Occupy Wall Street: How News Publishers are Missing an Opportunity for New Readers

In the age of global digital information, news travels remarkably fast. Occupy Wall Street (OWS) launched on September 17 and less than 2 months later, according to OccupyWallStreet.org, the movement has spread to more than 1,500 cities around the world.

Similar to this year’s “Arab Spring,” the Internet has proven to be an integral part of these movements and their evolution. Without Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the like, the world at large would never have been able to experience, and participate, in such real-time and visceral fashion.

While the protesters, their cause, and their constituency are the obvious beneficiaries of the extensive news and social media coverage, the benefits can echo well beyond the message to the media companies who carry it. Publishers who deliver OWS content benefit from more viewers, more ad sales, and best-case scenario, more permanent return viewers. But how many are actually capitalizing on this opportunity?

ComScore Search Planner data suggests that an opportunity has been missed by nearly every news or video streaming publisher because they have not utilized paid search to their advantage.

Search associated with Occupy Wall Street terms ballooned almost overnight, going from non-existent to more than 300,000 searches in just the final two weeks of September, highlighting the market demand for this content. Even more importantly from a marketing perspective, the first three weeks of October produced 1.6 million U.S. search visits to websites.

Visitors to websites, and of even greater monetary value, video viewers on websites, mean advertising dollars for publishers. And it’s not just the short-term value of the event itself, but the lifetime value of new visitors who return to the site over the long term.

So you can imagine my surprise upon realizing that despite this incredible interest in Occupy Wall Street, publishers have collectively whiffed on capitalizing on paid search.

Of those 1.6 million search click-throughs, more than 99 percent occurred on organic search links. The remaining paid search clicks are going to retailers capitalizing on customized OWS merchandise and the occasional political action group or organized movement associating itself with the cause. But almost none are going to publishers.


Top Paid Search Advertisers by Impression Volume through October 23, 2011

If you want to be the go-to destination for real-time video consumption, why wouldn’t you at least take a chance and run some tests associated with paid search advertising on a movement like Occupy Wall Street? Most every search seems related to news and video of the protests, not the purchase of OWS coffee mugs.

Large, viral news stories don’t happen every day, but they are opportunities for specific outlets to establish an audience outside of their existing core group. Livestream is the official video streamer down in Zucotti Park; certainly there is an opportunity to introduce new content consumers to their brand.

Instead of being lost in the extended collection of organic search links, why not sit alone on top of everything with a message front and center? Pole position is a good place to start a race. And while paying for those paid search clicks in the immediate term might not pay off, it can be the beginning of a fruitful long-term relationship with that consumer.

OWS paid search notwithstanding, the lesson here is that any emergent news event is an opportunity for news organizations to gather up share of eyeballs with paid search. Because so few companies actually take the time and money to invest in current event paid search, the cost and barrier to entry will be relatively low — at least until others wise up to the opportunity.

It’s time to stop thinking about paid search only as a direct response tool and begin thinking about it for brand-building purposes, especially when the price is right. While the short-term ROI might still tell you you’re in the red, the long-term ROI could tell a much more positive story.

Publishers who gather the clicks now might just be making the right investment to develop their news brand for the future.

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