On wire services and SEO

December 3, 2008

There’s been a lot of talk about CNN’s planned wire service, which will compete against the Associated Press in the syndicated news market.

CNN sees an opportunity, because the more newspapers cut staff, the more they need to rely on outside sources to fill their pages. On the surface, it sounds like a good deal for papers. But it’s not, especially for a paper that wants to have a strong online presence.

Why? Three words: search engine optimization.

For you newspaper execs who are just hearing the term for the first time, SEO is the practice of using strong keywords and story descriptions to get your content high rankings on Google and other search engines and drive more traffic to your Web site. (You should try it sometime. Really, it’s great.)

But SEO has a lot of tricks and rules that can undermine your efforts if you’re not careful. One of those is the “duplicate content” rule. Under this rule, if a story you post is too similar to a story someone else has posted, both stories will plummet in the search engine rankings.

That’s where using a wire service comes in. If you’re one of 100 (or even 10) papers that runs the same wire story in your online edition, nobody will ever find your specific page on Google. There’s just too much competition.

You’re better off, as Jeff Jarvis says, creating “an infrastructure to share and link to original journalism.” Spending money on this new CNN wire, or any syndicated content, isn’t a smart investment these days.