Google's position as a top news site traffic driver has put some editors between a rock and a hard place -- should they take the leap to remove their content from Google and risk losing readers? Or should they allow the Internet giant to benefit from disaggregating their content?
Writing for Paid Content, media and internet consultant Arnon Mishkin offered news publishers a reality check: "Google is much less important than you think."
Mishkin argues that media executives think their ability to sell bundled content is dead and that their best bet is to let Google disaggregate their content and use it in exchange for links. Besides, saying no to Google, the current number one driver of readers to news sites, could have disastrous consequences on traffic.
However, Mishkin believes that the data does not support media executives' arguments. Firstly, he defends the selling content in a bundle model, through either an iPhone or iPad app, and secondly, newspaper sites have been very successful at building core audiences that keep coming back.
Mishkin claims that recent studies by the American Press Institute and ITZBelden revealed that in the U.S. and Canada newspaper industry, "the predominant share of site traffic comes from a fairly small group of readers." For most newspaper sites, about 80%-95% of visitors comes from a group smaller than those who have print subscriptions to papers. Because most of a newspaper site's visitors are somewhat loyal readers, Mishkin thinks it would is possible to build an audience and sustain it without Google.
Google delivers a lot of traffic, but of less value. The most valuable readers are looking to find that particular news site, and sometimes type the site's name into a search box on their browsers instead of the address bar -- a move Google benefits from. Mishkin says that because most of the people who arrive to newspaper sites are looking for that one newspaper website, they would find it through Google, regardless of how much of that newspaper site's content is on Google.
Mishkin supports the idea that newspaper sites could still survive without Google searches. But before this is possible, newspaper sites need to strengthen their brand, and "identify the regular users of their sites and then monetize them either through subscription or an improved advertising proposition."
To do this, Mishkin suggests that newspapers do not focus on what the studies call "fly-by" readers who come from a topic search and remain on the site for a little amount of time. Secondly, newspapers need to try to replicate the experience that users have on e-reader devices so they can preserve the bundled-content model.
Because most newspaper sites searches are brand searches, his advice for small media companies is to find ways to increase their traffic. For those small companies that have proved successful at SEO, Mishkin suggests they need to find ways to strengthen their brand. Finally, Mishkin thinks there is some room for newspaper sites to remove their content from internet searches, provided that their brand is strong enough.
The problem with Mishkin's claim is that, as he admits himself, some newspapers do rely on topic searches to receive visits. The Christian Science Monitor, for one, gets 90% of its search traffic from topic searches. Gawker is another publication that receives up to 80% of its visitors from searches.
Furthermore, the studies Mishkin draws on show that infrequent readers make up most of a website's traffic. For example, "fly-by" visitors (defined as those who visit newspaper websites once a month) make up around 54% of newspaper websites' traffic. Over 20% of visitors are stop by one to three days each month, readers API and ITZBelden call "incidental loyalists." 25% of newspaper's readers are indeed "core loyalists" who visit the website over 20 times per month.
While these loyal readers are the most important for a newspaper site because they present a great potential for monetization, over half of all visitors to the 118 newspaper websites that were surveyed do come from search engines (presumably, topic searches). This means that in terms of traffic, and consequently, advertisement, taking content away from search engines would not be a profitable move for a newspaper, unless the paper has an established brand, a large number of loyal readers, and if it does not rely on advertising revenue.
Google, currently mired in controversy with publishers who accuse the search engine of profiting from aggregated news content it does not own, recently offered editors an olive branch at the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) conference. Google CEO Eric Schmidt told attendees that the search giant was working on ads that would help them increase revenue by targeting audiences more specifically and better mimicking traditional newspaper ads.
Sources: Paid Content