Tagged: The Guardian

The Best Of The Isley Brothers

The Guardian have started an interesting new feature where they will be highlighting the ten best songs of  key artists or genres and launched it with a look at the Isley Brothers.

I always forget just how far back the Isley Brothers go, but it’s kind of incredible that the first song on the list is from 1959 and the last from 2001. What’s even more incredible is just how long they managed to keep up the quality; Shout & Testify, recorded in ’59 & ’64 respectively, are up there with the best of James Brown’s early output, whilst the likes of That Lady & Harvest For The World, from their 70s purple patch, are simply up there with the best records of that decade.

The Spotify playlist above is one that The Guardian put together but I thought it would be interesting to also pull together a video mix via Dragontape, the app that the Brownswood crew used to highlight Gilles Peterson’s favourite tracks of 2013. Which all goes to show, of course, that it doesn’t matter what type of tech you use to listen to it, it’s the music that really matters at the end of the day, whether it’s 5 months or 55 years old.

Picture: United Pentecostal Church on flickr

The picture at the top has nothing to do with The Isley Brothers. I was trying to find a picture for the word harvest (see what I did there) and this came up. How could I not use it?

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The Value Of News

Last night I attended a fascinating Q&A with the MD of Guardian Australia, Ian McLelland (above centre), and its International Director, Tony Danker (above left). It was a wide-ranging conversation, taking in a number of topics to do with the future of media, the rise of data journalism, and how you create a sustainable business model in the 21st Century.

This morning I read an equally interesting piece which touched on many of the same topics and had the memorable, if not exactly snappy, headline: The unfortunate fact is that online journalism can’t survive without a wealthy benefactor or cat GIFsIn this Matthew Ingram argued that news has always been subsidised (by things like classifieds and the like, which the internet has stripped away) and that essentially the only two routes left to publishers are to chase page views (hence cat GIFs) or look for a wealthy benefactor, such as Jeff Bezos.

To round off this unholy trinity, I saw an article in Digiday which highlighted the fact that many publishers are now creating content solely to drive page views, such as slideshows and the like, because that’s how they monetise their inventory. It suggested that the likes of Pitchfork, with their dazzling, if slightly dizzying ‘cover story’ about Daft Punk, showed that this isn’t the only way to create a successful digital media business.

So what can we take from all this?

At the Guardian Q&A Danker asked whether the 21st Century newsroom should employ as many developers as journalists. My fear is that if they do, they will end up with every story looking like the Daft Punk one – technically beautiful and definitely forward thinking, but with the tech potentially distracting from the story itself. And is there really any point when the likes of Flipboard are raising ridiculous amounts of money, and presumably using this to hire lots of devleopers? How can you anyone compete with that? Would it not be better to find the best people and companies to partner with?

Digiday suggests that the replacement for pages views and impressions will be unique visits, social lift (sharing) or interactions within ad-units. But these all still feel rather dated to me. Surely a better way of measuring effectiveness, and then charging for it, are things like the amount of views that are within a desired audience (using tolls such as OCR) or the effect of advertorial/brand supported content (or native advertising as we have to call it now) on metrics like consideration, brand uplift and the like. The former are all advertising metrics, the latter are more like business objectives.

And finally it strikes me that in the quest to get more coverage, social lift and, ultimately, page views, Ingram sacrificed the sanctity of his story for a great headline. Because at the very end of his piece he says this:

Some media companies have taken an agnostic approach to the problem, including the the Economist and Atlantic Media. The former has a valuable proprietary research arm as well as an  events business (a similar model to the one Gigaom uses), while the Atlantic is owned by a wealthy benefactor but also does events, and is trying to build a digital subscription business.

Which highlights that there are in fact perfectly viable models that don’t involve becoming a charitable foundation or a depository for annoying gifs. But that wouldn’t have made such a good story, unlike Aaron Sorkin’s idealised version of a modern newsroom winning an Emmy, which suggests that things haven’t changed that much in journalism after all.

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Has My Patience With The Guardian Expired?

