Newspapers and search advertising

When searching, I am always interested to see who is paying for the sponsored ads for my query. A while back I searched for some information on the Cory Lidle plane crash and was completely surprised to see iVillage and the New York Times paying for my attention:

Cory Lidel search ads

My initial assumption was that most people today use search to obtain information, regardless of the type. In the case of news, or other recent communications, Google or Yahoo will not be ranking recent stories within the first day. For late breaking news, a large newspaper can effectively solve this information gap by paying a few cents per click. After talking about this with a few people, I came up with a number of different reasons newspapers could be turning to search advertising:

  • Search gap: People tend to use search for most of their information, and a few cents can grab a lot of attention when you are a news source people recognize.
  • Higher monetization: Ads on Google and Yahoo! clock in at lower values than one page view on the news site.
  • Reader acquisition: In the world of online news, it is tough to differentiate, so paying for readers could pay off when acquired readers convert to regulars.
  • SEO: Someone on-staff has a budget to use on attracting traffic, and search advertising seems like a good use of funds. A few clicks turn into a few links, and there you go.

What happens when our news outlets start paying for readers? This may be an example of the right hand not talking to the left, but the fact that the New York Times, of all newspapers, is the first I saw using search marketing makes me think a little differently about the master of mass media. “All the news that’s fit to print” is now a few degrees closer to “Viagra, Levitra and Cialis” in my head, but maybe this is just a temporary phenomenon. It feels like a major shift in the way news is disseminated, but I might be jumping to conclusions.

5 thoughts on “Newspapers and search advertising

  1. You’re basically describing an Adsense arbitrage type of situation where the cost of the ad on Google is less than the gain from, say, a user clicking on an ad on the NYTimes site.

    It is odd to see such a mainstream source going the route of advertising to get readers, but odd advertising strategies are not so rare. It happened leading up to the midterm elections this past week with the search engine Accoona buying political ads.

  2. I don’t think this is arbitrage of advertising costs, I doubt very much that NYT or others expects text ad referrals to convert to banner-ad clicks. I imagine instead that they are trying to convert their tail content into archive purchases or just pageviews and ultimately market share, and they are doing it now because it is very easy with Google’s new tools — there is not much of a huge gap anymore between making your news items available in RSS feeds and turning those feeds into text ads; Google Base lets you do it with a few clicks.

  3. I agree that it’s unlikely that the NYT can cover one click on Google with their banner ads, but it probably does enter into the calculation. But I wonder if this is a bigger trend around content providers filling the gap where search engines are failing. Admittedly, none of the current search leaders do a good job of handling timely queries, beyond having a few news links at the top of the page (which are usually from unpopular newspapers). The NYTimes is actually doing us a favor by paying for this link. In fact, if I could choose between having that link or not, I’d probably pay for it myself.

    When all the dust fell, the Washinton post owns my query (“lidle plane crash“). If the NYTimes weren’t such arses about direct linking, I’m sure they would.

  4. Interesting. I hadn’t thought of this angle before.

    BTW, looking for details about an aviation accident in the mainstream press almost ensures that you’ll come away with a skewed and speculative picture of the accident.

    You really want the NTSB final report. That’s where all the facts are laid out and a probable cause listed.

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