Is Google hijacking newspaper website traffic with new search?

From the Twittersphere, Robert Andrews pointed me in the direction of this post by Martin Belam, Google hijacks traffic from newspaper site search. Martin as always makes some good arguments on why this might be a threat to newspapers.

Whilst Google has dressed this up as being for the benefit of users, it does have some significant implications for the newspapers involved, and has the potential to dent their revenue. … By allowing people to do site searches whilst still on, Google is potentially reducing the number of page, and therefore advert, impressions that these newspapers may be getting. In fact, not only that, but Google is effectively hijacking the advertising that can be displayed by newspapers against search queries on their own site.

I agree that this might negatively impact newspapers’ revenue both in terms of display adverts and also when the newspapers themselves (including the folks that pay my wage, the Guardian) insert text adverts alongside their search results.

Where I might disagree is Martin’s argument that it negatively impacts user experience. He says that Google’s position is that they can provide search better than the news sites. Well, the sad truth is that whether it’s information architecture or search, most news organisations have been very slow to improve these parts of their services. Some news and media organisations have forced their users to use Google because their own search is unusable. They still are making the unmissable, unfindable.

I also see a number of newspapers forcing their users to follow a print paradigm that their drive-by readers may not be familar with. I guess it’s useful for newspapers to allow people to filter their knowledge based on authors, section and branding. It’s useful for those people who are familiar with those things, but increasingly, I believe that many people coming to a site from some random link on the internet aren’t familiar with those things and wouldn’t find that type of filtering useful and may find site architecture based on those considerations baffling. It’s sad that in 2008, we’re still building news sites for us and not our audiences. News editors can’t see the forest from the dead trees and build sites based on their print reading behaviours and their intimate knowledge of their desk structure instead of information needs of their audiences. When you look at online audiences for national or international titles, the great majority are not going to have any familiarity with your print product. Using print product paradigms as a basis for site architecture is a mistake.

Hey maybe I’m an edge case. Or maybe not. (Go to about 2:35 in the discussion of The State of the News Media 2008 by On the Media.) I only read physical newspapers when I fly. I rarely buy newspapers, and my news consumption is a lot more promiscuous. I don’t believe that any news source provides me with the complete picture so I fill in the blanks on my own.

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