Search engines (and Google) appear to have won that battle and newspapers have found themselves inhabiting the post-apocalyptic landscape left as News Corporation faces challenges as a force to be reckoned with. Any fast moving field of enterprise, however, has the ability to distort what we see often forcing us to draw false conclusions and the web is no exception to the rule.
On the face of it, newspapers now accept that unless they embrace search and work with it their content will not be found, journalists see SEO as part of their arsenal and those few media holdouts which are trying to preserve what they consider to be their independence have fallen into the last bastion of defence against the onslaught of search which are online subscriptions and paywalls. It would appear that search engines have indeed won the war and newspapers have lost and must now prepare for their walk into the twilight. That is neither the whole picture nor the way the web works.
For a start the war existed only in the minds of few, News Corporation being one of them, and it made for nice headlines and the polarisation of a complex issue. Google and other search engines could barely understand what the problem was. After all, through indexing they helped drive eyeballs to content and, one has to assume, that is what online newspapers wanted. Second, the issue of indexing content and newspapers is a side note. If we focus on Google, since it is dominant in search, we can see that its efforts to "index the world's information" involve an ever-evolving algorithm which tries to emulate human intelligence, fight spam, deliver relevant content to search queries and safeguard the end-user experience.
This is a massively complex task with an ever-changing dynamic, the nature of which is driven by search engine optimisers (always on the lookout for potential weaknesses to exploit), the evolution of the real-time web, the popularity of the social web and the constantly evolving behaviour of the online population.Newspapers have the means not just to survive into this century but to actually gain much of the ground they lost to technology and the webDavid Amerland
Google is now rapidly evolving along three fronts: personalisation, localisation and socialisation. We can probably write a book on each of these alone, but boiled down to their essence what they really amount to is that search is evolving to become more effective. And online search is at the most effective when it gives you what you usually have.
In plain English, online search is gearing up to create what Eli Pariser calls a "bubble" where what we see every time we use search are results based upon our particular likes, dislikes, interests, location, friends and acquaintances and their hobbies and interests. Taken to its extreme this creates a comfort bubble where news of wars in Africa (not a great hobby item) never penetrate, where each search query delivers results based around our own personalised, rosy-coloured Inception-like, private universe which may turn the web from a window to the world where few borders and restrictions exist into a personalised cubicle with self-imposed walls.
This should highlight the way newspapers can actually gain not just a little of their old glory but an entirely new, web-defined role. While search is evolving in order to become more attractive to advertisers intent on precisely targeting online users, newspapers have always provided a mix of the familiar with the new. Chained by the definition of their particular channel (the word 'news' in newspaper) they have always provided the opportunity for their readers to expand their horizons, find out about events they may not have found out about otherwise, and get outside their personal comfort zone and expand their view of the world.
It is not too much of a stretch to imagine a world where each newspaper becomes a portal which expands the knowledge about and view of the wider world for its readers. This is not a new notion. Traditionally that is what newspapers were set up to do. With time and the struggle for readership and profitability the focus was diverted and with the web and its ability to unchain information, at the beginning, the very idea of a newspaper came under attack.
So it is not without a certain sense of irony that we see a return to traditional newspaper values as the way forward into the 21st century. The change required is ideological more than technological. By embracing, once again, their raison d'être, newspapers have the means not just to survive into this century but to actually gain much of the ground they lost to technology and the web.
David Amerland is the author of the best-selling ‘SEO Help’ and ‘Online Marketing Help’. His latest book, ‘Brilliant SEO’ has just been released by Prentice Hall. His books are available from Amazon and any good bookshop. He maintains his own blog at www.helpmyseo.com.