When Stylebook Conflicts with SEO

The Associated Press rattled newsrooms April 23 when it announced that U.S. state names would no longer be abbreviated in the body of news stories.

The stylebook change, effected with little warning, was intended to aid localization by making U.S. news content consistent with international stories, in which state names are spelled out.

But some newsrooms rebelled, citing:

  • decades of habit among editors and proofreaders
  • inconsistency within stories, as AP preserved many exceptions to the new rule
  • inconsistency with wire services that still abbreviate
  • increased story length in print editions, where space is very tight
  • human editorial effort required each day to resolve those inconsistencies

One major news service, McClatchy-Tribune, announced it would not follow AP’s lead. Other newspapers such as the Arizona Republic criticized the change.

Response to MCT’s announcement was favorable among journalists commenting at jimromenesko.com, a news-media blog: For many editors, AP’s “localization” reflected excessive internationalization of local content.

grammarBut the impact of abbreviation style extends beyond local or global readability. Abbreviated state or provincial names, when divorced from specific cities, don’t behave well in search engines. Nor do they perform consistently — even with a city name — in the keyword-based database searches of content archives such as NewsLibrary.

MCT SmartContent compensates for this problem by geotagging content. But if you don’t subscribe to MCT or another geotagging service, then abbreviations may inhibit readers — domestic and foreign — from finding relevant stories.

If increased relevance in searches and resulting growth in ad traffic are key objectives, then one should not simply do what’s easiest for newsroom editors or grammar-nazis, or what fits best on the printed page. Given that different client audiences may each use a different mix of abbreviations, slang, industry jargon, and elementary and advanced vocabulary, content producers should emphasize language that — while concise, consistent and easy to follow — also exploits their readership’s language mix through the use of synonyms.

For clarity, for legacy archival search engines, and for international markets, it’s a good practice to spell out abbreviations in metadata if not in the text. It’s also helpful — within the confines of cultural sensitivity and accuracy — to use multiple descriptors for the same idea: for example, “black” and “African American,” “LGBT” and “sexual minority,” or “mobile phone” and “cell phone.”

What compromises do you make between style and searchability? Please let us know your thoughts.

Contextual ads drive demand for semantic news

Thanks to the Internet and free web sites, news content is more popular and more current than at any previous time in history.

Online advertisingNews publishers, old and new, enjoy brisk online consumption and sharing of their free content among more than a billion readers, while advertisers reap the benefits of having cheap color full-motion ads placed in front of more potential online customers than either TV or print media could ever reach.

And yet those same publishers are generally less profitable than ever, as advertisers pay fees that fall well below the publishers’ production cost. In return, advertisers receive little clickthrough traffic and even fewer sales. As Rob Norman of Advertising Age notes, “The advertiser has not followed the user.”

Advertisers have not served sufficiently compelling and relevant ads, particularly on small mobile devices. Publishers, meanwhile, have struggled to relate ads to content, ensuring that potentially lucrative targeted ads for female readers aren’t misplaced alongside boys’ basketball stories.

Consumers won’t patronize advertisers that aren’t relevant — and advertisers won’t pay a premium for poor ad positions. Until relevant ads be can closely and automatically tied to related news content, it becomes difficult for publishers to justify ad cost-per-impression rates that would come anywhere close to meeting the cost of news production.

There is little doubt, however, that competitive pressure, combined with advances in semantic search among the major search engines, are gradually forcing advertisers and publishers to overcome fading financial and technical barriers. The move is well afoot to create and syndicate semantically targeted news that can be automatically displayed with contextual advertising.

Slowly but surely, publishers have begun to calculate that advertisers and audience expectations for smarter content are cost-justified. Ads are being displayed alongside related news, so as not to offend visitors with ads that are too obtrusive.

Investors appear confident in companies that are adopting best practices for intelligent content. Digital revenues and share prices are up for news content creators such as McClatchy, while investors pile aboard content-licensing ventures such as NewsCred.

