Small: Humans Are Newspaper’s Search Differential

Newspapers can’t expect to beat Yellow Pages or Google in broad local advertiser categories, but they can focus on niche areas and invest in human editors and SEO to bring out their real strengths in the local marketplace, according to Jay Small, who is E.W. Scripps Newspapers’ director of online audience and operations. Small was speaking on a panel (moderated by Greg Sterling) at the NAA Marketing Conference Jan. 29-31 in Las Vegas.

“Sure, Yahoo! and Google will drain some revenue from the local markets. But we’ll do well in other categories,” says Small. “We really improve our chances of success if we focus on a niche, like a business directory. When we try to go up against an incumbent Yellow Pages player, or a Google, we end up spending all our time trying to keep our listings up to date.”

Small feels that a critical key to newspapers’ success with local advertisers is their use of human editors, who can see connections with local guides, advertisers and newspaper content that Google and others may not. (In this regard, Scripps is very much on the same track as Boston.com). He additionally notes that Scripps has invested in a couple of staffers for SEO of content and specialty classified interests. “Human editing is the newspapers’ differential,” he says. Otherwise it is difficult to match up content with standard Yellow Pages categories, etc. “But attracting good SEO people is very expensive.”

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