App expiry

I had my first letter printed by The Guardian in September 2000, 4 days after my 25th birthday. Talk about the ultimate present. It was in the Weekend magazine; it was a response to an on-going joke in the letters pages of the magazine and I guess, upon reading it again now, that you probably had to be there.

Through its sister paper, The Observer, The Guardian had been part of my life for years, as we had had The Observer delivered to our house every Sunday since I was a kid. Between the two papers, I had everything I needed – great articles, commentary that I generally agreed with (but which, when I didn’t, made me think), well thought out design and tastes, in terms of the types of art & music that it featured and favoured, that matched my own.

That letter was the first but not the last that I had printed in either The Guardian or Observer (seven and counting), and my fandom has been taken to even greater heights since I’ve featured in two articles (online only mind you.) I was, and probably still am, what many people would describe as a Guardianista, even if I haven’t always agreed with everything they’ve done.

So, when I recently realised that my subscription to The Guardian app is due to expire, you might think that I would have renewed it immediately. After all, I love the brand and like being able to get news from the UK. The whole time I was in Ireland, I still read both The Guardian & The Observer, often the print versions. And, even here in Sydney, the news site I probably check more than any other is guardian.co.uk.

And, importantly, I’m a strong believer in paying for content. It seems strange having to even say that; imagine someone having to explain, almost sheepishly, that they believed in paying for food before leaving a supermarket.

But….

I’m not sure I’m going to renew it.

The paper is losing money like it’s going out of fashion, but doesn’t seem to be able to get its ship in order. The mobile app is, frankly, frustrating whereas the (free) mobile site, which has recently been redesigned, is really rather good. It’s almost like their belief in providing free online services* is such that they would rather go out of business than actually charge. Yes, they charge for the iPhone app, but 30% of that revenue goes to Apple, so it probably fits with their masochistic business strategy.

Why not go the way of the FT and create a paid for web-app? It could be as good as the current mobile site. but The Guardian would get to keep all the money. Instead they spend their time expanding their editorial operations into the US & Australia (I’m actually very much looking forward to meeting them when they arrive), whilst hemorrhaging money at home.

It doesn’t make any sense.

Thank God for Auto Trader and Top Right (Emap as was) I guess.

I probably will renew my subscription, almost as a sort of charity donation, now I can’t buy the papers any more. But I really wish that The Guardian would put as much effort into its business operations and strategy as it does into its journalism (worryingly, it seems that its business strategy at the moment might be based around bad journalism). Because unfortunately  you really can’t have one without the other.

*The Rusbridger cross mentioned in that article (where everyone waits for the axis showing web revenue to cross, and take up the slack for, print revenue)  is something I witnessed, though not with that name, at a previous employer. Here’s a free tip for anyone waiting for it. It won’t come soon enough for you, unless you charge for content.

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A Week’s A Long Time Vol. 7

Once again, a week here is more like a fortnight. I was on holiday last week and couldn’t drag myself away from the pool to jot down any thoughts on the latest developments in tech. But this week, I hope to make up for it.

The Only Way Is Up?

Wall St. met Silicon Valley this week as Facebook held its first earnings call since its rather disappointing flotation. It came on the back of a week where Zynga had singularly failed to impress the finance world, with very disappointing results.

The first question on everyone’s lips was whether Facebook’s founder, who many believe is dismissive of finance, would show up. He did. Though that doesn’t mean that people were impressed by him. Interestingly, an unconnected post by Fred Wilson highlighted why Mark Zuckerberg might need to play ball a bit more.

VCs have control when things don’t work. Entrepreneurs have control when they do.

The second question was whether what he, and his lieutenants, had to say would relieve the worries of those who bought Facebook’s stock. Not so much.

fb q2 deck

One of the main problems for both Facebook & Zynga is that people are switching to mobile quicker, even, than fast-moving Californian start-ups can keep up with, and the revenue on mobile devices is lower than on the desktop web. Which, of course, is why Facebook bought Instagram. And, in a move that looks like a perfect example of using offence as the best form of defence, Twitter cut off part of Instagram’s access to its API. Ouch.

The Only Way Is Down?

