The hometown newspaper in the city I work in just announced it will cut home delivery to just three days per week. The reason, of course, is that it just isn’t making money off the print editions and must focus time and resources on its online product, along with mobile and tablet platforms.
It’s a sad state of affairs, when you consider the historic nature of the announcement: After nearly 200 years, this city no longer has a true daily newspaper.
Even sadder, in my estimation, is the fact that the leadership at the paper’s parent company continues to point fingers at the Internet for the demise of the printed product. And rather than figure out how to survive, they continue to hasten to rush toward extinction. To wit:
Readers have long clamored for a better news product. This particular newspaper cut its newsroom staff in half a few years back — from about 200 to about 100 — which, no matter how you slice it, means less news. I’ve never done a story count, but the decrease in quality over the past several years has been evident. I spent a dozen years competing against journalists from this newspaper, and always found them on top of the game. Recently, the paper is clearly scrambling just to put news on pages — and it’s often not compelling, important news, but news the paper believes will sell more papers.
Of course, the paper had to cut positions. It was bleeding money, both from wages and from a multi-million-dollar printing press installed to allow the paper the ability to print color on almost every page. The idea behind the press, of course, was to talk more advertisers into buying color ads. Color ads mean more expensive ads, which means more money for the paper. Didn’t work out that way.
So here we are.
The paper couldn’t afford the journalists, so it offered buyouts to get rid of as many as possible. The product suffered. Readers noticed. In response, the decision is to eliminate even more jobs, but concentrate on the electronic product.
Here’s the deal: The product is still crappy, whether it’s in print or online. Cutting costs by cutting journalists will never never never never never fix your dwindling readership.
Know what? I’m not sad.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as journalists eulogize the industry. And of course the claim is without proper, trained journalists, the nation will fall apart. Sure, bloggers are telling the news too. But they aren’t real journalists, are they?
This is hogwash.
Our notion of professional journalism and journalism ethics is relatively new, considering the age of newspapers themselves. One of America’s first newspapers, the New England Courant, was published by Ben Franklin’s older brother, James, and was filled with fictitious accounts from fictitious correspondents — satire and opinion pieces. The year was 1721, and until that time, news sheets were filled with news from overseas.
But “journalism” in America became something much different. It became a way to criticize, to needle the establishment, to raise awareness and whip up discontent. It was meant to inform and entertain. It was political, biting, and sometimes dangerous. It was the life’s blood of each community.
That didn’t change much through the 1900s — even through the 1950s. Newspapers were largely a reflection of their editors. But they’d lost something, even by then: They’d already become an industry, and men had already become very, very rich, just by selling information.
Over the past hundred years, the problem has only increased, to the point where huge corporations have dominated the news industry for decades, and they made a lot of money.
But information wants to be free. And we want it to be free.
The news industry has dumbed the news down, just to sell newspapers, to catch audiences. It is rarely the bastion of truth and justice it once was, yet it masquerades behind the ideals of objectivity. There is no objectivity in the news; the object is to make money.
The truth is, the common man is taking the news back. In our local communities, local bloggers are telling the news — with their own spin. And that spin leads others to tell the news from their side. There are debates online. There is conversation. There is, truly, a freedom to print anything. A real freedom of a real press.
The news industry will eventually die — at least in terms of being the leading information source. But the news itself will live on. Wherever there is injustice, there will be a voice to speak out against it. Wherever there is need, there will be a pen. Because this new breed of journalists realizes what the old guard forgot long ago: It’s not about money. It’s about doing what’s right.
In real estate, location is everything, right? Put your business on the right street and you could make a killing. Put it in a dumpy neighborhood and you could be closed in six months.
The Internet’s not all that much different.
I’ve been in the Internet business a long time. Longer than Facebook. Longer even than Google or YouTube. I make a decent living helping clients use the Internet to promote themselves, better serve their customers and keep their own doors open. It’s a vocation I enjoy. One thing I’ve learned? The whole Internet is a dumpy neighborhood.
That’s right. I said it. The whole Internet is that dumpy neighborhood. It’s filled with perverts, lurkers, sleaze balls, snake-oil salesmen and worse. And more than that? There are way more people there who don’t want your product than there are who do — hundreds and hundreds of millions of people who want absolutely nothing to do with whatever you’re selling.
People love the idea of doing business on the Internet, because opening a storefront there seems like opening a storefront on the busiest street in the city. But it isn’t. It’s more like opening a storefront on the Autobahn, where the vast majority of the traffic is flying by, and nobody stops unless their car breaks down or they need to take an emergency bathroom break.
If we continue to torture this metaphor, I’m sure our search engine optimization friends will say that’s exactly what SEO is for…it’s like a road map, telling drivers exactly where to go to find what they’re looking for. And perhaps they’re right.
