Google News is Narcotic

Over the weekend, during our online chat, someone boasted about another writer taking top placement on Google News. “Once you start looking for Google News ranking you’ve lost your way”, I responded. “I never look. I don’t even look there for stories to read”. It’s true. Nearly three months into the year, I haven’t visited Google News even once.

As a resource for readers, the site can be useful. For writers, Google News is bad news. I know way too many bloggers or journalists who obsesses about placement there too much. They write stories and carefully craft headlines to get lift, knowing that top placement can bring tens of thousands pageviews in just a few hours.

But that kind of traffic is an artificial high. Writers rush for the next fix, addicted to the jolt Google News gives their stories. Natural high is better and more sustainable, and that means building organic audience. Those tens of thousands come and go, and most won’t stay with the writer. Because there is little to no sustainable audience engagement.

As an editor, I strongly discourage reporters from writing for Google News or Search. You write for people. Your audience isn’t Google’s algorithm. Mechanism like Google Authorship offer first benefit to the drug dealer, not to you the writer.

You can feed the habit, or choose to build a new life instead. Withdrawal will be painful, during the transition from artificially-induced to naturally-gotten high. Here’s my five-step program for would-be habit breakers:

  1. Admit that you the writer are a Google News addict.
  2. Stop going to the Google News website, if only to read.
  3. Start writing stories and headlines that you would click.
  4. Engage readers in comments and across social networks.
  5. Build audience by becoming a trusted source of responsibly reported news.

The list is simple and quickly written. I might develop something more substantial in the future after doing research on 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, with which I have no first-hand experience.

I considered other headlines for this post: “Google News is a Bad Drug”, “Google News is a Bad Habit”, and “Google News is an Addiction” among them. I worry that “Google News is Narcotic” could be construed as addictive in a beneficial way.

Break the habit! Build audience! Your audience will follow wherever you write. Google News is gone soon as another story displaces yours.

Photo Credit: Creativity103