Imagine this for a moment: you’re laying on the couch with your spouse, and they ask you if your toe, which is looking a little weird these days, is alright. You say, “yeah, babe, it’s fine.” But secretly, you’re consulting Dr. Google, wondering if you should maybe call the clinic tomorrow.
Everybody lies. It’s natural — we find ways to tell white lies every day. It’s called social desirability bias, a social science theory that says we tend to answer questions based on the chance they will be viewed favourably by others. We overreport “good behaviour” and underreport seemingly bad or undesirable behaviour — how many sexual partners, how much money we make or how long it took our kids to use the potty.
But why would we lie to Google? Search engines can help us answer the questions we’re asking, but don’t want the world to know.
Google can tell us a lot more about what people really want to know than most crowdsourcing avenues.
Read more: Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is a *must* read on this topic. Strongly recommend it.
Using search for research
When beginning your research, start with an idea. Is there a topic you want to explore a little more? Did an editor ask you to check if there’s any interest in a topic? Basic income was trending on Twitter — is there a broader interest in search? We can take that topic (basic income in Canada) and perform keyword research.
In marketing, keyword research is usually one of the first steps in a strategy — you want to find out:
- What keywords do I rank for vs. my competitors?
- What keywords will convert customers?
- What do people search to find my product?
In a newsroom, keyword research answers a lot of these questions, but with a different lens:
- What are other publications writing on this topic? Can we write a more engaging story?
- What underreported story ideas could bring in a new audience? (New readers to add to the top of our audience funnel or become paying subscribers.)
- What would I search to find my story?
- What has my publication already written on this?
In order to effectively use search to help our content, we must first understand why people search.
Regardless of where they end up, people search based on a particular intent.
- Transactional: The searcher is actively looking to spend money. This could be anything from buying a cheap camera to a New York Times subscription. They want a conversion (buy a camera) at the end of the search journey.
- Local: The searcher wants to find something within the area — whether that’s a hip new coffee shop, somewhere to get their hair done or maybe that late-night burrito after one too many quarantine beers. “Near me” is a common phrase added to the query.
- Navigational: These people are lazy and put “Facebook” into the search bar and then click the link in the search results. Don’t worry. I do it, too.
These intents, while useful to know, are not so relevant to journalism. The informational intent is the need most journalism falls into.
- Informational: The user wants to fill in a knowledge gap about a topic. They often search with the five W’s: who, what, when, where, why and how.
Now that we know about search intent, we can use this to perform research that will inform our content strategy.
Read the rest of WTF is SEO? here.
In the news
- Here are 10 steps Richland Source followed to raise $250k for local news reporting.
- Infrastructure spending could save local journalism.
- A rival bid might actually keep Tribune out of Alden Global Capital’s hands — and Alden might be just fine with that.
- In a Pennsylvania town, a Facebook group fills the local news void.
- This Toronto neighborhood paper’s book reviewer is … Margaret Atwood.
And one more thing…
You can register now for RISE, the inaugural Canadian conference for racialized journalists.