How valuable is relevant content and useful advertising to you? How do you calculate the cost versus benefit of linking the two? And what methods make it easiest for you to connect news stories with related ads — and precise news topics with specific readers’ interests? We are eager for your thoughts.

Don’t bury your audience in news

McClatchy-Tribune ontologists are news junkies, as you may have guessed. While we develop great software and deliver smart topical news feeds during the work day, at home we spend personal time, like you, wading through news stories to find something of interest.

Photo courtesy of Urbane Women Magazine via Creative Commons/Attribution license.

Photo courtesy of Urbane Women Magazine via Creative Commons/Attribution license.

Our methods at home vary. We:

  • surf web sites by hand (click, click, back, click, scroll, back, click, scroll…)
  • painstakingly update lapsed, broken, and overly broad RSS feeds that we receive in Feedly
  • search Twitter or Google Plus by trial-and-error keywords
  • wait for friends on Facebook to recommend stories,
  • use publication-specific news apps (of which McClatchy offers several, via iTunes)

Several of these tools appear regularly in “self-help” articles for unfortunate souls who are drowning in news.

But all this effort brings us back to why we create SmartContent in the first place:  Busy readers shouldn’t need self-help.

Envision a major health consortium’s web site, which contains a tsunami of breaking medical news. You’re looking for news about local implementation of the Affordable Care Act, but all you find is a vast list of general health stories and some RSS links — oh, groovy, you tried RSS once and decided it’s for nerds. Worse: You call the consortium’s news desk. A sales rep warmly replies, “Did you try to Google our site? Oh, I think I saw some stories about Obamacare on our Twitter feed. Good luck!”  How much attention will you commit to that consortium’s site, before leaving it — hopefully forever?

Do you feel as though, perhaps, the consortium just dumped its own labor costs on you?

The consortium may see the light; it might even hire editors to review and select stories by topic. But then it’s not only paying high wages, plus administrative costs, for specialized personnel to perform work properly delegated to computers;  it’s also approaching a tsunami of news in a subjective and spotty fashion. What are the chances, after all, that a couple of editors will seriously review and categorize each one of 10,000 stories per day?

When intelligent-content companies such as MCT and SmartLogic build specialized news feeds, such as MCT’s local Obamacare news feed — or license their application and support to the topical news distributor — both distributor and consumer benefit from improved, relevant, intelligent content, quickly and at lower cost than an editorial team or do-it-yourself.

What is smart content?

Image courtesy of Raymond Bryson via Creative Commons/Attribution license.

Image courtesy of Raymond Bryson via Creative Commons/Attribution license.

People often ask us, “What is smart content?”

While it’s true that our news is intelligently crafted, that’s not what we mean when we boast of the power of smart content.  Intelligently written news loses its purpose if it is never discovered. News loses its function if, once discovered, it can’t be accessed. And it falls short of its potential if the user can’t weigh its relevance and its relationship to other news.

Smart content overcomes these obstacles. We like to think of smart content as news that is almost self-aware. Unlike traditional text or video that can only be understood by its consumer — and not by the systems that deliver it — smart content inherently knows what it is about before a consumer ever sees it. It knows also when and where it is located, how relevant it is, how it may reach different audiences, and how those audiences may customize the content or locate related information. Smart content is not dependent upon a search engine to be found — although search engines can certainly help.

Smart content ideally transcends all media: It can be consumed via desktop browser, mobile device, database search, e-mail, projector, or printout.

To summarize:

  • Smart content is audio-visual-textual information made inherently relevant to specific audiences through diverse avenues of reception.
  • The technology of smart content connects a business or consumer to the most meaningful information that is available.
  • The format of smart content adapts to diverse delivery methods.
  • Smart content can be easily customized or personalized by businesses and consumers.

For more insight into the essence of smart content, we recommend:
What Constitutes “Intelligent Content”? Interview with Ann Rockley