Optimizing News for Searchers, Search Engines & News Publishers

While content is central to news publishers’ value proposition, you could say that distribution is a close second. Before the Internet, consumers either got their news from a newspaper, a magazine, or a TV broadcast (and word of mouth, but for our purposes, we’ll stick with the media versions).

These media channels are essentially “push” distribution vehicles delivering, at scale, a produced and edited unit – the news – for mass consumption. Even if consumers wanted to engage with multiple news sources, it’s difficult to read five newspapers in a day or watch three separate news broadcasts simultaneously.

This paradigm changed dramatically with the advent of the Internet, as readers could now easily read snippets of news from various sources with a few clicks of the mouse. You could scan the front pages of several newspapers, or even more simply, scan the headlines on a news aggregation site in a matter of seconds to get a quick feel for what is happening in the world. Furthermore, if there was a single big story that day, you could read through dozens of articles on the same subject for different angles and tidbits.

With this paradigm shift, news distribution has evolved into being more of a “pull” mechanism, where consumers are in greater control of what news they consume and how they consume it. News discovery has evolved beyond deciding which TV station to watch; consumers can request information on particular subjects and they’ll come right to your computer screen. Search plays a critical role in this discovery process, and when analyzing the data, some notable patterns emerge.

News Search Optimization – Search Engines vs. News Sites

Keeping up on news search optimization is a daunting task for any news publisher or marketer. With the news business being so dynamic, it’s hard enough keeping up on all of the latest news stories, let alone optimizing your search campaigns to capitalize on breaking news at a moment’s notice.

SEO and SEM professionals at these organizations are constantly trying to come up with evergreen architecture and techniques to maximize their exposure as events unfold. Although this is often the most pressing concern with news search, there is an overlooked area worth paying attention to as well:

  • Is the way that searchers look for news on search engines any different than the way they look for news on news websites?
  • Is there anything we can learn from this that would allow us to better prioritize our marketing efforts?

News-related searching has ballooned over the past few years, both on search engines and on news sites, but how people search on these different sites and what they search for differs greatly.

For the purposes of this research, search engines are defined as the big 5 web searches – Google web search, Yahoo web search, Bing web search, AOL web search, and Ask web search – while news site search includes the six largest news sites based on their search totals – Yahoo-ABC News Network, Google News, Bing News, NYTimes.com, CNN.com, and MSNBC.com.

In February 2012, U.S. searchers conducted 371 million news related searches on search engines, as defined by comScore’s intent categorization methodology, which accounted for 2.3 percent of all search engines searches performed during the month.

But searches performed on non-search engine news sites actually outdistanced search engines news search, totaling 581 million searches in February. Although search engines play an integral role in the news discovery process, the actual news providers and aggregators are still leading the pack.

Behaviorally speaking, it appears that consumers of news data are still more likely to go directly to a “news” specific search engine than they are to run news searches on search engines themselves. The vertical nature of these sites appears to resonate with the searchers, as news searchers are less interested in extraneous results for their news searches that they may get on the broader search engines (e.g., Whitney Houston CDs being sold right next to the news article they want to read regarding her funeral).

News Search Behavior Reflects Search Context

With a review of the actual terms that news searchers use on these different types of search sites, we can see a distinct difference in the intent of the searchers. Search engine news searches focus heavily on a particular news destination.

Within the top 25 search terms driving traffic to News/Information sites in February, half referred to specific news destinations, such as “CNN”, “TMZ”, “Fox News”, and “MSNBC.” The searchers clearly want to be taken to a news specific destination to consume their news.


Search terms driving traffic to news sites from search engines – February 2012

News site searchers, on the other hand, focus almost exclusively on the content they’re interested in because they are already at their intended news destination. The search term lists pulled from news site search isn’t cluttered with branded news destinations, they are solely about stories and topics of interest.

Celebrity name searching is a particular favorite, dominating the Top 25 list. If this data is any indication, it becomes abundantly clearly why the Paparazzi follow celebrities everywhere they go, U.S. consumers are obsessed with reading about them!

Using Search Intelligence to Win Long Term News Brand Loyalty

Based on the intelligence available, there are opportunities for news publishers and marketers to better allocate their advertising resources that could drive better click-through rates and engagement.

When searchers are on search engines, they focus very heavily on finding a branded news destination first, before searching for a particular news story. So anything that can be done to better brand your news destination site could potentially drive much greater long term value with search engine searchers. This is not to say that optimizing your news stories to be found on search engines isn’t valuable, but the behavioral inference that they rely heavily on branded news destination search terms can impact your broader marketing efforts.

News searchers type in a news destination first, and then search for specific news stories after arriving on those news sites. Being that the branded destinations are key to the way searchers navigate to news stories from search engines, you have to allocate your marketing resources accordingly across search, display, and video. You don’t want to just be their news destination for today’s stories, but for every day’s stories.

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