Journalists are Cheap: SEO and Why Newspapers Should Cut Out the Middlemen

Recently I attended the first WordCamp UK — a conference for users, developers, and designers of WordPress. Aside from the tips on plugins, backups and content management systems, one line stood out for me: “If you’re a Web developer get to know a journalist. We need them. And they’re cheap.”

The quote came from Nick Garner, head of search marketing for Betfair. He was talking about search engine optimization (SEO) — in particular the practice of link building (increasing the number of inbound links to your site through a range of activities, including posting on forums and in blog comments, buying linked text ads on popular sites and blogs, and writing link-ridden articles which are then ‘given’ to popular sites and blogs. Here’s Garner’s presentation.

Garner heads a Betfair’s SEO team of 20 — yes, 20 — people. Many of those are either former journalists or journalism students, and Betfair actively recruited them.

His point was this: You can try all kinds of tricks to improve how highly your site ranks in Google and other search engines, but ultimately it comes down to linked content — which generally correlates with good content. And in order to get good content, you need journalists.

After his talk, Garner later told me that he thinks journalists underprice themselves. Currently they are in huge demand in his business — and in turn, his business is currently in high demand.

The irony is that this comes at a time when news organizations like the New York Times, Daily Mail, and Telegraph are increasing their own SEO efforts. Yes, that’s about business — but more broadly, it’s about reach. SEO is one important way to make quality journalism more readily available to a larger audience. Therefore, SEO skills are becoming an important part of any journalist’s toolkit. Expanding your reach can serve higher purposes, as well as commercial necessities.

…While you’re considering what the “high road” might be here, try on this alternate image: A struggling newspaper lays off journalists while paying an SEO company to improve its search engine ranking — which in turn hires those laid-off journalists to write link-building copy.

I only hope the SEO companies pay better.

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