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SEO for Print Publications – It’s Not Impossible

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A year and a half ago I spoke at a print media conference. It was all doom and gloom about how

newspapers get closed down all over the place and how the future is about the Web.

That’s true but only to some extent. Many problems are self-made, others are about unused opportunities, SEO for print e.g.!

You may be wondering why in the heck they invited me – a search engine optimizer – to speak at a print conference in the first place. To be honest I was just a “replacement killer” for someone who couldn’t attend.

The organizers had read one of my posts for a client blog that dealt with design and products where I covered niche publications – a new hope for the print industry in my opinion. And the panel was focused on niche publications, so…

What’s the problem with print really?

Images for print is dead - Google SERP

I’ve gotten pretty used to “SEO is dead” talk over the recent years – which in most cases is wishful thinking – but the decline of the print industry is real and feasible. One presentation was dealing with the dire consequences of closing down local or even national daily newspapers in the US.

You could argue that journalism could simply go online but even in the cases it does, the lucrative business model is not yet there.

The three major revenue sources – classifieds, advertising and paying readers – do not really work at that scale on the Web. So publishers do not earn enough money online yet to compensate for the loss of revenue from print.

Are niche publications the exception?

In my presentation I spoke about the new trend to publish niche publications that are high quality special interest magazines (in most cases). They are monthly or quarterly magazines dealing with a certain topic and attracting a specific audience.

One of the examples was Wired, which entered the German market at that point (I reside in Germany and the conference was here as well). I bought a copy of the first issue of the German Wired while on the way to the conference itself.

This year Wired will become a monthly magazine in Germany after four quarterly issues have been published.

So I wasn’t that far off it seems. Of course, I used other German examples too that you wouldn’t know about unless you live here, so I skipped them. Let it be said that there are a lot of new niche magazines around here that replace the one-size-fits-all mags of the past to some extent.

Is tech a niche topic?

wired Deutsche version

When you think about it for a while, you will notice that Wired is not really a niche publication. It’s a broad niche. Technology is not just food for thought for nerds by now. Everybody uses a computer, smartphone, game console, etc… these days.

>Wired does not only deal with geeky topics either, it’s about all kinds of things. Culture, lifestyle even politics are major ones.

So you don’t have to publish for a small niche to thrive. It’s how you publish and who your preferred audience is that makes or breaks your publishing business. SEO is a niche topic, but depending on what words you use and who you talk to, you can make it a post for a few dozens or for thousands of people.

Adapting SEO strategies to print media

As an SEO I approach the print problem with the same set of techniques I apply to websites or online publications. I focus on:

  • audience building
  • findability
  • viral spread
  • success metrics
  • revenue sources

Some solutions for the print problem are:

Attracting international audiences

One of the examples I used was buying Polish newspapers in Germany. As you may know, I was born in Poland but I’ve lived in Germany for almost 30 years. I still like to read Polish newspapers but it’s really hard to get one here. That’s ridiculous because Poland is like 100 kilometers (around 60 miles) from Berlin, where I reside.

I know, the average American would just go to Poland and buy one there without a second thought in such a situation. Indeed that’s what many Poles living here do. They even go back to Poland to buy groceries.

Poles are living all over the world. For example, Chicago is considered the largest Polish city outside of Poland. I actually visited the city a few years ago and found that you can actually buy Polish food in any major grocery store. That was a big surprise to me! Long story short: Getting a Polish newspaper is difficult to do in Berlin. The audience is here, but the demand appears to be lacking.

I even befriended a guy who owns a newsstand, and while he tried to get those newspapers for me, his suppliers literally fought him back. There seems to be some kind of German monopoly on wholesales. He was even given Neo-Nazi papers he didn’t ask for, yet they wouldn’t give him the Polish ones he repeated demanded from them.

English language publications have it a lot better. Everybody can read them, especially native speakers all over the world. You can get Time and Newsweek everywhere here. That’s why some British publications like the Guardian for example have embraced global audiences and do not make a strictly British newspaper anymore. Instead, they opt for one that’s relevant to all of their readers. The Guardian has been very successful with that strategy.

In any case, whether you publish in English or another language, you can appeal to international audiences by publishing images that speak for themselves or by adding an English language section for the global audience. For print it’s the same. Many glossy magazines are bilingual in Germany. They have the German and English text published side by side.

Providing summaries for free

It’s strange how many print publishers seem to save money on paper. You will often read short articles in newspapers and get additional material online. Indeed, it should be the other way around. You should provide a summary online – a shorter version of the article that makes sense for the fickle Internet audience. The people who have enough time and money to read a real newspaper – your premium audience – should be provided with the uncut or full version of the article.

People skim content on the Web anyway. So why waste it there for free?