On the other side of media equation, things were also looking rocky. The New York Times released financial results, showing losses had halved. That said, those losses still stood at $88 million for the quarter, or around $1 million a day. And, just days before, The Guardian also reported huge losses, though only £44.2 million for the whole of 2011, which works out at about £3.6 million a month (about £100,000 a day, which has been the case for the last 3 years).

Not everyone was glum though: the web edition of the Daily Mail, the most popular newspaper site in the world, posted its first ever profit. It’s likely that publishers around the world will be looking at them to try to work out how they’ve done this. Unfortunately, whilst the Mail has a pretty strong record of issue-based, investigative journalism (it pretty much ensured that the Stephen Lawrence case wasn’t forgotten), the website owes more to Kim Kardashian than stories of murdered teenagers.

So what hope is there for journalism? Well, it depends who you believe. Salon argued that claims that the way that the shootings at a Batrman screening in Aurora showed how citizen journalism would lead the way, were pure hype.

The Web seems neutral, because it is an open platform that anyone can use. But just because anyone can does not mean everyone does. It is no accident that spontaneous, active citizen journalism emerged on Reddit in response to a shooting at a Batman premiere. The stories that get covered are the ones citizen journalists care about most, and these citizen journalists tend toward a certain social-cultural-economic orientation.

But, another author argued that this very article was, itself, hype. Where was this counter-argument published? Salon.

Confused? You will be.

Still, at least one person seems to have cracked the solution. Facebook just needs to buy The Guardian.

London Calling

And, just to end, let’s have a look at a little event that’s taking place in London at the moment. Unsurprisingly, it’s brought on a flurry of marketing, both ridiculous & sublime; official & not-so-official.

Nike are back to their best with Find Your Greatness*

Adidas have their own take on things with a piece soundtracked by British rapper Wretch 32.

YouTube Preview Image

Does the fact that I think the song is wretched make me old? Probably? I prefer the more thoughtful athlete-focussed pieces.

Away from the big, global brands, a couple of local British companies have been getting some cheeky jabs in. Paddy Power & Oddbins both highlighted the fact that the Olympics police have been coming down very heavy on anyone who dares to try to make money off of the back of the event. And Specsavers showed, once again, that being quick off the mark is as important in advertising as it is in athletics, with a dig at the flaggate episode.

If you have any thoughts on these issues, or anything you’d like covered in a future digest, please do leave a comment, drop me a line on ciarannorris at gmail dot com, or tweet me.

*Nike are a current client of my employer Mindshare

Javelin by Banksy.

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The Guardian Likes Facebook

I just popped over to The Guardian site and noticed a bar running along the top of the page encouraging me to log in to The Guardian using Facebook, presumably based on my usage of their existing Facebook app. I’m not quite sure what will happen if I do as they ask, but presumably they might start serving me content based on my social graph (not something I necessarily want, due to the likely creation of a filter bubble). Still, I’m game for anything, so decided to give it a try.

Ahhh.

 

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The Paucity Of Tech Comment & Analysis

Last week SEOmoz announced that, after a couple of failed attempts, it had raised $18 million in funding.

Now, I’m a fan, so I’m, biased, but to me this was a great story. A company that, to use the tech world’s favourite jargon, pivoted, from a search agency to an SaaS supplier; one which has built a loyal and thriving community; one whose CEO is not only charismatic, but radically transparent, even down to sharing his past experiences when he tried, and failed, to raise funding; and one which, despite this lack of funding, had been able to grow revenue and profit. The press release anouncing the funding even used web memes.

In short, I assumed that this would be picked up by all the tech blogs. Nope.

It was covered, don’t get me wrong (an article in Forbes is nothing to sniff at), but it was nowhere to be seen on TechCrunch, the site that I still consider to be the main port of call for news on startups. This was particularly strange seeing as other SEO companies, with less interesting stories, have been picked up and had their press releases quoted almost verbatim.

As I said, I’m biased (I really like Rand and the mozzers), but for me this was telling. Because I’ve started to realise that there’s a big gap in the world of tech content, and it’s highlighted by Techcrunch and its bastard offspring, PandoDaily.

The issue is, as I see it, threefold.

