I was delighted to read the story in Kerry Lauerman’s blog (editor-in-chief of Salon.com) describing the trauma Salon.com experienced in its attempts to drive web page views followed by the success that the site has gained by reversing course to focus on quality again. In brief, Salon.com went from the “me too” kind of attitude taken by so many sites to a position where they take time to consider an opinion before publishing well-written in-depth pieces. The result is an increase in unique visitors to the site, an outcome that was unexpected but very welcome.
Far too many web sites seize on pieces of information and simply recycle the same news over and over again. The worst sites add nothing to the debate and simply repeat the text of a press release or extensive quotations (or even blatant copies) from other sources. The aim is to drive page views, to satisfy the demand of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) so that a site appears high in the results returned by different search engines, and eventually justify the fees paid by the site’s advertisers.
The SEO process is played out across all web sites. Tools such as Google AdWords help content generators figure out the keywords, article titles, and summaries should be used to deliver a “good” SEO result. In the example below, AdWords figures that the phrase “Exchange archive mailbox” will result in circa 4,400 hits from global searches and suggests that “Exchange archive” (33,100 hits) or even “Exchange archiving” (14,800) would be better.
SEO is serious business and a web site that doesn’t play the SEO game well will probably remain undiscovered because its content will be buried past the first page of search results. Human beings naturally assume that the highest search result is the most relevant and few bother going past the first couple of pages to find more interesting information. The logic that drives web editors to focus in on SEO is therefore very understandable.
Interestingly, Kerry said “We’ve tried to work longer on stories for greater impact, and publish fewer quick-takes that we know you can consume elsewhere. We’re actually publishing, on average, roughly one-third fewer posts on Salon than we were a year ago (from 848 to 572 in December; 943 to 602 in January). So: 33 percent fewer posts; 40 percent greater traffic.”
Great! Taking more time to digest the flood of information on the web probably means that Salon.com writers can better figure out what’s important and what’s not. They can come to their own conclusions rather than parroting the generally held opinion. Their output will be more personal and less of the recycling of the work of others. Publishing less sounds counter-intuitive in a world where Twitter and Facebook updates have creates a “plentifully now” news environment but I think that it’s likely that declining to publish some material creates a sharper focus on the articles that do appear. And because Salon.com now puts more work into writing original longer articles, the site will satisfy those who look for in-depth analysis rather than a simple presentation of whatever factoids are pumped out by company PR representatives. It’s fantastic to learn that Salon.com is now reaping the rewards of its new policy and I very much hope that other sites will follow their example.
It will be interesting to see whether other web sites follow the lead set by Salon.com and if we experience in the reduction of duplicated inanity that fills so much of the net. I don’t actually think this will happen because of commercial pressures. After all, it’s easy for management to measure output in terms of articles published per week but it’s awfully difficult to measure the true value of well-founded articles that convey really useful information. Such a pity…
Follow me on Twitter @12Knocksinna