News for Digital Journalists

August 15, 2011

Don’t overlook search optimization, e-mail strategies: Pew research

While many news organizations are focusing resources on social media and mobile apps—but new research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project is a good reminder not to overlook some more basic (though perhaps less “cool”) tools for engaging digital audiences…

According to Pew, search and e-mail still top the list of most popular online activities. Specifically, 92% of U.S. online adults use search engines to find information, and 59% do so daily. Similarly, 91% use e-mail, and 61% do so daily.

In contrast, only 76% of online adults get news online. While Pew did not specify, this probably refers to deliberate visits to online news venues, rather than news stories encountered via search engines.

Pew notes: “E-mail and search form the core of online communication and online information gathering, respectively. And they have done so for nearly a decade, even as new platforms, broadband and mobile devices continue to reshape the way Americans use the internet and web.”

What does this mean for news organizations?

First, don’t slack off on search optimization. Does your content management system allow you to provide separate search-optimized headlines for web and mobile presentations of content? Are you using tools like Open Calais for semantic analysis, or tagging your content with geodata? (These are becoming more important for search optimization.)

Are you reading blogs like Search Engine Land to keep up with how search is evolving—and adjusting your CMS and editorial processes to adapt? Search is changing fast, and you need to do a lot more than pump keywords to keep up with it.

And as for e-mail: Do you offer e-mail newsletters or alerts? Are they available in non-HTML versions for easier mobile reading? Do they serve niches, and are they customizable? Can you generate them from your community calendar? Are you placing text-based ads in them? Are you using them to promote the breadth of features and services you offer (not just list your top stories)? Are you offering “e-mail this” links with every piece of content you publish?

These ideas may sound boring compared to a snazzy iPad app—but given the popularity of search and e-mail, they’re probably far more likely to support your bottom line.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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