1. Too many techblogs concentrate on news without analysis, and, in doing so, are guilty of the same thing that Fred Wilson recently accused many VCs of falling victim to being part of a ‘momentum herd‘ – chasing the hot new thing.

This means that it becomes very hard for readers to understand what’s actually important, as context is lost when everything is the ‘best new thing, ever!‘, and also means that tech blogs (and magazines – Wired UK is pretty much full of similar meaningless snippets) are slowly commodotising their brand, as news is increasingly worthless (as it’s so common). The stuff that has the value, is analysis.

2. Real, in-depth analysis is something that very, very few tech sites seem capable. Danny Sullivan is a master of it when it comes to search, but other than him, I tend to look to non-journalistic sites: the aforementioned Fred Wilson at AVC, the guys over at tech consultancy Broadstuff. Wired’s magazines does have some good stuff in it, but it’s outweighed by reams of fluff, and frankly isn’t worth the subscription anymore.

By no means do I believe that you have to have worked in a sector in order to be able to analyse it (anyone who has had the misfortune of watching the old boy’s club that is Match of the Day will know what I mean. And, indeed, the likes of The Economist, or Charles Arthur at The Guardian, show that there are journalists who do know what they’re talking about.

Indeed, from my time working at two B2B publishers (Centaur & RBI), I know that real journalists can work in almost any sector, and through research and building connections with experts, can provide true insights. The guys at econsultancy, despite being entirely online only, also strike me as coming from this more professional, B2B, school of journalism, and the quality of their content reflects this (Patrico Robles’ constant refusal to accept that hype outweighs reason, deserves particular praise).

3. The bubble seems to be encouraging people’s egos to write cheques their talent can’t cash, with people still trying to say that professional bloggers are different to journalists, whereas, really, the only difference is the CMS.

Rather than write about the cluster-f**k that is PandoDaily, I’ll instead link to an article that pretty much sums up most of my feelings, and pull out a couple of choice quotes, like this one:

Recently, I’ve noticed coverage veering dangerously off-piste, with bizarre and wrong-headed rants from Lacy about other women’s endeavours to uniquely stupid suggestions about picking up tips from cab drivers to odd-ball broadsides that exhibit mountainous levels of lazy prejudice and financial ignorance.

Or:

At a time when it was clear that the market desperately needed a high-quality alternative to TechCrunch and the lesser publications orbiting it, I find it remarkable that Lacy opted to start a blog full of the same old garbage: right down to the pathetic internecine wars, which any publication with dignity would have conducted behind closed doors and which are nowseriously alienating readers.

Or this, something I had already written about:

PandoDaily’s corporate culture suffers from the company being defined by its enemies. Many – perhaps most – of its staffers come from TechCrunch, not a journalistic operation of the highest rank in the first place, and much of the editor’s time in the early days of launching PandoDaily was spent not defining future goals but trying to get its nemesis, Erick Schonfeld, fired, in part by spitefully poaching his best writers. Lacy may have been successful at that endeavour, but her victory has come at terrible cost.

Or, finally:

PandoDaily’s writers have got into the habit of piling onto commenters, without waiting to see if they’re speaking sense or not, as a sort of prophylactic measure. It gives the deeply unedifying sense of a playground gang – something TechCrunch never had, even when Paul Carr was at his most brutal. Carr always did it with wit and wisdom: at PandoDaily, it’s just bullying.

Readers notice, and some of them – at least, so they claim – have already stopped returning as a result. Given that this sector is so over-reported on, there’s no reason not to believe them. This is a horrible shame, because with relatively few adjustments, PandoDaily really could become the site of record.

Yep, I’m one of those readers who won’t be going back, but at least I’ll be able to head over to The Kernel though, the place that this piece originated from, won’t I?

Well, no. Because, whilst it’s name is, I presume, meant to reference the old saying the kernel of truth, to me it brings to mind the Colonel you see beaming down at you outside fast-food restaurants around the world: like their food, the content gives you an initial hit of pleasure, but it’s bad for you really, based as it is on sniping and resentment (despite lambasting Pando for trying to get Erick Schonfeld fired, the author tried to do exactly the same thing himself), rather than sugar and fat.

