Why Examiner.com’s traffic is growing through the roof

Examiner.comMuch to my chagrin, I’ve been noticing Examiner.com versions of stories we’re covering show up prominently in Google search results while our original journalism on knoxnews or govolsxtra is buried.

It happening a lot and not just to the sites I manage.

Examiner.com, a collection of sites that Time magazine cattily describes as “neither advancing the story nor bringing any insight,” is the fastest growing news domain with Nielsen reporting a stratospheric 228 percent  increase in audience in November while the big mainstream news sites like CNN.com and MSNBC.com had double-digit declines.

A poster on the Google News forum said: “This is not a reputable form of news. Any half-brained twit can write for them (and do). It’s more like social networking as it is full of opinions and skimpy on facts”

But Google’s famously secret algorithms keep tilling fresh Examiner.com stories to the top of search results. How does that happen?

Time answers the question like this:

So why does Examiner.com’s fairly superficial posts on the big stories of the day often end up near the front of Google News’ queue? “It’s not a trick,” says (CEO Rick) Blair. “We have almost 25,000 writers posting 3,000 original articles per day.” Examiners take seminars on writing headlines, writing in the third person and making full use of social media, all of which are Google manna. But Blair thinks it’s mostly the scale of the operation that makes Examiner.com articles so attractive to search engines, from which more than half of the site’s traffic comes. That is, by stocking the lake with so many fish every day, Examiner.com increases the chances that Google trawlers will haul one of theirs up.

Whatever the journalism value, the Examiner is honing a formula of SEO friendly headlines and body copy, Social Media links, sheer article volume and technology approaches that ought to make news sites envious and more than a little embarrassed they haven’t done the job as well with their original journalism.

Oh yeah, some are more worried about Google “stealing” their content while the Examiner just grows and grows. We better start worrying about somebody wooing the audience.

(You can click the image for a larger view of the screen shot.)


  1. Jack, great post. Thanks for ending with the idea that we should refocus on the task at hand instead of pointing fingers.
    I think many journalists have viewed some parts of Examiner’s formula – SEO and social media – as unethical tricks and/or details that should be figured out by programmers. How can we change this perception?
    Possibly related: How do you feel about journalists creating the kind of linkbait that Matt Cutts describes?

  2. The term link baiting has a negative connotation conjuring up splog sites, but Matt Cutts defines it as simply “something interesting enough to catch people’s attention.”
    The things he suggests are similar to what traditional media organizations have long tried to do: “hook the reader” or viewer.
    I hope journalists want to be “generating information or ideas that people talk about.”
    On almost any newspaper Web site, you can find headlines that make no sense on the Web. Doing better Web headlines would be a great place to start to get some of the Examiner’s Google juice. Doing extra work to add more online elements to your really interesting content is another. I view those as content practices that all journalists should embrace and are not just “black hat” tactics of a spammer or splogger.
    That said, I find how Google works (or doesn’t) to be maddening. When I see the AP rewrite of one of our Knoxville stories on say the Seattle Times site ranking higher than the original story in Google News, algorithms be damned!

  3. Thanks, Jack. A while back, I was excited to find Ben McClanahan’s SEO For Journalists. Alas, his new job seems to have stolen away the time he used to devote to the blog.
    There is much misunderstanding about black, white and (the various shades of) gray hat search engine optimization and marketing. I don’t recall ever running into a comprehensive post that explains the differences between those arts/sciences and what elements fall within the ethical boundaries of journalism. Something like that could serve as a great primer before discussing specific techniques with colleagues. Have you seen any such piece?

  4. I’d be curious to see if they’re converting this search engine traffic to ad click-throughs. That kind of hit-and-run traffic has been historically bad in terms of revenue from local ad sales.
    Of course, if they’re relying mostly on remnant and national-network ads, then creating a huge volume of throwaway traffic can work somewhat. Just ask spammers.

  5. As an Examiner writer, I am delighted to be paid for writing on topics that I have spent hundreds of hours of study on.

    The quality of the Examiner story may vary from writer to writer. In many cases there are true experts writing on topics that they know intimately. That is not the case in old media, where few reporters are expert on any topic.

    The success of Examiner all points out that the on-line reader is looking for more than what they find in the on-line product of their local paper or television network.

  6. Chuck hits the nail on the head. What do most reporters know about the subjects they cover? Very little. Does it really require a specialized degree to pass along other people’s opinions and statements, carefully homogenized for public consumption? And how valuable is that information after the requisite whitewashing?
    When the defining characteristic of the mass news media is what they won’t cover rather than what they will, it becomes obvious that something must change if there is to be any hope for survival.

  7. There are other keys to Examiner’s success. I have spent inordinate amounts of time studying my topic. I know it better than 99% of old media reporters ever will. That is true for a lot of the writers on Examiner, experts in their field.
    The other reason is that on-line readers want more than they get from old media sites. Examiner articles have links to ore info that many newspaper and television websites do not.

