Search is opportunity, not costPosted: November 24, 2009
Over the last 10 days, I’ve been thinking a lot about Rupert Murdoch’s discussions regarding Google and the content available throughout News Corp media outlets.
The first I started thinking about it was back early last week when it was noted that News Corp’s decision to pull itself from the search engine could cost them somewhere around $3m a year.
A friend of mine commented back when I posted the article to Twitter, and I didn’t think of it much at the time. Bill asserted that an exclusive deal for news content could hurt Google’s market share more so than the wallets of News Corp. The argument and ultimate result is that the revenue that Murdoch gives up via GOOG would be made up for by the exclusivity package.
I disagreed and left it with a pretty matter-of-fact response to me former classmate (“No one’s going to search for news and then go, ‘You know? There’s no WSJ here, I’m done.'”), but as this story has not died in the media critic world, I’ve been continuing to think about my stance. My argument stays strong: this move hurts the potential universe of News Corp’s audience, and it has to do with how we search for content.
From a search habit standpoint – without getting too theoretical – the utility of engines is to uncover what is most appropriate based on the topic for which a user is looking. Whether determined by algorithms or, in the old days, keywords, we have come to trust that the information a search turns up is in fact the most relevant. That’s why so many users click the first few results on a page – because we’ve been cognitively trained to accept those as the most reliable.
Why is this relevant? Because as users most adapted to the nature of search results, we’re pretty satisfied with the information served up. That’s why sponsored ads on Google search results became such a killer source of revenue: marketers aren’t paying for the link alone; they’re paying for the placement that included them in the attention span of information seeking.
As searchers, we don’t think about what isn’t there. We often don’t even look at everything that is there, and most of us stay on the first page of results of any time we search (I’m looking for more recent numbers to emphasize this, but research from a year or two back puts it close to a user clicks on a result on the first page approximately 7 out of 10 times).
With that habit, search is generally a suppplemental audience for content developers. Whether me or Murdoch, the incoming traffic from search is not radically different. Sure, I understand that my idea of getting noticed in search engines to drive people to my content has different goals than Mr. Murdoch’s, but it’s generally going to develop the same results. If I have more traffic, I can hope to push my ramblings out to more people (my reason for publishing); if he has more traffic, he can charge more for ads and make more money (his reason for publishing).
If you take away an avenue people get to your site, traffic will go down. Simple as that.
Search is an opportunity, not a cost. Work with it and you can increase your audience; ignore it or, worse, actively avoid it, and you are really helping speed up the process of being unnoticed.