But what about Techcrunch? Not as long as people are making excuses about bloggers not being journalists, or as long as MG Siegler ruins what can be reasonably insightful analysis, with his irrational love affair with Apple.

Mashable? I stopped reading that when they started publishing articles that I’d have been embarrassed to write as a strident student journo, whilst their constant ability to take things that little bit lower only confirms that decision.

So, there you go.

A state of the tech blog nation that would be enough to make you weep, if it weren’t for the fact that I can get my news from AllThingsD (owned by the Wall Street Journal), and analysis from the likes of The Economist (in print since 1843) or The Guardian (a newspaper founded in Manchester). Death to old media anyone?

Image by Sam Beckwith on flickr.

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All The News That’s Fit To Link

During the recent UK elections, The Guardian took to using a rolling-blog style of article to keep readers up-to-date with all the latest news around the campaign: in the frantic days during which the Tory/Lib Dem coalition came into being, they felt (I assume) that this was the best way for them to present this information.

Following yesterday’s shootings in Cumbria they again used this format but, after a number of readers questioned its appropriateness, they closed the comments. However, I personally feel that not only should they have closed the comments, but that they shouldn’t be using this particular format for stories of this type at all.

One of the great successes of The Guardian’s digital journalism is its over-by-over coverage of cricket, in which constant updates allow cricket fans trapped at their desks to get a feel for the game, as well as to interact with it by emailing comments to the journalist covering the match. They’ve successfully rolled this format out to football as well, and it works very well indeed.

However, a shooting is not the same as a football or cricket match. Nor, I would suggest, are things like oil leaks, or pretty much any current affairs issue. In one of the comments on the original shooting post it was suggested that the format meant The Guardian was turning into Fox News, to which Janine Gibson responded:

There are very good technical reasons to cover a fast unfolding story in this way, which are nothing to do with turning into Fox News but are to do with speed of publishing and being able to correct things quickly.

I would have to respectfully disagree.

I’m well aware of the argument, promoted by the likes of Jeff Jarvis and many of my former colleagues at RBI, that the modern journalist needs to be more like an aggregator, bringing together the best content on the web and adding insight and analysis on top. However I don’t really see what these type of posts add to the links: it doesn’t take much to just post links and I fear that in doing this The Guardian are actually chipping away at their very own raison d’etre.

Why not, instead, write an article that brings together all of the salient points, links out to other sources that can add extra depth (something The Guardian are absolutely terrible at) and then update it as more information comes in? Yes, it would probably take more time and effort, but it would also, I feel, provide a better service to readers and also be a more dignified approach.

Because no matter what Janine Gibson says, having the word LIVE at the end of a headline brings nothing more to mind than Fox News & The Day Today.

Newspapers image by ShironekoEuro on flickr

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The Guardian: The Scrooge Of SEO?

I am, as anyone who knows me would tell you, a massive fan of The Guardian.

I get the paper delivered every Saturday (as well as The Observer, its sister paper, every Sunday). I have its Tech section set-as my homepage on my laptop at work as well as on my Mac & PC at home. When I’ve had letters printed in it I’ve been ridiculously chuffed. And I loved it when the redesigned the paper and, eventually, the website. Which is why I’m so disappointed with the way they seem to be going about their SEO (I know, I know – last time I was moaning at what they were saying about SEO – what can I say, I’m hard to please).

When I worked at RBI I used to give training courses to journalists on how to integrate SEO into their writing (something I still do, yours at a very reasonable price if you’re interested). As part of this course I used to talk about how journalists could use links: not only to offer their readers further information, but also to boost the ranking of other articles or pages on the sites they were writing for. And to illustrate this point I used to use a screen-shot of an article from The Guardian site which linked from the body copy to other pages on the site.

The reason I used to use this example was three-fold: firstly because it was the first time I’d seen internal links within an article on The Guardian, as opposed to a blog post. Secondly because I argued that what The Guardian did other online publishers ought to follow. And finally because the way in which those links were handled wasn’t too great (basically the links didn’t use relevant anchor text and had obviously been forcibly inserted by a sub after the article had been written). Well, it seems like they got a lot better.

