The myth of multiple gateways into a news site

If you run a small town, local community newspaper site, the most important page on your server is your home page.

Take a look at your stats: More than 50 percent, and maybe as much 70 percent of your Web traffic flows to your home page.

Now, some people who think they understand SEO might step forward and say, "Well, you’re just not correctly optimizing your content for Google."

I say, those people don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

It takes a little thought, but if you look at the typical small town newspaper web site, you’ll understand that the content of such sites serves a narrowly focused audience — people who live in that town (and a few stragglers who once lived there).

Now, the occasional story might arise that generates global interest, but on a day-in, day-out basis the content a local newsroom produces is of merely parochial interest.

No matter how well your site is optimized, if few people are searching for Joe Bubba’s DUI arrest, that story isn’t going to show up in Google. It’s the "tree falling in the forest problem." Even if your story is indexed and highly optimized, if nobody ever enters search terms that brings the story to the surface, the story might as well not exist in Google.

And being a small town site, there are likely few if any bloggers who are likely to link to the Joe Bubba story.  I’m sorry, but unless Joe Bubba is somehow tied to Newt Gingrich, neither Instapundit nor Daily Kos is going to link to his arrest, no matter how shocking it is back home.

SEO has its place, but it doesn’t negate the importance of a’s home page.

I don’t have the documents in front of me (and it’s not online as far as I know), but Greg Harmon of Belden once showed me research that indicated about 70 percent of the traffic of a small-circ came from visitors within that paper’s DMA.  In my own observations of traffic patterns in Ventura, Bakersfield, with GateHouse Media and running The Batavian, I would say that’s roughly true.

And it makes sense. Again, the vast majority of content produced by a local newspaper is of purely parochial interest. If your in Los Angeles, you are not going to have much cause to visit the Web site for the Freeport Journal-Standard, unless you were from Freeport, Ill. or had family there.

Local news sites live or die on how well they meet the needs of a local audience.

The same cannot be said for major metro sites, and perhaps this is where some of the confusion comes from on this topic. The bigger the newspaper, the more bloggers there are who follow it’s content, the more often it covers stories of a googable interest, and the bigger its global audience.

This is certainly true of sites such as the New York Times, CNN, Boston Globe and Chicago Tribune, for example. I’ve heard, but have not seen the actual stats, that as much as 70 percent of a major metro’s traffic flows to interior pages.

Expecting that much interior traffic for a small town site is like hoping a banker will turn down his bonus. It’s just not going to happen.

This is why small-circ newspaper publishers need to protect their home pages like Obama clings to his Blackberry.  It is the key to revenue and audience growth. 

Most local publishers have piss-poor home pages, but that’s an issue for another blog post.  But even the worst home page is more valuable than the aggregate of all the internal story pages.  In part, that’s true, because the home page is the only page most of that 70 percent local audience will typically visit. But, again, that’s a topic for another blog post.

Sean Blanda’s search goal: Beat the other Blanda

Sean Blanda is out to own Blanda.  I wish him well. It will be a tough task. (Note on those links: There’s two of them.  The first to his post; the second to help his SEO by linking his root domain to the word he wants to own).

I’ve never set out to own “howard” or “owens” in Google.  I score very poorly in both (I gave up on each after going five pages deep, so I may not show up at all).  My friend Ken Layne used to be the #1 Ken on Google.  That’s like, wow!.  Then he stopped blogging on his personal site for a long time, and even now his blogging is light on the links in and out to other bloggers.  Result: he’s fallen to #6.

Previously: Owning your name in search, variations and nuances

Five easy things journalists can do to help their web sites

Hey, Mr. Reporter, you like your job, right?

You do realize, don’t you, that its advertising that pays your salary, right?

And newspaper advertising is getting hammered.

Online news sites, however, well, there is some revenue growth and opportunity there, isn’t there? It’s just not enough, necessarily, to save your job … yet.

What if you could help online revenue grow?

No, I don’t mean you should go out and sell advertising. What I mean is you should help your web site get more traffic.

If your revenue is based on CPM or CPC models, traffic equals revenue.

There are at least five simple things (and none of them require a huge time commitment once started) you can do to help your site grow traffic. All of them are ethical, both from an SEO perspective and an SPJ perspective.

  1. Start a blog. Yeah, I know, I’m always saying journalists should start a blog (interestingly, 27 percent of them have), but this time the advice isn’t about doing something to learn web culture, it’s to help your site’s SEO. To be useful, your blog can’t just be a link farm to your site. You need to do real blogging, the kind of blogging other bloggers will link to, so you build good SEO credibility. When you do, you can use your blog to deep link to your own stories and to your favorite stories of your colleagues. Google loves blogs. Blogging is great SEO.
  2. Join social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook. Now, you should NOT just throw up a link to every story you do — only your best stuff. You should build a network and use that network to drive traffic to your best work. Nick Belardes at KERO in Bakersfield uses MySpace a lot to promote his work.
  3. Use social bookmarking tools such as and reddit. Bookmark interesting things you find on the web for your own benefit, but also bookmark your best stories. With proper tagging, others will find your links.
  4. Get into Digg and/or Mixx, or similar sites. To be effective, you have to Digg more than your own work. You need to find good stuff on the web, Digg it, and build a reputation for finding good stuff. You should also Digg your best stuff. Digg, especially, has powerful SEO juice, so even one Digg can help your story get more traffic.
  5. Make vlogs about your best stories and upload them to YouTube and other social video sites. You don’t need to make fancy productions. You just need a web cam and something to say — if you have a Macbook, for example, you can shoot your video with Quick Capture with no software or extra equipment and upload it to YouTube quickly and easily. A good title and keywords, and you’re giving your story some good SEO.

These SEO ideas are just a few of the things every reporter could do to help his or her site grow traffic, and thereby help the site grow revenue. Imagine if half the people in your newsroom cared deeply enough about their jobs to get this involved, what it would mean for traffic and revenue?

This post inspired by the SMARTS marketing video.