São Paulo, March 13th 2012 – via Skype
Computerklaus: I`m sure you read the recent happening between the German News-Industry and Google News, whats your comment about that?
Barry Adams: I understand both sides of the story. As someone who’s worked on the publisher’s side of things, I can see how a perception of content ‘theft’ can arise, when publishers see how Google uses its content to feed into its own search results. But at the same time, publishers are not entirely up to date on the sensitivities of the internet and how content distribution works. I think publishers should instead welcome the ‘free’ traffic Google News and similar sources sends to their site, and try to monetize other channels such as specialized news & background stories.
Computerklaus: But what’s the downside of getting Google News generated traffic? According to German publishers, folks enter GN, look at the headlines and get out without clicking? do you think there’s such a user, who enters GN without the intention to click?
Barry Adams: I think the actual Google News portal isn’t used all that much, comparatively, and publishers who focus on that aspect of Google’s traffic are missing the big picture. The inclusion of news stories as universal search elements on regular organic search results, that’s where the real power of Google News lies, and smart online publishers such as the Daily Mail have been very good at capitalizing on that.
Barry Adams: Also, I think publishers should embrace Google News, both in its vertical flavour and as a universal search element, as a potential huge source of basically free traffic. Publishers can profit from Google News more than Google profits from including it.
Computerklaus: And the traffic generated at GN. since it’s little used, doesn’t that mean that`s high quality visitors? I mean the so called “influencers”.
Barry Adams: I would agree that traffic from Google News enjoys a high bounce rate – higher than, say, people who type in a news site’s URL to get their daily news fix – but again dismissing this traffic as useless is missing the point. That traffic basically represents free impressions for your advertisers, and with smart design and targeting you can keep them on your site for much longer than that single page visit. The problem is that most news sites are unwilling to explore those avenues, and seem to only want internet visitors if it is done on their terms.
Also, the potential of retargeting off the back of that single news visit is enormous, and advertisers are willing to pay for that.
Computerklaus: About syndication. You say publishers should explore others sources as well and keep GN open (unblocking the bot) So, basically what publishers do when they block the GN-bot is admitting “we are incompetent and do not have any resources to widen our audience”?
Barry Adams: Pretty much, yes. I’ve seen regional news publishers throw up a country-level paywall – visitors from the local country have full free access, but visitors from abroad need to pay – and I think that is again an example of spectacularly missing the point. If you as a publisher are incapable of monetizing a certain type of traffic, that is not that traffic’s fault – that is your own failing as a publisher.
Computerklaus: About both syndication and original-source Meta-Tags, have you seen them being adopted in the news industry? are those Meta-Tags suitable to REALLY make a difference?
Barry Adams: Original source Meta-Tags, I have seen them adopted by a few news sites, but the jury is still out on whether it’s effective at all. Google has gotten better at ranking original publishers anyway – before the original source tags – so I don’t think these new meta tags have had such a big impact. I think more than anything they’ve served as warnings and discouragement to content scrapers.
Computerklaus: FYI Brazil`s News Paper Association has adopted this GN-Bot blocking policy since November 2010.
Barry Adams: I’d love to see their web analytics from that period onwards. I can imagine their traffic graph looks like the cliffs of Dover.
Computerklaus: Oh! awesome. You should attend one of their meetings. It goes like (according to a trusted source), “we have grown 10%” – when they really dropped 30%.
Barry Adams: We saw it with the Times here in the UK. Their online market-share fell down a hole, and i think that as a news publisher you should want to get your message – your side of the story combined with your advertisers – out there to as many people as possible. A paywall does the exact opposite, and basically ensures you end up with a self-selected, insular audience that already bought in to your message.
Especially here in the UK where newspapers are openly partisan and promote their preferred political ideologies.
Computerklaus: A few years ago, publishers and advertisers killed the CTR for ads as for an acceptable or relevant metric, now do you thing the might be moving towards the murder of impressions? what’s the metric they should look at?
Barry Adams: I think impressions should still be the king of ad metrics, at least on publisher websites. There’s a lot of research suggesting that the presence of advertising for a specific brand – even if no one clicks on it – results in a positive brand image for people who have been exposed to that advertising. The subconscious impact of advertising is rather huge, and represents a value that most advertisers – and publishers – have not yet tapped in to.