It was whilst I was reading up on the sacking of Paul Ince that I realised how many links there now were in many of the articles. But really got my attention was that many of the links obviously hadn’t been put in for any reason other than for SEO. So, for example, in an article on how Big Sam has been given the Blackburn job (sorry Chris, but I really hope they go down now) there was a link from the words Blackburn Rovers in the first paragraph: but rather than going to the official Rovers site, it goes to a Guardian landing page on the club. From an article on Harry Redknapp backing Ince there were similar links to internal pages from words or phrases you might reasonably expect to go to 3rd party sites. A quick flick through other parts of the site soon showed that these were the norm rather than exceptions.

Now it may well be that I’m being overly picky about this and that I should be celebrating the fact that my favourite paper has got on-board the SEO train to such a large degree. But personally I think they’ve taken it a bit far. If you’re talking about a specific story that you’ve covered in the past, then absolutely link to that from the body of the article. But if it’s a link to a general landing page on a theme, organisation or person, I personally think that should be placed outside of the body copy – more from a user’s point of view than anything else.

I just find linking of this sort rather stingy: if you’re writing about the England & Wales Cricket Board and the phrase appears as a link I think its reasonable to assume that it will go to the official ECB site rather than a landing page. Especially when many of the landing pages don’t even link out to the official sites. The BBC, another media organisation I love, has been criticised for hoarding links and I think its a real shame The Guardian are doing it too.

I mean, I realise that SEO is important but I’d hate to think that anyone would sacrifice a user’s experience for no other reason.

;)

Scrooge image by kevindooley on flickr

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Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells 2.0

As any of you who know me will be only too aware, I’m a sucker for a good bit of letter writing. Like the proverbial Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells I do love writing to newspapers & magazines (although I like to think I’m a bit more reasonable than your average ‘Disgusted’); I’m not really sure why – probably the same reasons I love blogging so much I guess.

To date I’ve managed letters in The Guardian, The Observer, Word Magazine &, my proudest moment, Private Eye (when I managed to get them to print that Andrew ‘Brillo Pad’ Neil photo again). I’ve yet to beat my Dad, who has had a letter printed in The Times, surely the pinnacle for any British letter writer. Then again, my Dad helped put men on the moon, whilst I develop Facebook strategies, so I guess I should be used to not trumping him.

Anyway, recently I’ve managed to get a couple of ‘letters’ in The Guardian’s Thursday Technology section, and I didn’t have to write an email, let alone pick up a pen. That’s because The Guardian’s Tech section are cleverly playing on the innate need of the blogosphere to respond to content printed in the mainstream media, and publish excerpts from blog posts which link to articles that appear in the printed edition.

My article on The Guardian’s attitude to SEO included two links and not only was part of the post printed in last week’s edition, I also received two links from the weekly blog post in which they list all of the pingbacks they’ve found (although I wouldn’t have minded a decent bit of anchor text).

Anyway, apart from the terrifying insight this probably gives you into my psyche, it also provides a couple of interesting points to think about.

The first is the fact that having my URL published in a paper with a circulation of over 300,000 and a readership of over 1 million, or linked to from a website with a (total) monthly audience of  over 18 million, hasn’t resulted in any uplift in traffic at all. In fact, Thursday & Friday of last week (the day of, and after the Tech section is published) actually saw lower traffic than the Wednesday. And as for today, following the blog post being published yesterday? Well, the day’s not over but the traffic certainly isn’t looking out of the ordinary. So much for print pushing people online.

The second is that despite the fact that I linked to the relevant posts The Guardian only saw my post because I Twittered one of the journalists about it even though The Guardian usually track links using Technorati & Icerocket.

So, what have we learned from al this?

  •  Icerocket & Technorati seem to be acting up at the moment
  • Offline PR doesn’t always necessarily translate into traffic online
  • I need to get out more…

Postbox image by Gaetan Lee on flickr

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Why Doesn’t The Guardian Like SEO?

It’s always sad when someone you look up to and admire rebuffs your affection. Like when the prettiest girl at school wouldn’t talk to you because you were a nerd (oh, sorry – was that just me? OK).

