SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a relatively new concept in the world of journalism. Basically this is a way to generate traffic to your website by using keywords that will easily pop up in search engine results. Search engines will cue up results in order of best to worst, so the results that pop up first are the ones more likely to get traffic than those on the 26th page of a Google search.
Some people think that journalists need to be trained more in SEO for their websites than AP Style. As journalism moves into a more internet-based profession, drawing traffic to your website has become almost more important than selling newspapers. In an article for the Online Journalism Review writer Robert Niles said:
“SEO will help you gain new readers online. AP style will not. If you need new readers to make money, then SEO will help you more than AP style. That’s it. It’s just the reality of publishing online today. You can either adapt and accommodate it, or shake your fist at it and resist.”
Hate it or love it, the reality of journalism has always been new readers = making money. But, today, instead of new newspapers subscribers you need people to continually come back to your website. SEO is the most effective way to do that.
There are some ethical issues with SEO, though. One of these issues is the possibility of news organizations misreporting things purposely for better SEO. For example, this article about the Mosque at Ground Zero proves two things in it’s first sentence: the mosque isn’t just a mosque and it’s not at Ground Zero. But after multiple new sources reporting about the “mosque at Ground Zero” that is what the public believes in happening – and it’s what they type into Google to get more information.
This creates an ethical dilemma. While news organizations may know that there is not a mosque at Ground Zero, they may keep reporting it as such because that is what’s going to draw traffic to their website. No one is Googling “Mosque-like building kind of near Ground Zero.”
In that article, Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, said:
“It may be inaccurate, but if that’s what the public is searching for, then using it speaks to what they seek.”
Some new organizations try and alter the language, like Scott Rosenberg the co-founder of Salon. Trying to be satirical, he used the language “the non-Ground Zero non-mosque.” The problem with this, though, was that it still put the words “Ground Zero” and “mosque” together, which may be good for SEO but bad for the public’s perception. Even with the word “non” in there people may begin to associate the words “Ground Zero” and “mosque” together.
I’m not really a huge expert on SEO. I hadn’t even heard of it until it was a topic in one of my classes last semester. I can already tell though that it’s going to be completely important to the industry and something i’m going to have to learn a lot about as a journalist. I really can’t say to much more about it considering i’m not too educated on how it works and what it is, but I will say that if it contributes to misinformation some things are going to need to change with it.