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Google, the news and reader reactions

A few days ago, I published an entry headlined “Horrible Bosses in Atlantis: How Google governs the news,” about the influence that Google’s trending search terms have on the coverage of news. I said there that editors have to pay some attention to what the big topics of the day are because those are the things readers will be searching for.

The post generated some interesting reader comments. One reader, Dave, asked the cogent question: Did the blog entry – which led with a paragraph containing all 10 of that days top search terms – bring in more readers than usual?

The answer, according to the analytics tools we use, was a little baffling. Yes, it did get a few more views than an FCW Insider entry usually gets, but not by any dramatic amount. However, very little of that traffic came from search engines. Instead, the numbers came from the usual mixture of people coming directly to the website, or through the e-mail newsletter or via referrals from other sites. Google and Bing were in there, but accounted for their normal proportion of visits, not any increased number.

I think the explanation is pretty simple: If you Google the search terms you’re interested in – on that day, “space shuttle” or the movie “Horrible Bosses,” for example – you’ll get hits related to those terms, not our blog post. And if you string several of the terms together, our entry comes up in the number-one spot, but includes enough text to show the reader that it’s actually not about any of those things.

Which brings me to another commenter who posted thoughts on that entry:

“You traded on a respected name (FCW) but used nefarious tactics (a headline that has nothing to do with the article),” the reader wrote. “Now that I associate FCW with this sort of rubbish, I'll be less likely to click on your articles.”

I’m going to assume the reader was being tongue in cheek. What the entry did was something akin to a magician performing an impressive trick and then demonstrating how it’s done. Doing something transparently and then pointing out what you did and explaining why is hardly “nefarious.”

I’m also a little bemused at the accusation that the headline had “nothing to do with the article” … mainly because I can’t figure out what other sort of story a reader might expect with that headline.

Posted on Jul 15, 2011 at 12:18 PM

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