SEO: not always a good thing

There’s an interesting post from Kelly McBride over on Poynter, discussing the “ground zero mosque” story.

I use the quotation marks because the proposed building isn’t on ground zero and isn’t actually a mosque but an Islamic cultural centre, including, as McBride says, “a pool, community rooms and offices”.

Unfortunately once the “mosque at ground zero” story started circulating, it was quickly picked up and broadcast throughout the media in the US and worldwide. A quick check of UK papers shows 111 articles containing the falsehood (including, perhaps unsurprisingly, articles in today’s Daily Mail and Daily Express that make no attempt to correct the mistake).

Even though the media has (largely) recognised the error, the phrase won’t go away because the dissemination of news online means the temptation is there to tag every related story with “ground zero” “mosque” to pick up readers using those search terms.

As McBride points out:

…now that the story has peaked, now that we know the real facts, can anyone possibly correct the record? Not if Google has anything to say about it.

That’s because accurate or not, people are searching for the term “ground zero mosque.” So if you want to reach people who are looking for information, you have to use that term.

It’s easy enough to do in a story meant to debunk the phrase. All you have to write is, “It’s not a ground zero mosque.” But, what about ongoing coverage? Must you keep using the inaccurate term?

Sadly, the answer is yes, according to people familiar with SEO practices.

McBride also makes the point that, in a world where bloggers and not just media organisations play a role in initiating news stories, fact-checking is increasingly important for journalists. More reason than ever to boost news libraries, not close them!


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