  8. You folks seem to have missed the point. Authors for Examiner are doing well not just because of Examiner.com’s structure and search engine capabilities. It is doing well because the Main Stream Media is so clearly in the pocket of the DNC and the Obama administration, the average person no longer TRUSTS them. People want to know what’s going on, and so are deliberately looking for alternative sources of news.
    With the main stream media acting like a propaganda engine, spewing forth nonsense about global warming (Which is clearly a HOAX, and the MSM is repeating this junk science as if it were real and a fact which it clearly isn’t) refusing to cover stories such as the British Nationality of the 44th president, who is illegitimately in the Oval Office and other scaldals that themselves are BIGGER than Watergate….. and you wonder why people are looking for information in other places?
    Poo poo the stories I have mentioned here, but the blogosphere is looking into these, and the Mainstream Media isn’t. They are real stories. Don’t wonder why the MSM is losing Market share. They aren’t telling the real stories or the truth.

  9. Dianna, I guess you’d have to point those out to me on Examiner.com’s site.
    Among the headlines on Examiner.com/knoxville are:
    Taco Bell Drive Thru Diet, weight loss help or hype?
    The value of complaining
    Caramelized turnips recipe: gourmet side dish with little fuss
    Chip Forrester for lifetime Tennessee Democratic Chairman
    Now I could be wrong, but I’m thinking caramelized turnips isn’t one of those bigger than Watergate stories?

  10. To summarize Dianna’s argument:
    Examiner.com is doing well because the mainstream media doesn’t indulge her desire to read about lunatic conspiracy theories.

  11. It is interesting that Time magazine should be so incensed. That Goliath derides David is not notable in and of itself, but that the giant should complain as the stone begins to sink into his forehead illustrates the fact that the major news outlets have missed the bigger picture.
    The media behemoths have for too long taken for granted the idea that the masses will simply continue to accept their version of events. The internet has to a great degree, become the great equalizer. No longer can the corporate powers restrict access to alternative ideas and perspectives. They must now share the stage with those of us who are tired of being hapless subjects of the manipulations of the wealthy. If they cannot compete, they are not without remedy. They can either change their modus operandi or in the alternative, go the way of all flesh.
    A century ago, a number of equine carriage manufacturers complained about the new horseless carriage, discounting the idea that there could be a future for such an industry. A few began to produce cabs for the newfangled automobile. They survived and prospered. The others have faded from memory.
    Au revoir Time magazine.

  12. Interesting that my caramelized turnips article got a mention.
    While not “bigger than Watergate,” my healthy food column via the Knoxville Examiner site is the #1 Knoxville column, and has been since the day I started writing it. One of my food articles was the second-highest viewed food article in the Examiner network last year (with well over 100,000). Pretty good for a humble Knoxville-based writer.
    I have to agree with some of the other posters that quality varies writer to writer. I’m a seasoned freelancer, but I’ve learned to stop cringing at what passes for writing on the site, to keep producing quality articles, and to stay ahead of trends.
    I’m responsible for MY content only.
    While this will never pay what magazine writing brings me, writing content for Examiner is so easy that it’s well worth the pay I bring in –which, with a popular column, is much better than most web writing pays.
    Would I chuck it for a regular job with the Sentinel? You betcha. My SEO knowledge and social media expertise comes with me.
    In the meantime, Examiner is treating me quite well.

  13. Re-examining Examiner.com

    A follow up to my Dec. 21 post about Examiner.com’s success at SEO, ranking high in Google searches and ballooning traffic: It seems the site has been at least temporarily banned from Google News.Hat tip to Examiner.com contributor Elizabeth Kelly…

  14. Do you want to know the simple truth?
    90% of all newspaper and video media news is not original… its shared from single sources.
    Added to the fact that old-way journalism isnt about unbiased news reporting, its about framing a story to fit the political bias of the media source.
    Take for example on a news station today. There was a discussion over Arizonas upcoming law to make being illegal a crime, and enforcing it in state under the same guidelines federal law does.
    SO… to get an opposing view, did they ASK someone in Arizona? No, they got a latino congressman from Chicago, who obviously is biased because chi-town is a sanctuary city.
    This is WHY people are moving away from old-way journalism, and using the power of the people… the net to find truth and information they can use.
    If I had listened to CNBC in 2008, I would have lost most of my retirement becasue 4 days BEFORE the fall of Meryl Lynch, they were saying to buy it.
    However, I took advice from news sources outside the mainstream, and not ONLY didnt lose money becasue I got out of my 401K and investments, I made money because I bought gold at $645 and sold it in January 2009 at $1030.
    Mainstream media is owned by corporations with government contracts… especially DEFENSE contracts.
    Who would you trust? Follow the money, and follow the trend (Gerald Celente).

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