Advocacy for Professional Consultants

A funny thing happened on the way to an SEO Mecca. The New York Times decided to fold all of the content of the International Herald Tribune into NYTimes.com as an SEO play. Gawker has the full backstory.

If you don’t feel like reading, the New York Times has been asking Google for enhanced SERPs (Search Engine Result Placements) for some time. As Google has refused special treatment, the Times decided to take the step of combining it’s moderately-strong iht.com property into the main NYTimes.com. On paper, this makes sense if they were playing to combine the strengths of both properties to enhance the value of the content in the search engines.

Many people do this, even on small scales. Through special, yet simple, configurations, systems admins can redirect one page to another and pass a code that instructs search engines to find the old content at the new location permanently or temporarily, depending on the use case and purpose. It’s a bit tricky, but also not rocket science. It happens all the time, and in fact, also happens on this site where I’ve deprecated old content pages in favor of new ones.

These are basic steps that are taken, and required, to retain the search engine value of a site. Unfortunately, as the Gawker story points out, the Times botched the process and is redirecting all of the IHT content to a single landing page, nullifying the value of all their content. (Though the argument could be made that if Times engineers jumped on the mistake quick enough, they could salvage the damage before Google updated all the results.

Assuming, however, that that is not the case, the decision to handle this in-house instead of contracting a professional SEO firm or consultant, highlights another bad business practice that is far too common – especially when a company is cash strapped, as the Times is.

Hiring an outside firm or individual to handle this stuff meticulously would have easily cost the Times a number in the five figure range. Easily. Maybe six figures, depending on the firm and the scope and complexity of the problem. Undoubtedly, this is a lot of money and one of the reasons that people try to do jobs on their own.

However, the flip side of this particular problem, understanding of course that I don’t have all the details, is that the advertising revenue being lost as a result of the search traffic that will not come to the site for a long time from Google, is unquestionably going to exceed the money they would have lost to hire a firm or reputed SEO professional.

In the advertising world, though in my opinion it is a flawed concept long-term, the most lucrative advertising for a content property like the New York Times, is CPM. CPM, is the amount of money that an advertiser is willing to pay for every thousand impression, or page view.

According to Compete.com (which is tragically wrong most of the time), the International Herald Tribune website gets approximately 4.6M page views monthly (2M unique visitors * 2.3 average pages per visit). At an extremely conservative rate of $20 CPM, the Times would lose $90,000 a month in advertising revenue. For $50,000, they could have contracted a firm to handle the SEO implications of the IHT switch.

I admit that I’m pulling numbers out of my ass here. Without a doubt, my numbers are way off any semblance of reality. The dollar figures per CPM are higher. The traffic is higher. But, my point is made.

Companies looking to play in the web space, when it’s not their primary business, should utilize contractors as much as possible. The downside of using contractors is the lack of “buy in” to the company mission, however consultants are usually more efficient and professional about getting a job done right the first time (they have other clients) than many in-house teams can do. In a down economy, as well, it’s critically important that companies are able to stay focused on their core missions.

Bonus: Despite the fact that I am making up numbers, the principle behind consultancy remains. But to lighten things up, I’ll toss the naysayers a bone.

Dilbert.com

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Proper Form Applies In 140 Characters or Less As Well

Twitter is often written about, often used and as often abused. Everyday, thousands of tweets fly by me at break neck speed due to the volume of people I follow. Many of these short form messages in 140 characters or less are eloquent and precise. Others constitute butchered English short form that demonstrates a lack of attention to detail.

The rule of “Say it in 140″ is critical. If you cannot convey your thought in 140 characters or less the first time, chances are your audience will miss the next tweet that continues the thought. Clearly, there are exceptions to every rule and often entire dialogues will erupt between two ore more twitter users. However, in general, a thought should be expressed clearly, concisely and entirely in a single tweet. It’s good form and it’s also good practice.

I’ve noticed that, since my adoption of Twitter in November of 2006, I have gotten much better at formulating these thoughts. Let me say, for the record, it’s hard! Very involved concepts take utmost care and effort to convey in short form.

As difficult as it is, especially when it comes down to cutting and trimming words, to not butcher the English language. Like prose, journalism or poetry, lack of attention to these details may earn the tweeter a bad reputation, and could be seen as unprofessional.