Provide the quick and dirty insights online for free and save the in-depth articles for the evenings and/or the weekend. Personally, I’m glad I can turn off my screen after work and read something on paper where my eyes don’t have to squint. I may be a little older now but soon many more people will be older than young too. So their eyes will be strained by staring into screens all day as well.

Using Issuu for remote audiences

Issuu is like YouTube but for print magazines. It’s by far not as popular as YouTube but the quality of content is much higher. Many magazines offer some or all of their issues for free at Issuu. In some cases you can also look up back issues for magazines that are defunct and don’t even have a website anymore.

Is giving away your magazine for free on Issuu a good idea or not? It depends.

Most niche magazines – even wide spread international magazines – are hard to get as a print copy. I live in Berlin in a truly cosmopolitan area and I can’t get a Polish magazine without going to the next large train station. Most people are not even that lucky.

Many potential readers live in rural areas or other in places where international magazines are completely exotic.

When I go on vacation here in Germany, I always buy my magazines before leaving home because you can only get the most mainstream ones elsewhere in Germany. So to get a greater reach you really need to offer your print publication for free online. Giving away a PDF is an option but then there’s hardly a need to buy a copy at all.

Issuu is like streaming for music. You can listen but not own the music. Here you can read but not own it.

As a magazine publisher, I wouldn’t upload your latest issue immediately to Issuu, but I would offer back issues for free. It doesn’t make sense to hide those anyway as you can’t buy them anymore.

Covering good news

At the print conference, the other presentations were not only full of doom and gloom regarding the print industry, they wera also full of examples with depressing news topics, which is apparently business-as-usual for them.

  • war
  • hunger
  • natural disasters

For example, one presentation stressed how the death of print endangers investigative journalism. A video uncovered by the New York Times was shown where the US army has been killing innocent civilians overseas.

I asked the audience whether or not they read their daily newspaper. Only half of the people present (remember, they were all print media executives) raised their hands. Many of those who did read dailies were doing it in the morning. So I asked them, “can you stand all the death and tragedy in the morning for breakfast?” “I can’t,” I told them. “I get depressed when I read that.”

I asked them another question. “Would you buy a niche magazine dedicated only to plain crashes?” “No, of course not.” Yet, all the established dailies are feeding their readers the worst news there is. There must be at least one major disaster on the front page every day. As proof, I showed them a random list of news headlines I found on Google News. They contained wars, natural disasters, corruption etc. Then I asked, “why do you think people view and share cute cat pictures on the Web instead?”

A few months later a study undertaken for the New York Times proved my positive news theory. They counted how often NYT stories got shared and categorized them by their message – positive or negative. Guess what? The popular articles shared on Facebook were overwhelming positive. They didn’t even have to deal with cats! People do not want to make their friends sad.

It’s only about old media “blood diamonds”. The more you scare the more you earn (or so the theory goes), but not on the Web anymore. The wisdom of crowds have chosen optimism over pessimism. The empty broken glass of newspapers is getting rejected.

It’s of course not just the Web. The same people prefer good news in print too. So don’t puke in their faces every day. Be friendly. You can also cover the positive stories by investigative journalism. For all the millions of flights that went smoothly you don’t have to look for the one that didn’t. That’s not journalism at all, that sensationalism.

Offering coupon codes and call tracking

One might argue that the biggest problem with print media remains the dwindling revenue sources. The main reason why print advertising gets less attractive is because it’s not measurable. You can only guess how many people view it, and whether or not readers actually buy the advertised products.

Online you can track everything. You see how many people view an ad and how many of them buy something either directly or later on. No wonder advertisers prefer online media where they can make sure the ROI is big enough to justify the expense.

In print you usually just aim for the brand recognition.

You don’t have to of course. You can just use online techniques for print media too. Just offer coupon codes in print adverts. They can be perfectly generic. For example you could offer a 10% discount with the coupon code “Wired Germany”.

So everybody who actually notices your advert and buys your product has an incentive to actually give you feedback where you viewed it. Some people will forget that or may be too affluent to care about coupons, but a large number of the people who have seen your ad will buy your product using the code.

Another great way to find out what advertisements actually worked is by using call tracking. You don’t even need a fancy tool for that. You just need to set up a new phone number for that special campaign. With voice over IP you can get such a number for free these days.

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3 Responses to “SEO for Print Publications – It’s Not Impossible”

  1. Hey Tad!

    How are you dear friend?

    I totally dig into the coupon part. My region especially are tempted with those coupons and discounts. If you can offer either one of those, you would probably do a killer if you get what I mean.

    Great write and keep it up!

  2. Stan Chris

    Nice one Tadusz. I love measuring metrics like ROI with call tracking. This way I will sure know, not just who’s calling in and from where and what ad campaign is bringing in the calls but also develop a relationship with customers. I use for my call tracking and Lead management. They are even offering a one year free program at the moment.