In a recent commentary, the CEO of one of our competitors downplays the value of search engine generated traffic, saying that only 7% of their traffic is from search engines.
He said, "I don't think local advertisers — or publishers — should give high value to this traffic. True 'web surfers' who find online newspaper content via search engines are coming from all over the world, usually aren't frequent visitors and there's no way of explaining to advertisers who this audience is, because it changes daily.
What is valuable is the 92 percent of traffic that comes from loyal, dependable, predictable local residents, "snowbirds," former residents and friends/family of local residents. This is an audience that advertisers can understand and wish to reach. This is the prime audience."
This is very small thinking. Newspapers should not prevent those that are using the search engines to research local issues from finding their websites. This is a fantastic source of NEW readers. The free introduction of the newspaper website to those interested in the issues covered by the paper provided by the search engines should not be minimized. Many people who find the website on a search engine will eventually take out a print or online subscription place a classified ad or buy from a local advertiser. Sure some of these people are from out of town but most finding newspaper stories on search engines are researching local issues.
We get over 30% of our traffic from search engines, not the 7% our competitor confesses to. Why the huge difference? I believe it is because they just don't care about search engine traffic and their system design shows it. Do you think search engine traffic is an important way to reach new readers?
In case our competitor's get really serious about cutting off search engines, I want to let them know they can simply put "disallow: /" in a file named robots.txt in the root folder of each newspapers and the search engines will leave them alone. I'd really love that because in markets where we have a newspaper and they do too, our paper would be the only one with stories that could be found on search engines.
For more information see our earlier article that asks, "Are search engines the friends of weekly and small daily community newspapers?".