Does that mean that perfect sentence structure is required? Hardly. Shortened sentences are perfectly fine. However, choppy thoughts that are merely chopped to cram – maybe not so much.

Other areas of concern for me, as a Twitter reader, are:

  • Automatically pushed messages that simply consume an RSS feed and push tweets out into the ether. Generally, these are not well formed (being formed for a Blog post and not a tweet, and are cut off. Incomplete thought = FAIL.
  • Multiple streams of thought in a single tweet. Usually, with the intention of efficiency, someone might respond to two tweets at once. Though I suggest eliminating multiple tweets above, that rule applies to tweets around a single thought. If you have two thoughts you want to respond to, send two tweets. It’s a commodity.
  • Retweets are awesome. They are tweets from someone else that you think are valuable enough to “REtweet” to your own followers. Usually, retweets are indicated with a preceding “RT”. The area of concern here, as it applies to format, surrounds multiple retweets. Example: “RT @UTexasMcCombs: RT @statesman The House passed the $787 billion stimulus bill 246-183″. Retweets should be limited to the original poster. Everything else is simply noise and unnecessary. Plus, it removes available characterage.
  • Prolific use of “U” and other shorthand. The shortened form of “You” came from text messaging where it was more difficult to actually type a word out. Thus, we have tragic sentences like, “OMG WTF R U asking?” – Folks, we’re talking two additional characters. For the love of all that is good and right in this world, type the word out and make a statement about your intelligence.

I write this post because there is a new book coming out entitled “140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form” which seeks to help people understand this concept of form and style. It’s written by veteran Twitter users @dom and @adamjackson and thus comes from actual experience. Hat tip, by the way, to Jenna Wortham who covered this over at the New York Times Bits blog.

What are some of your Twitter form suggestions?

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Tribune Company Bankruptcy Highlights New Media Opportunity

About an hour ago, the privately held Tribune Company filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection. The Tribune Company is the owner of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun, as well as a minority owner of the Chicago Cubs (not included in the bankruptcy filing).

The conversation I’ve heard around this news has been interesting. For as much grief as some of these main-stream press have caused some community members, mostly in politics or local governments where the Tribune papers are, the feeling is that metropolitan areas served by these papers currently cannot function without a hard format newspaper.

The cities with the biggest three Tribune papers all have alternative daily circulars. Kind of. Los Angeles could lose the LA Times and still have the Los Angeles Daily News. Chicago could theoretically lose the Chicago Tribune and still have the Chicago Sun-Times. Baltimore would be stretched thinnest losing the Baltimore Sun and leaving the Examiner (though proximity to Washington, D.C could position the Washington Post or the investigative journalistic Washington Times to fill the void).

What strikes me is the difference between long-standing community members (those who have been born and raised in an area, and have been shaped by the daily circular) and the generational transience of those who simply don’t care, and move from locale to locale throughout life.

I’ve personally lived in the Baltimore area for most of my life, and have no loyalty or affinity to the Baltimore Sun. But those who have lived here all their life (and maybe from another generation) have been directly impacted by the Sun and can’t cope with life without it.

In my life, I can’t answer the famous Palin question/non-answer “What newspapers do you read?” because I don’t. If there is a loyalty to a paper, it is the New York Times. Why? Because they adjusted to a world not based on the physical paper. They are no longer “the grey lady” and now represent something so much more, and have extended their base outside of the previously known and understood paradigm. (Of course, that won’t necessarily keep them out of trouble either, but I digress.)

It will not sadden me to see the Tribune company go. It is obvious to me that newspapers, like the Tampa Tribune, who don’t adjust to the 21st Century need to fail. That does not mean that the age of hard print should die. On the contrary, it is possible for news organizations to rise up around an open culture of information sharing and digital cultural change, and provide an offline (paper) offering as well. It’s not just a possible change. It’s a required one.

Also to be clear, Chapter 11 is reorganization… not apocalypse. The Tribune Company will likely spin off some of these assets to, hopefully, better digitally savvy stewards. It is possible for these papers to reinvigorate and jump into the 21st century as well. If not, they will be replaced by lighter, more nimble and astute media organizations that are digitally competent.

I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

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