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Save The Boston Globe or Increase Traffic to Boston.com?

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The New York Times Company, which owns The Boston Globe, has threatening to stop the presses for good unless union workers agree to $20 million in cuts. The Globe, which has been printed for 137 years, has been saddled with reader flight and a drop in advertising -- problems echoed in newsrooms across the country.

Greg Jarboe at SES New York session.jpg On Wednesday, Scot Lehigh, a Globe political columnist, asked readers if they would pay for the Globe online. Today, no one should be shocked, shocked to find that many readers said they'd pay for the Globe online. Lehigh should recognize the flawed result you get when conducting what is called in politics a "push poll."

I read The Boston Globe every day and would love to save it, but that may be as hard to do as saving Out of Town News in Harvard Square. So, we need to ask: Can we save a great newspaper in the 21st Century, or should we be trying to save excellence in journalism?

I think our objective should be to save excellent journalism in Boston and I recently wrote about this in a post entitled "Death of newspapers or new era of online journalism?"

I also think charging visitors even a nickle to read content from the Globe online would be a strategic mistake. Circulation revenue doesn't pay journalist's salaries. At best, it is a break even proposition that covers the cost of home delivery and distributing newspapers to a shrinking number of newsstands. So, the real goal shouldn't be boosting subscription revenue; it should be increasing traffic to Boston.com.

A similar thing happened in the late 19th Century, when the number of daily newspapers in the United States quadrupled. "Falling paper and production costs and the growth in advertising, along with improved transportation, enabled newspapers to cut their prices and extend their markets," according to Paul Starr's book, "The Creation of the Media."

What was then called the "new journalism" also drove the growing popularity of newspapers. One news-generating innovation was the "banner headline." Another was "the interview," an American invention. Still others were the creation of sports pages and women's sections in the 1880s as well as comic strips in the following decade.

What should the new "new journalism" of the 21st Century include?

Back in February, ReelSEO released a first-of-its-kind, in-depth report on the opportunity for U.S. newspaper companies to grow their audience and advertising base using video search optimization (Video SEO or VSEO). Written by Senior Analyst Grant Crowell, "Business Models for New Realities: The Newspapers Industry's Video SEO Opportunity" is the culmination of more than 2 years of industry research, along with interviews with editors and publishers of newspaper companies nationwide.

I was one of the analysts who was interviewed for the report and was quoted in a press release when it was announced. I said, "If you do a SWOT analysis of newspapers, their strengths are in print, their weaknesses are online, but their opportunities are in online video, and their threats are legion. That's why newspaper executives should read this report today, not tomorrow."

After you attract and engage a sufficient quantity and quality of readers, then the next challenge will be finding a business model that charges advertisers a reasonable amount of money to reach this audience -- in a global recession. That's a tough proposition.

At SES New York 2009, I interviewed Beverly Thorne, the SVP of Century 21 Real Estate, who has made the decision to leave offline advertising and re-invest those dollars into online advertising. Bev said when Century 21 focused on what their business model's opportunities were online, Century 21 was able to increase its leads by more than 237% with their spend in 2008. At the same time, cost per lead dropped 62%. She said it was emotionally difficult making the decision to migrate online, but Century 21's consumers are online.


Beverly Thorne, Century 21 Real Estate, discusses how company migrated to online advertising

So, what can Boston.com do to boost its ad revenues? Well, Philly.com, which hosts online content from The Inquirer and the Daily News, has just joined a consortium of media companies partnering with Yahoo! to increase online advertising.

This is just an outline, but it's a formula for saving excellence in Boston journalism: Don't charge for online content, use video search engine optimization, and join the Yahoo! newspaper consortium.

Oh, and stop conducting push polls of readers. That's no way to conduct market research.


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