Computerklaus: They look mesmerized by Facebook likes – you thing this metric is of any relevance to news?
Barry Adams: Also, I think a lot of advertisers have been lazy, doing the same old type of advertising over and over. More advertisers need to be clever and embrace interactive advertising, which – especially when combined with social media – can make your brand stand out much more.
Likes can be bought, so I wouldn’t focus too much on them. Facebook does provide other metrics such as reach and interaction, and I think those are much more useful, as well as a more accurate representation of your presence on Facebook.
SEO in the news room
Computerklaus: Have you trained news room pros in search engine friendly copy writing?
Barry Adams: I haven’t unfortunately, though I know other news organizations have done so. To be honest I’m a bit ambiguous of this approach. I’m more in favour of the set up we had at the Belfast Telegraph where the journalists write in their usual fashion, and a small team of online editors then adapted the print content for online publishing, complete with SEO’d headlines and internal linking.
Part of my remit was to keep these online editors up to date on all the latest Google algo changes and other technologies that could impact the online visibility of the site.
Computerklaus: I`m careful with this approach too, but remember it is not about teaching those folks how to write – if one had to do so, they would be at the wrong job, it is more about showing them how readers search.
Barry Adams: Agreed, we need to approach journalists carefully and make sure they know we appreciate and admire their craft. It’s more about making sure they understand the potential of search, and what they can do to help their publisher on that front.
Computerklaus: And it is, in my point of view, not for reporters but for editors.
Barry Adams: Exactly.
Computerklaus: Nothing worse than sitting down to write w a bunch of kw to look at. It messes up the whole text.
Barry Adams: Although the Daily Mail has a team of ‘journalists’ (I use the term loosely there) who do exactly that, and I suppose it works for them.
Computerklaus: Do you still read printed media?
Barry Adams: Yes, though much less than before. I have a few magazine subscriptions, but I’d say 95% of my written media consumption happens online.
Whenever I read a good magazine article in print, I often find myself wishing I could leave a public comment on it. Printed media doesn’t allow for this…. yet.
Computerklaus: How do you see cross-media efforts happening? Trying to drive audience from a printed to the online. It’s though to measure those efforts’ success, not?
Barry Adams: I think many media organizations are desperately trying to push people back to print, which is a bit like people laying roads only wanting horse & carts to make use of it. I think a much better strategy would be to embrace online and see what aspects of it you can make profitable. To be honest I see hints of a new model for publishing that combines the best of print & online, in the form of tablets & smart e-paper. Instantly updated and interactive news. I’d pay for that. (In fact, I already pay for it: Wired’s iPad app is a great example).
Computerklaus: Now for a technical issue. Google News is not, as far as I know, SSL encrypted, does it m ean that, when a news slot is exhibited at the universal SERP that click will have its KW recorded? it would kinda put a BIG CHERRY on the top of Google News as far as a traffic source, not?
Barry Adams: If a regular search results includes a News element, and that regular search is encrypted, than when the user clicks on the news result the publisher will see a (not provided).
So alas, Google news is not a method of avoiding SSL search. Only clicks from Google News’s vertical portal are, as of yet, immune to SSL search. Not sure that will last, however. And when Google rolls out SSL for Google News vertical, there will be a huge controversy. Which is probably why they haven’t done it yet.
Computerklaus: How reliable you think that the googlenewsraningfactors.com information is? looks pretty much like a hype a GO GOOGLE effort, not?
Barry Adams: I think it’s about as reliable as any piece of SEO information out there. Which means it’s just another set of best guesses, speculation, derivative information, and maybe’s.
I wrote an article about Google News ranking factors back in 2010, and now half of that stuff is already outdated.
Computerklaus: Barry, concerning the above fold ads. How you think news sites will be impacted by it, if not already?
Barry Adams: I haven’t yet seen any big impacts of that algo change, but I do think news sites need to take heed. Many news sites are plastering ads all over the place in their efforts to make money off of their content (again they’re missing the point), and it really hurts the usability of their website. More ads is not the answer, and I think that’s the point Google is trying to make.
