How The AP Fails To Get Search & SEO (Again)

Gosh, just as the Associated Press announces that it’s going to follow a new meta tagging scheme to protect its content, it continues to show no clue about how to monetize its own traffic much less regulate it. Stories continue to die, just as they have when I covered the issue a year ago.

Back in June 2008, I wrote Hey AP! How About Running A Real News Web Site?, which — in the wake of AP making noise about fair use guidelines — examined how the organization failed to provide any central article that anyone could point at. A key part of my article:

To get back to the bloggers, let me point out a key problem you have. Your stories appear everywhere, like weeds. Then they die, unlike weeds. Like they disappear after roughly 30 days. This was an issue I pointed out when the Google deal was struck.

Now skip ahead to this past May. In writing Do Newspapers Owe Google “Fair Share” Fees For Researching Stories?, I said:

Let’s consider last week’s wonderful story from the AP about how old Japanese maps on Google Earth are causing problems with some in that country. Given that news stories have a tendency to disappear, I’m going to link to the story using its entire headline: Old Japanese maps on Google Earth unveil secrets. Now if the story should move for some reason, as least with the headline, there’s a chance of locating it in some new location.

Try to go to that story today, where I linked to it at, and you get a 404 error:

The page you’ve requested does not exist at this address.

Nice. As Jean commented, you can still find the article over at the Huffington Post. Perhaps HuffPo’s deal with the AP allows stories to be up longer than 30 days. Certainly the Seattle Times still has it, also. But the copy over at Yahoo is dead, meaning all that Digg love it had generated is now going to waste.

If people wonder why I might seem so hostile to newspapers screaming about how badly they’re being done by Google, bloggers and aggregators, it’s stuff like this that does it. This is lunacy. It doesn’t engender respect or a believe that the AP or other organizations really understand the world they’re operating in.

I linked to the article the AP itself had put out on its own web site. They kill it. Links from Digg that would generate thousands of visits are allowed to die. Duplicate content across the web isn’t regulated by the AP itself — there’s no instructions for publications to block that content from search engines; no thought about consolidating links; no thought about how no one can tell what’s the “authorative” piece that they should link to.

And yet the AP and others yap that they don’t get credit enough, that people rip them off, that Google should somehow have supernatural abilities to make up for the mess they contribute to. Please.

But hey, it’s all going to be better now. AP proposes new article formatting for the Web from the Associated Press itself tells us of a new standard (write that headline down, so you can find the article in 30 days when it dies). It involves meta tagging articles, which will:

The tag[s] identifying usage rights could allow Web sites that aggregate content to automatically sort articles by copyright terms and let publishers more easily track how their stories are being used, said Srinandan Kasi, AP’s general counsel.

If you want to know more about the system, visit the Value Added News site. Don’t worry — as you’re told:

Adding semantic value to your news is not rocket science. It doesn’t even require serious plumbing in the depths of your database.

Then scroll down after that intro, and your head will hurt. Like if I use the microformat for “Daily News,” which Daily News is that? Because there’s a number of them out there. The tech specs don’t help.

As for the AP already using this, when I looked, I didn’t see tags on some selected articles I examined. I certainly didn’t see them on AP content being redistributed by AP members. I even wonder if the tags will carry over across the various content management systems out there, once they leap forth from the AP.

But wait, there’s more. What about ACAP? That’s supposed to be a shining star in the rights management area that AP signed on to ages ago. ACAP, which is being positioned (see also here) to European legislators as part of a solution to “protect” newspapers and publishers from those evil “aggregators.”

So now AP is going to use a second system in addition to ACAP? And yet meanwhile fail to follow the most important “system,” basic SEO?

Sigh. Maybe later I’ll ask the AP about it. Maybe they’ll even decide that someone from the AP can speak to me, unlike earlier this year. Believe it or not, I’d like to see them succeed. I only wish it were less talk, less smoke-and-mirrors, less “we can’t unless” and more action with what they really can do now, in an action that technically makes sense.


  1. says

    Jeez, you’d think that AP would, like, hire an SEO?

    Seriously, the powers-that-be in the newspaper business appear to be stuck in the 1960s as far as what they think works. They’ve had, what, two decades to figure out how to optimize and monetize their online operations, yet they apparently didn’t take it seriously until the current economy dried up their print ads.

