SEO conference: Publishers playing catch-up with search marketing

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Knowledge gaps and misperceptions continue to mar the effectiveness of media companies’ search engine optimization efforts, which in turn can sabotage other marketing efforts, according to presenters at the Software & Information Industry Association’s ROI of Organic Search conference last month in New York.

“I have a lot of frustration when I listen to people who struggle to understand what SEO can do for their business,” said Alex Bennert, chief search strategist at The Wall Street Journal,, whose keynote opened the conference. “It’s actually much easier that many people think. The challenging part is keeping up with the changes.”

Bennert said publishers must pay attention to SEO, because 85% of searchers click through on organic query results. “Studies show that searchers trust organic listings more than paid search ads and are the most relevant site visitors,” she said. “There is an implied endorsement in organic search.”

The volume of relevant visits via SEO, Bennert said, can have a positive impact on brand exposure, the generation of leads and subscribers, the support of such other initiatives as trade shows and conferences, and even in encouraging searchers to create user-generated content, “thus reducing staff resources.”

Bennert also said two-thirds of all online searches are prompted by exposure to some offline channel, most often TV and print ads. Neglecting search engine optimization can lessen the effectiveness of these other marketing channels, she said.

Publisher neglect of SEO was echoed by panelists participating in a later discussion titled “Organic Search From the Trenches.”

“To print publishers, SEO is a magic fairyland on the planet Zargon,” said Bill Rosenblatt, president of GiantSteps Media Technology Strategies, a consultancy to online publishing companies. “What publishers must do is get their content-management house in order and … effectively expose that content through the Web.”

Rosenblatt discussed his consulting work with IEEE Media, the publishing wing of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He said much of IEEE’s material is behind pay walls, where it’s available for member researchers; the company’s focus traditionally had not been on attracting viewers via search. However, a recent assignment from IEEE’s Computer Society made inroads in that area.

“Our task was to integrate Computer Society content management solutions, and one requirement was that the site be able to attract traffic from search engines, with advanced search available to anybody” Rosenblatt said. “The Computer Society realized that if they opened up their website in certain ways, they could get traffic from Google and monetize it.”

Barry Graubart, VP-product strategy at Alacra Inc., an online provider of financial and business information, counseled publishers to monitor their hosting capabilities, in particular for unstable or slow performance. Google’s assessment of his company’s prior hosting shortcomings prompted the search engine to cease indexing its site, “causing us to lose half our traffic overnight,” he said.

“It was just a confluence of events together than put us in the sandbox and crushed us,” he said. Following a consultancy visit by Bennert, things were righted, Graubart said, “but it took us four to six months to get back to our normal 1.5 million pages views a month.”

By correcting its hardware troubles and continuing its SEO efforts, the company is now up to 4 million page views a month, Graubart said.

Rosenblatt said one barrier to effective SEO implementation among publishers is the continuing issue of what content to give away for free and what to charge for.

“The news industry is going through a monetization model, and everyone is asking how they can charge users,” he said. With the increasing potential for Web searchers to click through to an indexed article only to be met by a pay wall, “advertising revenue is going away,” he said.

Publishers need to think about fair-use issues and what to expose to searchers and what not to expose, Rosenblatt added.

Another barrier to effective media SEO, he said, is that it often is a marketing responsibility, with little input from the editorial side.

“The editors say, ‘Don’t touch our sacred content just to improve Google search results from noncustomers we don’t care about,’ ” Rosenblatt said. “The loop isn’t closed very often.”

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