So I’m slightly disappointed that over the past couple of days The Guardian’s Technology section (which I have as my homepage) has published two pieces which cast aspersions on the merits of SEO.

First, in a piece on how Google now commands close to 90% of the UK search engine market, Jack Schofield said:

If your business depends on getting 30% to 60% of its traffic from Google searches, you certainly know which side your bread is buttered…. though that’s not going to stop some people trying to game the system with linkfarms, splogs and other SEO (search engine optimization) scams.

As I and another commenter observed, not all SEO is about scams but that certainly seemed to be the impression that Jack was trying to give. Then, in this week’s Technology section, Victor Keegan wrote a piece on why he felt Google was now becoming less useful when trying to find content. The reason? It’s all down to those pesky SEOs.

Search engines are becoming dominated by advertisers. This is especially true of Google, which is generally accepted as being “clean” in terms of separating paid advertisements from sponsored ones. The contextual ads on the right of the screen and immediately above the results are paid for. That’s fine. But so, in an indirect way, are the “clean” results because they are often the consequence of “search engine optimisation”, a multi-billion-pound industry paid to get corporate sites to the top of search results. If you type in something like “quiet family hotel in Venice” you will mainly be led to hotel groups or travel search firms rather than a bespoke hotel.

Well that’s it then; the work I do on a daily basis is making it hard for Victor to find that perfect bijou lodging house in Italy. Time to turn off the PC and go & do something less boring instead. Because obviously only huge corporates can afford SEO. Oh, hang on.

Except of course that this is utter codswallop. Indeed I’d suggest that someone at The Guardian obviously doesn’t think that SEO is such a bad thing as The Guardian site appears to have benefitted from at least a quick once over from someone who understands what makes sites more search friendly.

Whilst the site is far from perfect, their URLs are at least static, when they link from news articles it tends to be internally, and the headlines (whilst not written particularly well from an SEO perspective, despite the fact that their very own Peter Preston has identified how important this is) appear as the title tags – always a good move when looking to gain search traffic.

What’s even more riduclous about this seeming dislike for the dark arts (sic) of SEO is that they’re more than happy to do puff pieces on every new Web 2.0 start-up, with not a shred of a business plan: at least SEOs make money for their clients. Take today’s interview with digg founder Kevin Rose.

But if, like Facebook, Digg will offer targeted advertising, based on users’ interests, and since content will soon be suggested based on the previous stories and links that Digg users made favourites of or dug, and combined with the plan to create social connections between users based on shared Diggs – surely this will provide a way to make money.

Because Facebook is raking it in – that $15bn valuation is looking really tight right now.

Or how about this?

Why is [digg] so popular? “People want to have a voice and a say in what is news,” Rose anwers. “We’ve levelled the playing field by accepting all other forms of content, whether it’s sources from CNN, the Guardian … it’s about seeing what the masses want to surface, which articles they are finding the most interesting, and oftentimes they unearth and promote stories to the front page that you wouldn’t find anywhere else; that would be buried on a traditional news site.”

Yeah, what the people really want are stories about Ron Paul, Apple & kittens falling off TVs. And buckling to your community when they break the law is a really clever way to build a business.

So, if Victor Keegan thinks that Google is broken, what does he think the answer is? Oh, of course – Jimmy Wales’ Wikia: the people powered search engine.

If – and it is a big if – Wikia gets a critical mass of people, it could develop into something really useful.

Didn’t we just show, with the digg example, that the wisdom of crowds isn’t actually infallible? And no-one ever edits Wikipedia to promote nasty corporates, do they? Oh.

Still, at least their is one voice of reason at The Guardian (and to be fair, I hope that in the coming weeks Keegan & Schofield show some understandings of the complexities of SEO, and the different methods it encompasses – maybe they should read Danny’s brilliant piece defining what SEO is & isn’t): earlier in the week Jemima Kiss wrote a very simple piece outlining what SEO really is.

The irony? As one friend commented on Twitter about the article:

the Guardian article seems well optimised for “search engine optimisation”, will be interesting to see how well it ranks in Google!

It all makes me wonder too…

‘No lie..’ image by Keith Bacongco on flickr

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