It’s long been an absolute must for a PR professional to understand at least the basics of SEO. That isn’t to say that the entire profession is now trained up, far from it, but at least if you speak to the majority of PR people they will acknowledge that they do need to know.
But it seems to be not so in journalism. I’ve often seen journalists who are in fact internet savvy make derogatory remarks about the practice of SEO journalism, presuming it is the worst case of click-whoring; keyword stuffing headlines and shoving random celebrity names into URL slugs. Better to know nothing about this dark art of the internet.
Which is the perception that is causative of the ignorance. SEO does contain some dark arts - buying links, spamming blogs etc. It can be seen as ‘gaming the system’. But most people who are truly internet savvy know that fair and moral use of SEO techniques are not ‘gaming’ anything, but merely playing the game.
And yes, I did just use the words fair and moral in reference to SEO. It brings me nicely on to a subject most journalists will consider part of their commitment to fairness and morality in their profession - correctly crediting sources.
This morning I read a fantastically impassioned MG Siegler post raging about the lack of a proper credit from the WSJ on an Apple story he broke. I totally agree with MG’s point (this is normally my response to MG’s posts), but it was an aside he made which got my attention -
"I honestly do not care if WSJ links to TechCrunch at all. I’ve been doing this a long time - one thing I know for certain: a link from WSJ means dick. Basically no one clicks through. We get more traffic from Google+, which is saying something."
Yes. Because clicks are the only measure of whether a link is worth anything.
Seriously? This is like day one, lesson one of SEO. I find it really hard to fathom that MG, a noted and highly influential tech blogger and someone who regularly reports authoritatively on Google, does not appear to understand the most basic principles of how the main part of their business (search) works.
I appreciate that Techcrunch is massively influential in itself, and it’s not life and death whether WSJ links to them or not. But whether anyone clicks through or not, a link from the WSJ would seriously help the TC post appear on the top of searches for the story, where it’s currently residing in 9th place on Google.com. TC may not get a lot of traffic from Google+, MG, but how much does it get from Google search?
Of course it’s quite possible that MG was being facetious, being dismissive of the WSJ plays to the whole point of his post. But he’s far from the only journalist (well, blogger, but I don’t think the differentiation is required or relevant here), or even tech journalist, that I’ve noticed appear ignorant of these basics. Even when media do make an attempt to credit their sources, they often appear to be ignorant of how to do so appropriately.
Take this from the guardian, for example. Being the nice liberal supporters of transparent good journalism and the open web that the guardian are, they have credited ChannelFlip for their fairly amusing video of Jon Ronson ranting about a twitter spambot which is impersonating him.
But have they? Really? Properly?
No. They’ve stuck a non live web address in there, which is almost of no use to ChannelFlip whatsoever.
This may not be the best example, as ChannelFlip are a video content provider, so there are probably commercial agreements behind the guardian’s use of this video, and driving traffic to their own website may not be ChannelFlip’s number one priority. However it’s something any PR who knows their SEO basics will tell you they see very often. “Thank you, lovely journalist, for crediting my client with a FULL web address, but negating to make the link live means that it is basically completely useless to me, my client, or even your readers.”
I don’t want to advocate anyone gaming the system, but it’s time that journalists learn that good SEO is not that. You need to learn, as knowing the rules of the game is essential for fair play.