    I cut my teeth as a reporter in the 1980s and was impressed at how the news business embraced new technology, but apparently that ended when it went beyond printed paper.

  2. says

    Danny, this has driven me batshit crazy with our local news organizations as well. With the amount of authority these sites can and do have, you would think they would take a serious look at why they are loosing so much revenue, and maybe, just maybe, even have someone take a teeny weeny little peak at just the entry level, just joined a web pro forum, noob basics of seo or site structure. You would think that they would at least look at what The NYT’s or CNN or HuffPo do for their own websites, and their web policies as well.
    And then they come lamenting to me that they are not making serious money from their web presence. Duh…

  3. says

    Danny, seriously, the problem here is that you’re an expert in a business model that is not the AP’s business. It’s Google’s business. So you keep ranting at them, roughly, “You’re doing so badly at Google’s business. Here’s how you could do better at Google’s business. How can your complaints about troubles in your business be considered reasonably when you aren’t trying to do well at Google’s business?”, etc.

    But … again, that’s not what they do. Preaching at them to chase after what Google does is a fool’s game (for them). In fact, this distinction is what’s deep under the conflict between AP and others.

  4. says

    @SethFinkelstein when the AP decided to publish to the web, they became webmasters and it is indeed their business, their CORE business even, to understand web publishing. Much of what Danny described above is not Google-specific or even search engine specific SEO. It is good web publishing. Understanding how users and publishers utilize the web, and how activity on the web dictates publishing practice.

    We are nearly 13 years into the web and ten years into search engines, at least 5 years into a market where search drives a majority of web traffic. Any company today that has web site builders on staff should understand the basics of search engine optimization, or make use of consultants to train and guide their web staff. Ignorance is no longer an acceptable excuse.

  5. says

    @johnandrews – I think you missed my point. The AP isn’t a web publisher in terms of their business. They do not do the eyeballs-to-ads system that is Google’s business and web publisher’s overall business. Thus, the fact that they don’t have a website like a web publisher business would have, isn’t proof of anything or a contradiction or a journalistic irony, because, they’re not a web publisher business.

    Please don’t misread this into something trivial, like all business which have a website are thus web publisher businesses. That’s like saying all businesses which have a store are mass-market retailers.

  6. says

    No, I was thinking of the web as distribution for AP, much as they acknowledge when they start talking about meta tags, and are concerned with controlling republishing. The NYT was a news organization, but it was very much in the newspaper printing & distribution business.

    Perhaps AP isn’t as much of a website publisher themselves compared to the consumers of their services, but they are still publishing to the web, and very much dependent on the web distribution model, no?

  7. says

    I think the important difference is that being in the syndication business, the AP is interested in having other people pay it, or somehow deriving revenue from other people’s publication of their content. That’s what they seem to be thinking of in terms of a “web distribution model” – note the above phrase “let publishers more easily track how their stories are being used”. But this is worlds apart from the sort of attention-mongering link-baiting Google-worshiping/fearing strategy of running a big website for advertising clicks.

  8. says

    Seth, Google is AP business in as much as they themselves keep ranting at it as a “problem” not to mention are currently renegotiating a licensing deal with Google.

    The AP is indeed a web publisher. Do you not find AP stories all over the web :)

    Seriously, I think you mean that they are not trying to be a primary publisher. That the AP traditionally puts its stories out through member publications.

    Yes, and that’s a problem for them. That’s caused some members to leave stories up, while other members don’t pull them down when they’re supposed to. It gets some members angry with others who use AP stories to pull in traffic from Google that the other members want. That was part of the issue that was supposed to be resolved in the “new uses” provision of the AP-Google deal that was cut several years ago. Never happened.

    Meanwhile, the AP itself plans to launch its own portal for AP content. It’s hard for me to go into more details because, as I’ve explained, the AP doesn’t seem to think it’s worth talking to me about their plans. It sounds like they’ll simply collect articles as they run in various member publications. That won’t solve many of the problems they claim to have.

    Bottom line — if they aren’t putting out stories directly, then they need to organize some way for people to find the “originating” article from the AP, so links don’t break, those trying to do the right thing with linking can and member publications don’t fight like dogs over the traffic pickings. They don’t appear to be doing any of that.

