MEDIA ROUNDUP: Search engines find more coverage

Partly because of Google's pending IPO, more media outlets - not just tech publications - are now turning their attention toward covering search engines.

Partly because of Google's pending IPO, more media outlets - not just tech publications - are now turning their attention toward covering search engines.

Whether it's the fascination with the upcoming Google IPO and its prospect for creating a whole new tech boom, or the realization that more Americans are incorporating visits to Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, LookSmart and other sites into their daily routines, the media these days can't seem to get enough of search engines.

Much of this might have originated with Google, but it has expanded quickly into an interest in everything search-related, from the algorithms behind the leading engines to the explosion of optimization firms that help companies and services reach the top of search-results lists.

"After two years of the press generally loving Google, there's definitely a sense of Google exhaustion," notes Danny Sullivan, editor of the trade magazine Search Engine Watch. "As a result, I see many more stories about the 'new Googles' being written. In most cases, these new companies often get more attention than they actually deserve."

More reporter interest

As the coverage has expanded, Colby Zintl, communications manager at Ask Jeeves, notes that it has evolved from a tech story into one dominated by the business press. Zintl adds that while reporters bring with them a basic knowledge of how search engines work, "from a business-model perspective, a lot of reporters are learning as they go. But most realize that search is an incredibly lucrative market that has cracked the internet advertising nut."

Despite the growing importance of search, few outlets outside of the trades currently have a dedicated reporter covering the space. But Jennifer Stephens, senior director of communications for Overture, which last year was acquired by Yahoo, says, "While a lot of technology and business reporters cover more than search, there are so many things happening in the space that they end up spending a lot of their time covering it."

The good news, says Richard Laermer, CEO of RLM Public Relations, which represents LookSmart, is that most reporters have moved beyond the horse-race story pitting the major search-engine companies against one another. "We spent all of last year talking about the "search-engine wars" and what was Yahoo! or MSN buying," he says. "But at this point, it's become important to break down what each company stands for and who their customers are. So we'll bring LookSmart's CEO and marketing director out for media drive-bys or sometimes we get them on the phone and walk them through the latest deal."

Pitching other outlets

The fact that so many Americans are turning to search engines as their primary tool for tracking information is opening some new opportunities to pitch search to a broader range of outlets. "What we do from a lifestyle perspective is pitch upcoming trends based on what our consumers are asking about or searching on," Zintl says. "We have millions of searches a year, so we can find out what the hot topics are and what people are interested in."

Laermer notes he's also had success pitching beyond the technology pages, especially to education and marketing reporters. "[Publications like Advertising Age and AdWeek] can't get enough of it because they know this is the only real way you can prove to people that the eyeballs are there," he says.

But the media can be fickle, which raises the possibility of whether Google's IPO might be some sort of high water mark in coverage before the press turn its attention to some newer technology or trend. Sullivan suggests media attention might settle down a bit, but adds, "Search is an important activity that impacts so many people; it's actually surprising we don't have more coverage. What we have is too much coverage that is Google-specific. That will diminish, but a variety of general search-related articles should continue."

"The consumers are just now starting to integrate search as a regular part of their day and using it as a replacement for other things, such a grabbing a phone book," adds John Lustina, CEO of Intrapromote, one of the optimization firms that enable companies and services to maximize their exposure on search sites. "So the consumer demand for more and more information is going to continue to rise, and the media is going to have to pay attention to that."

Pitching... search-engines

  • Trade outlets, such as Search Engine Watch, are avidly read by business and tech press looking at the latest trends in the category, so make them an early media target

  • While the major search companies might dominate coverage, there are still openings for more behind-the-scenes stories, such as how search-engine optimizers work and how they can help even small companies hold their own in competing for eyeballs on the internet

  • Search is moving onto wireless platforms that incorporate global positioning systems, so pitch angles that note where the category might be in a few years

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