Should Online Newspapers Buy Keywords Related To Tragic News Events?

Last weekend, the Associated Press ran a wire story discussing the intricacies of managing PPC news campaigns during a tragic news cycle. The story used the Virginia Tech tragedy to illustrate how search engines are now the go-to source for finding breaking news, and how traditional news outlets such as TheNew York Times and The Washington Post now rely on engine visibility in a breaking news situation. But the story not only stresses the power of search engines in the distribution of news, but also subtly provokes a question for news-related search engine marketers and search engines to seriously consider: Should online newspapers buy keywords related to tragic news events?

The AP writer found several major media outlets competing for top placement on terms such as 'virginia tech shooting' and 'virginia shooting' so they would not "miss readers' attention by being bumped down on the list." It also notes that Yahoo advertiser FFF Hunting Preserve got caught up in the search-spike fray, with its ad listing describing its "9 station range Shooting course in Virginia."



Newsflash: Search engines are mass distributors of breaking news online

The AP writer's epiphany may be news to the news industry, but it sounds like something we search evangelists have been preaching to the corporate world for some time now: "For top-tier news organizations to advertise [in this] way illuminates the massive power the Web now wields in the traditional media. No longer can the Times or the Post assume that readers would naturally come to them, even when a huge event breaks."

It should also be noted that advertising the news is not necessarily as new as the writer suggests. Major media outlets have been up-selling and promoting news coverage wherever their viewers can be found, particularly in radio, billboards, TV and print, on both a national and local level, for a long time.

Paid search is the most relevant placement for breaking news

Paid search is arguably the most effective and relevant form of news advertising, primarily because the visitor permits relevant ad delivery (or news delivery) based on the querying phrase at the crucial moment of a breaking story. Aggregators like Google News require a story to reach a critical mass of citations before the story appears in One Box Web search results, or even at the top of the Google News headlines. Algorithmic placement can take up to an hour or more for results to change during a major breaking news story. It's within that important window of time when search queries begin to spike that media providers have the opportunity to quickly position their story.

For news sites: To buy, or not to buy?

News organizations should have no reservations about buying terms on breaking news stories in search engines, regardless of whether the story is lighthearted or tragic, as long as they link to relevant and timely content. These online publications are in the business of providing the news, either good or bad, and buying relevant keywords is a logical and reasonable extension of the service they provide.

A news provider presence in PPC is currently the exception and not the rule. I'll make a prediction and state that the future of paid search news results will look like a crowded marketplace filled with national and local news providers jockeying to be found for breaking news stories, as well as everyday news topics. Today, the paid keyword space lacks major competition for topics such as "War in Iraq," "Boris Yeltsin," or "Sheryl Crow's War on Toilet Paper" (which are all front page headlines as I write this).

Whether the news is happy or sad, you, the searcher, are looking for it. In the future, top-tier providers will aggressively seek our attention in the search engine results pages with relevant media (text, photos, audio, video), in a way that you, the searcher, can find it quickly at the highest point of interest. Isn't that what relevant search is all about?

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