But as I tell my clients, think about your own shopping habits. When you go shopping, do you bring a map, drive around town and hope you find what you’re looking for? Or do you head to the mall and know exactly what stores you like? Do you pop into every store on Main Street, or do you read through the Sunday circulars and know where the sales are?
I’ve been harsh on SEO in the past, primarily because in my experience the vast majority of SEO “experts” know just enough to be dangerous. And with that nugget of knowledge, they’re willing to charge a fortune — all based on promises they can’t deliver on. And while I believe websites should be search-engine friendly, I can’t stand idly by and allow good people to be taken in by the idea that generating sales online is as simple as spending money on SEO. I can promise, without hesitation, that it does not work that way.
Very few people shop blindly. They aren’t typing in some random phrase and then buying the product from the first website they see. In fact, the vast majority of traffic — and therefore the vast majority of sales — on any website should be “direct request” — meaning someone actually typed in your name and visited on purpose.
I’ve had plenty of lively discussions on this site about the importance of drive-by traffic — the folks who google some term and stumble across a particular website. My argument is now and will forever be that this “drive-by” traffic is just that — it’s folks who were just driving by on that busy freeway. Perhaps they craned their necks as they passed, but they aren’t going to buy from you. They may even be on the wrong street.
Some of my SEO friends will tell you to take advantage of this traffic — to optimize your site so drive-by traffic becomes a profitable. But doing so is pandering to the lowest common denominator, and it isn’t serving your actual customers.
As I’ve said a thousand times: Advertise. It’s the only way to become a destination. No matter what you’re selling, make sure you’re an expert on that product. Make sure nobody knows it better than you do. Provide value and an amazing customer experience. Get people excited about supporting you. Create an ad campaign that targets your market and actively reach out to help people who could use products you’re selling.
SEO can get your address on the map, but advertising is the big billboard above the building, shouting “_____ on sale today!”
Before you spend money on anything, think about your own habits. If you aren’t excited about the way you’re marketing your business, chances are nobody else will be either. Be dynamic, incredible, and worthy of your customers. Don’t just rely on putting your business on the busiest street.
According to this post at Search Engine Land, there’s a new game in town. It’s called conversion optimization, and it’s the next big money maker for the SEO crowd. Apparently the columnist has just discovered that the promise of SEOs — getting lots of people to your site — just isn’t enough anymore. Now visitors actually have to do something, or they just don’t count.
I agree with that, and I’ve said it before. I believe now, and have believed for years, that SEOs can only provide raw numbers, and way too often those numbers are accidental. The question is this: Why are SEOs turning to conversion marketing now?
Up until now, SEOs have been able to prey on frustrated website owners who just know in their hearts they could make a killing online if only they had more traffic. And since the early days of search, SEOs have always had a degree of success in providing raw numbers. But all too often the client is still not happy. Why? Because their 300 percent increase in visitors has equated to a 0 percent increase in sales. The SEO always begs off: “It’s not my fault,” he says. “I brought you traffic. That’s what you paid me for.”
Usually, this is followed up by an offer to tweak the search terms or some other tactic that will cost the client more money.
Clients aren’t having it anymore. And for good reason.
I love and hate the change from SEO to conversion marketing. Here’s why:
I hate it because it allows the same smarmy tricksters to keep stealing your money. Look, if they weren’t honest or capable before, can you believe they’re honest or capable now? I’ve been talking to clients about conversions ever since I got into this game. When a client asks me about their traffic and whether they get enough visitors, I always tell them the same thing: It’s not the number of visitors that’s important; it’s the number of customers.
I’ve always told my clients to save their SEO money and put it toward advertising. Generate desire for your product before the potential customer gets to your website. When they get there, make sure they know how to order and make the order process easy. The only time you need to convince someone to buy after they’ve gotten to your site is if they didn’t mean to be there in the first place. That’s the traffic SEOs have been generating from the beginning.
I love it because it means the tide is finally turning. People are starting to see that there are no accidental customers, and fooling people to come to your site is never the right way to start a healthy buyer-seller relationship. I love it because it will help continue to expose the big lie behind SEO — the idea that all you really need are stats and a high Google rank.
I can’t say enough what a hoax SEO is. (The only SEO you ever need should come from your designer. If your designer doesn’t know best web practices, you’ve got the wrong guy.) It says a lot that in the past couple of years, the SEO crowd first attached itself to social media, promising thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook friends, and is only now talking about conversions — way too late in the game. And I’m not just talking one or two. The Search Engine Land column has been tweeted 390 times as of this writing.
Be careful out there. These are the same people, using a different tactic.