I’ve even see the return of the much-hated in-text ads: automatically generated links on keywords in the text that pop up the moment you hover over it with a mouse. Disastrously bad.
Computerklaus: Have you seen iniciatives such as “my advertiser goes where my piece goes” taking sponsores along with syndicated content. Is this idea any good?
Barry Adams: Yup, seen it on a few occasions. In principle I don’t have a problem with sponsored content or sponsored sections, as long as news publishers are careful not to have their editorial agendas set by their advertisers. Also, cheap (low quality) content doesn’t do anyone any favours. As a publisher it cheapens your brand and reputation, and it doesn’t provide much financial benefit either.
I would recommend publishers note sponsored content as such – a little disclaimer at the top of an article suffices – and readers will be grateful.
We all understand news sites need to make money somehow, but deceiving your readers is not the right way of doing that.
Computerklaus: Google News is about to complete its 10th year since entering beta, can you point out two changes it made and you saw with good or really bad eyes?
Barry Adams: Well…
Computerklaus: …and two you`d love to see happening.
Barry Adams: Resuming, GN’s recent advanced personalization has, for me as a user, been very beneficial – I can now tell GN to keep the crappy tabloids out of my news feeds, which has done wonders for my general mood.
Also the moment GN started feeding in to the regular search as a universal element, that was HUGE for publishers. I think they don’t appreciate that Google didn’t HAVE to do that, but it did, and in doing so did publishers an enormous favour.
I’d like to see GN’s feeding in to regular search be a little more intelligent – right now it’s more or less a simplistic keyword matching algo – and thus take the wind out of the sails of some of the low quality tabloid that capitalize on trending topics without adding any news value. I’d also like GN to purposefully include opposite vierwpoints compared to the one I favour – I’m a left-wing kind of guy, but I’m a little wary of the Filter Bubble as described by Eli Pariser, and I’d like to see Google help burst that bubble.
A final thought: Google News as a bit of a bastard child right up until Google decided to include it in universal search, and that made it a Really Big Deal. Publishers should thank Google for the chance to get their content in front of the wider audience, and should be smart about finding ways to monetize it.
Journalists and bloggers
Computerklaus: In the US, bloggers have recently been given the same status as journalists any comment?
Barry Adams: I think it’s great, to be honest. I don’t think one needs a journalism degree to be able to report on news and investigate issues, so I think expanding the protection of journalists to all online publishers – regardless of affiliations with news organizations – is a good thing. It opens up the inline discourse even more, and while I don’t think it puts bloggers on an equal footing with journalists in all aspects, it does help with the credibility of online-only media.
The line between blogger and journalist is often a blurry one anyway, nowadays.
Computerklaus: And you think they will be held responsible for what they write down, I see this change of status being pretty much for that matter. In Brazil you could easily sue a journo or a paper… but not a blogger.
Barry Adams: I think bloggers get called out for writing disinformation just as often – if not more often – than regular journalists. A blog usually has a comment functionality, and if a blogger publishes untruths, very often the comment section will fill up with criticism quite easily.
I don’t think either should be sued at all, except in extreme cases. Freedom of speech is pretty important in my book, and libel & slander laws should not be used to silence criticism.
Instead the criticized should fight back with reasoned arguments and engage in public discourse.
Barry Adams is the Senior Digital Marketer for Search at Pierce Communications in Belfast, where he provides online marketing services for a wide range of clients across Ireland and the UK. Barry specialises in search engine optimisation (SEO) and is well-known in the wider UK SEO community through the blogs he contributes to (State of Search and Search News Central), his activities on the UK SEO conference circuit, and his prolific twittering.
Prior to moving to Northern Ireland from the Netherlands, Barry worked as a web consultant for SMEs and corporate webmaster for large multinationals Honeywell and Philips. Before joining Pierce Communications, Barry provided SEO and digital marketing consultancy services to the Northern Irish properties of the Independent News & Media group: the Belfast Telegraph, nijobfinder.co.uk, nicarfinder.co.uk, and Propertynews.com