I await with interest the launch of Herald Scotland.

I have not held back from criticising Johnston Press’s handling of my baby scotsman.com but I see signs that what the Herald are about to do will make JP’s decisions look like the greatest internet wisdom since Tim Berners-Lee saw a spider making a trap for flies. (Actually that might have been Robert the Bruce but you know what I mean.)

My pessimism is based on four warning signs:

1) A new URL: According to the excellent AllMediaScotland, the Herald plans to amalgamate its existing sites to create one seven-day operation. The key risk here is what happens to the current sites and, crucially, all the inbound links and search engine reputation they have built up over the years. If the old sites are junked then all those inbound links (vital for search engine reputation) will be lost.  Also, their very valuable search engine page ranks will be lost. Now there are ways and means of sending traffic to  new address. But even a 301 redirect can take months to take effect completely (thus losing valuable traffic and revenue). Also, given that the Herald and Sunday Herald’s web addresses have different structures a redirect might struggle.

But if they run the old and new sites in parallel then they face a massive search engine penalty for having duplicate content.

And if they launch the new URL without a ton of content, it will lose the huge benefit of the Heralds’ exisitng content.

In short, once you ‘ve got a URL stick with it. Sod rebranding.

2) Flash: The holding page is a search-engine-invisible Flash animation. An emphasis on “looking pretty” over “working properly” is no a good sign for whatever’s coming next.

3) Tag line: The marketing slogan for the new site appears to be: “Make it home”. That smacks of “make this your hompage”, which has been made hopelessly outdated by bookmarking, decent search engines and social networks.

4) The suggestion of charging. No, no, no, no. No matter what Rupert Murdoch says, the arguments for charging for content are all to do with what newspapers would like and not what readers will do. If you put your content behind a payment barrier, people will not pay you. They will go to a free site that offers content similar to yours. This is not an argument about quality – though the Herald’s has taken a big hit by cutting so many staff – but about how the customer behaves.

Now, all these indications might be off the mark but, for me, they point to worrying times ahead for Scotland’s online media.

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8 Responses to Disaster lurks for The Herald’s new website

  1. Craig McGill says:

    I’m willing to be forgiving on points 2 and 3 as it’s just a holding page just now – and a lot of people do still like a set page as a homepage (I have BBC News as mine) for when they start up – but half my news comes from RSS feeds and Twitter. What gets me is that they don’t appear to have an iPhone app ready and up and running for it, which would be a criminally lost opportunity for a launch.

    As for (4), I actually don’t mind seeing charging brought in – but the price has to be low and the exclusive content you are charging for spectacular.

    What was more worrying to me was the lack of options for following. They should be building a following via Twitter, setting up the RSS links and so on now.

    That homepage will have had decent hits today and they had a chance to capture some of that market, but offered nothing.

  2. I know it was completetly against copyright, but when the NZ Herald tried a similar thing, putting some features and opinion pieces (of all things) behind a paywall, this charming little blog appeared: http://nzhpremiumcontent.blogspot.com/
    Now you can get all the slavering talking heids for free. Joy.

  3. [...] This makes the way the media approaches the web all-important. Johnston Press’s decision to rip the perfectly adequate Scotsman.com to shreds and implement their own shaky template has effectively put a nail in their own coffin. Traffic has halved since they took over. The Herald’s web presence has always been dire, and signs for the future are not good. [...]

  4. Jason U says:

    If they use a decent online marketing / SEO company they should be able to make a smooth transition between the old and new site.

    Changing sites like this can be problematic but if it done properly you can elimate any potential problems.

  5. ScotMedia.com says:

    I have http://www.scotmedia.com if you know of anyone interested in building it out :)

    There’s always space on the internet for a new start-up !

  6. Dave Cochrane says:

    The Herald, Scotsman, and pretty much every other paper in Scotland have an online presence that is, if I am charitable, pathetic. The utter lack of awareness of social networking and attendant revenue generation, dreadful visual presentation, and lack of “hook” content to keep readers coming back really do echo the death knells of Scottish print media. Devices like the Kindle, Reader and Iliad are the first of their kind but potentially a massive game changer. As Craig mentions above, the lack of tailored sites to make best use of the more popular smart phones is also a screaming failure. The whole package looks and feels provincial and ill considered, which for a series of papers I’ve read for over twenty years is saddening.

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