NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Maybe serious news on the web has a prayer after all.
Newspaper websites get more ad revenue from articles about serious stuff like the Gulf oil spill than from traffic bait like stories on celebrity scandals, according to an analysis by Perfect Market, a company that aims to help publishers become more visible and profitable on the web.
The rise of tools that track top web searches and their related keyword advertising has been increasing web surfers' and advertisers' potential influence over editorial judgment. And that's still a concern. Companies such as Demand Media and Associated Content have been eating up web traffic by assigning articles partly on that criteria.
But even if newspapers replaced all their editors with algorithms, according to the new analysis, they still wouldn't turn into TMZ overnight. "The trend-chasing that people are worried about, or the going after the gossip or portraying entertainment as news, is perhaps not as valuable," said Tim Ruder, chief revenue officer at Perfect Market. "It may still drive substantial traffic, but that traffic is lower-value to news organizations."
The most-valuable topics
Articles about unemployment benefits actually brought newspaper sites the most-lucrative combination of traffic and ad revenue this summer, according to Perfect Market, whose products include a dashboard called The Vault that lets publishers study popular search terms and keyword ads.
The next most-valuable news topics turned out to be, in order, Gulf recovery jobs, the egg recall, the oil spill itself, mortgage rates, jobs in general, President Obama, Social Security, immigration reform and California's Proposition 8, which was the subject of court rulings this summer.
Lindsay Lohan's trouble with the law, Mel Gibson's rants and celebrity divorces didn't compare with any of those, according to Perfect Market, which said it considered more than 15 million news articles from 21 news sites that use its technology, including the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune. Its analysis factored both the amount of traffic that articles got and the ad revenue for those articles for every thousand page views.
Celebrity scandal was plenty popular, of course, but the ad revenue that came along couldn't match the revenue generated by stories about more sober subjects.
Keyword ads crucial
A lot of the difference had to do with automated text ads that are keyed to the content on a page, ads that can be overshadowed by the big display units that newspapers' sales teams typically sell directly. Articles about immigration, for example, are magnets for text ads promoting immigration lawyers.
"The rates paid by advertisers on Google AdSense for immigration-related terms are higher than the celebrity-related stuff like Lindsay Lohan," said Robertson Barrett, chief strategy officer at Perfect Market. Mortgage lenders want to put text ads in front of people reading about mortgages, he said, but there aren't as many advertisers trying to sell celebrity memorabilia.
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