SES Keynote: Search Has Changed Everything…And So Can You by Gordon McLeod

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Wednesday morning at SES kicked off with a keynote by Gordon McLeod from Wall Street Journal Digital Network entitled “Search Has Changed Everything…And So Can You.”

McLeod initially outlined the size and shape of the current WSJ network of financial news sites, then took us back to the 1996 WSJ.com site, which had 50,000 subscribers and four firewalls. From 1997 to 2002, WSJ focused on spinning out vertical sites and opening up content to public access. From 2003 to 2006, WSJ started to incorporate SEO, blogs, podcasts and mobile. In 2007, WSJ finally integrated SEO elements: dynamic sitemaps, modified URL structure and proper redirects. WSJ most recently launched AllThingsD.com (on WordPress platform) and opened up Barrons.com after 3 p.m.

Despite missteps, WSJ.com’s SEO efforts last year have paid off: organic search results are up (share of search engine traffic is up 33 percent, but still a high single digit percentage of overall traffic). Based on current numbers, WSJ plans to stick to the hybrid paid & free access, as traffic is growing faster than advertising dollars can sustain, so subscribers are still a critical element of the revenue mix (still just over 1M subscribers and 14.7M monthly visitors).

When it comes to site search, McLeod indicated that WSJ is interested in providing hybrid results from WSJ and from other sources on the Web (ala CNN.com). He does understand that site search has the capability to power site content (more like a platform than a failsafe mechanism). Look for WSJ to turn internal search data into a passive personalization vehicle in the future. As a parting though, McLeod suggested that a Web site is a 1.0 concept: content syndication and multi-platform customization (mobile, social media, etc.) is the future of WSJ’s success.

Incidentally, WSJ has a 2 year contract with Sapient to provide training to editorial staff on the impact of writing for search engines. McLeod also indicated that they mix of build and buy has been successful (the 100 person development team can only do so much). To wrap up the keynote, he shared Hitwise data comparing growth of print news and media sites as compared with lifestyle blogs and sites (1.45 percent compared to .7 percent respectively). McLeod believes news sites are making headway and catching up with mainstream information sites.

Overall, it was refreshing to hear an insider at a large publisher being open about their mistakes and share strategies and resulting success.

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