Spackman: Journalism and search optimisation are 'completely interwoven' at Times Online

Journalism and search engine optimisation are completely interwoven at Times Online, the site’s editor-in-chief Anne Spackman has told the digital seminar at the PPA Conference in London.

The Times brand is very strong online, she said, with 35 to 40 per cent of traffic coming from homepage or direct traffic from bookmarks. But Google is now the dominant external driver of traffic now accounting for around 27 per cent of inbound traffic, according to Spackman.

Since last year, the Times has had a search team that is involved at every stage of the editorial process. Spackman outlined some of the ways that search awareness is embedded in the Times newsroom.

A search training programme in the newsroom is going is beyond teaching subs to avoid puns or literary references in w, to helping print journalists understand “the new metrics of success”, she said.

She said it was important make journalists understand that online, getting stories on the front page isn’t everything because most of the traffic to the site comes directly to individual stories via search, or “through the side door”. She said that an extensive training programme is teaching search engine optimisation principles to print journalists, particularly.

Spackman also stressed that journalists were also using search to gain a better understanding readers’ interests. Monitoring the search terms used to enter the site had helped improve the Times’s understanding of its readers’ interests, the angles they are interested in for particular stories and their usage habits over the course of the week.

“Times readers are obsessed with house prices and road tax,” Spackman said.

But she also counselled against becoming a “traffic tart”.. She said: “If want to play the traffic tart game, there are certain things that we could write about all the time, like Britney Spears. But that’s not really what the Times is for,” she said, stressing that a news organisation should not be in the business of chasing the most popular search terms.

Spackman also revealed that The Times’ long-promised archive of historical articles is currently being rolled out in beta, or test, form.

And she said that increasingly, News Corp news sites around the world are linking to each other, driving traffic between different properties that share similar values. Sport sections of Times Online and now link to each other permanently, leading to “hilarious” online discussions about cricket and rugby, Spackman said.

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