Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The New Math: Putting Numbers to Work for You

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The New Math: Putting Numbers to Work for You

Article excerpt

As newspapers enter 2008, only one major aspect of the industry will surely show true growth this year: online ad revenue. Topping publishers' New Year's resolutions was wringing as much money as possible out of the Web. This, of course, largely hinges on traffic.

There are many ways to goose the numbers, including the addition of video, podcasts, and blogs, not to mention breaking stories and providing intelligent commentary. But publishers are also quietly tweaking content -- under the hood, that is -- to make stories place higher in search-engine results. This strategy entails crafting headlines and ledes in certain ways to ensure that search-engine crawlers lock onto certain words, for better search-engine results. Of course, it's far more complicated than that -- but in the following story, E&P explores how search engine optimization (SEO) gets done, and why.

Yet any surge in traffic -- if it's not accounted for correctly and credibly -- could be a wash, and collating that user data is a science all its own. In part two of this feature, we examine how newspaper Web traffic is accounted for and tallied. Site-centric and panel-based metrics each have their benefits and drawbacks. E&P sat down with Nielsen Online's Manish Bhatia, president of global services, to learn exactly how its panel-based data-gathering service works.

Part One: Putting Numbers to Work for You

There have been some uncomfortable mumblings of late amid the fanfare surrounding newspaper Web traffic. Since the Newspaper Association of America started keeping tabs on monthly unique users, average time spent per person, and the number of page views -- all increasing in importance as circulation slumps -- the organization has been able to tout some astounding growth rates.

"More than 59.6 million people visited newspaper Web sites in July 2007, a 9% increase over the same period a year ago and the second-largest monthly audience since NAA began tracking these numbers in 2004," blared a press statement released by the association in late October.

Buried in the data, tracked by Nielsen Online, is that the most recent monthly traffic numbers actually show a slowdown. In September, total newspaper traffic year-over-year fell slightly, down around half a percent to 58,160,363 visitors.

That could be a blip, the general nature of news cycles, or it could point to a plateau in traffic. Regardless, publishers are relying on their online properties now more than ever to pick up the slack from the ailing print side. Traffic is the currency of the Internet -- and if newspapers want to reap more revenue, the number of hits needs to grow, and keep growing.

So what are news-papers doing to get more online readers? Providing more content is one way to net more visitors. Videos, podcasts, blogs, chats with the city editor, and the ability to comment on stories all play a role.

Equally important, however, is the ability for newspapers to tweak the back-end data so they get the most bang for their dollars for that content. It's here behind the curtain where newspapers are beginning to fiddle with how that content fans out across the Web -- through search engine optimization (SEO).

SEO is a way for Web sites to push their links higher up on search results, increasing the probability of people clicking. This differs from paid search, in which specific words are bought in order to ensure placement: On Google, for example, paid search results run on the right-hand side under the heading "Sponsored Links."

SEO is particularly important for the larger papers, especially the nationals. But smaller papers can learn to benefit from it too, if they want to truly dominate their local markets online. Ken Doctor, an affiliate analyst with Outsell Research, points out that as more newspapers form alliances with Yahoo and Google, they need to get more sophisticated in employing this method. …

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