Before our area media start feeling high and mighty, I was amused to find it nearly impossible to track down today’s story on Russ’s comments about the city’s website on the News and Observer website. After searching in vain using the N&O’s own search engine, it took me some thoughtful Google searches to turn it up.
With each iteration of its website, the paper’s search engine has become less useful. What’s even worse, with each redesign all the web links to online stories have changed completely, breaking not only any links any outside sites made to stories but also any links indexed by search engines. Thus if you couldn’t find what you’re looking for after the N&O redesign, God help you because Google certainly won’t. I’m no web professional, but even I know to create forwards from old links to new ones whenever humble MT.Net makes changes. That’s Webmastering 101.
Let’s look at Raleigh other online news presence, WRAL.Com. It’s search is not as bad as the N&O’s but it’s still bad. When I search WRAL.Com, I’m usually looking for a story that aired on the newscast. Why, then, does its search engine inundate me with wire stories in the results? Why don’t I have the option to search for local-versus-wire content? The N&O site does this, too, and it drives me crazy. But WRAL’s search engine options are even more limited than the N&O’s.
On the other hand, in a huge contrast with the N&O, WRAL still provides its archived stories online, some dating back more than 15 years! That’s eons in Internet time, you know. Guess whose news archives get returned in search engine results? And guess whose news archives get overlooked?
Web gurus have said it again and again: hiding your content behind a paywall makes it nearly worthless. By locking up its archives, the N&O sacrifices its online authority (and it’s associated ad views) to chase meager online subscription income. The truth is, if I can’t find it in a search engine it might as well not exist. That’s the real bottom line. Advantage: WRAL.
With broken search engines on the News and Observer site, WRAL’s site, and now the city’s site, it’s a wonder anyone in Raleigh knows what’s going on.