  9. says

    I’m trying to understand the distinctions here, but in all honesty, the AP’s argument confuses me. The fact that the AP is on the web and using it as a distribution channel, and not doing some very basic archiving of original material, is in my opinion an incredible lame business model and web model. I mean, not a even a basic archiving of an article, and complaining that they are not being treated fairly by the web, Google, Yahoo, bloggers, whoever, is in fact very childlike argument.

    Danny, your POV is awesome, but I am not understanding the AP argument. They want to be in a web world, but not have the web be part of their business model? Who does that? The purpose of being online is…shit, being ONLINE. You don’t want your content indexed by the SE’s? easy peasy, noindex, nofollow, end of story.

    But how can they expect their customers, who I’m sure pay a hefty fee, not to use basic web distribution models, like duh, rss feeds, to benefit from having that content. That rss feed goes out to many places that will send traffic back to the originator, but some will leak away, that’s just a fact of life, and another fact of life is that Google SEARCHES THE WEB for content, and bingo, AP content out there like mad, and the AP is angry about that? Because if that’s the case, then the AP’s logic or argument or baby spit rant is way above my head.

  10. says

    The AP is becoming obsolete. Especially if they don’t take the time to deal with these issues. People are getting more and more of their news online (duh), and the need for the AP is getting less. People find news from their local newspaper sites, independent websites (like mine) and social media outlets. More global news outlets are already sharing content on the web via these avenues. At the least, their share of the market is less. I just feel for the free lance journalists.

  11. says

    AP FAIL.

    I’ve linked to the AP in the past, thanks for letting me know about the ’30 Day Rule’ Danny.

    Why the hell would they want to hide stories they let Google News distribute to a MUCH larger audience than individual bloggers?

    AP – if you’d like 100% Free Access to redistribute any of my blog posts, it’s all yours baby. I like it when people visit my website.

    Nonsense. Pure and simple.

  12. Mike says

    Apart from the ‘disappearance’ of stories one of the other classic things that you see right across the traditional news spectrum is really poor title keywords (some examples here). Like non-permanent links this is a dead giveaway that the mindset is all wrong (and I say that having been an internal web consultant for a big biz magazine group).

    You can’t pick up your 31 favourite most recent blog articles from the newsstand across from the coffee shop yet, but with the Kindle and Amazon syndicating blogs the day isn’t far away IMHO.

  13. says

    Who the heck is running these newspapers?!

    Here’s another example of newspapers NOT GETTING IT — I was reading my local paper, The Islander News, and found a story about Guillermo Canas’ plans to open a tennis academy in Key Biscayne, FL, and thought about searching for more information online. After clicking on some articles snippets from different tennis sites and trying to follow the full article from the Miami Herald, I kept getting a 404 error:

    Unfortunately we are unable to locate the page you have requested. This could be due to content on our site having expired, a broken link, an outdated bookmark, or a mistyped address. Please use the navigation provided on this page, or click here to visit our home page.

    Perfect. So much for all those quality-links to the full article. And yes, you can find the story in their archive, but they’re obviously not getting it. It’s not just Google love they’re rejecting — it’s lots of love (links) from blogs and forums and other online pages.

    Maybe they’ll read your blog one day Danny, or perhaps attend SMX, or something… They surely don’t have an SEO.

  14. says

    @branoSEVEN I have done in-house SEO training sessions for the Miami Herald for the past two years. They get it. But they live in a corporate environment that unfortunately does not make it feasible for them to act on it. It is very sad. The people I have worked with want more than anything to do it right, but are hamstrung in your example by … you guessed it .. AP contracts.

    Here’s my theory Danny.

    I hope AP does find a way to charge Google for the content. With any luck, Google will make the AP identify their content (maybe via these new tags) and then just stop including it in Google News or Serps. Now the newspapers will get hit and hopefully over time stop relying on the AP so much and spend the money they pay the AP to hire more reporters to do local/national stories. Let the national news migrate to dedicated national publications and the others revert back to more local coverage with more local advertising and create more local jobs.

    We have 3 large newspapers in South Florida, all competing for national coverage, If the Miami Herald, focused on only national and let the other two focus on only local, all three would be better off. The Herald would not have to spend so much of its resources covering local and the other two would not have to spend to cover national.

    There is probably a huge hole in my plan. But it seems straight forward to me, not including all the politics that would ensue.