney Los Angeles” is currently going for $34/click on Google. How hard do you think it would be for the LA Times to rank for this query?
The problem is that most news sites do a bare minimum of linking to these pages, typically with a link module provided by the vendor. An intern working a couple of hours/day could improve the targeted linking to these pages from article pages that rank well for related local terms (e.g. linking from a news story about dentists to a local dentist directory page. This could quickly add up to more traffic and more money. After all, one visitor to a local dentist directory page is probably equal to 100x more value than a visitor to a page about the local Thanksgiving turkey trot race.
This strategy should works pretty well for classifieds, jobs, real estate and other similar partner sites.
Target your competitors’ brands. Local media brands love to obsess over their rankings vs. their competitors’ for local head terms such as city + weather. While these terms drive decent traffic, often these local media sites get a lot of search traffic for queries for their brand (e.g. “ny dailynews sports”). It wouldn’t be very hard to create a few pages that target these high volume branded queries and rank either ahead of or right behind your competition in the SERPs. Ok, this may not make you millions, but it will steal some traffic from your competition and even better, it will really annoy them.
Start a skunk works. Many successful websites are extremely simple. Some are little more than blogs. I started my blog for a grand total of a couple of hundred bucks and with a little hard work it now ranks for queries worth considerably more. A smart software developer and a smart marketer with access to a powerful domain could probably come up with a number of local content ideas that could do well in search, make money and perhaps even spawn new businesses for the newspaper. I imagine if you gave a team of two smart twenty-two-year-olds access to your domain and said their goal was to make 5x their salaries from search over the next year, they could do some amazing things with it. They might even come up with a business model that will save the company. Proceed with caution, of course, because you don’t want them doing anything that will upset the Google gods.
Naturally, all of this is easier said than done. But these local media companies have ignored search for too long and recent industry rhetoric implies that search is local media’s enemy. Smart local marketers know that search is their friend. It’s time that newspapers figured this out.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.