Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Why Are the Search Functions on Newspaper Web Sites So Poor?

(This was drafted on 12/07/08) In this morning's Washington Post I saw an article on a book called "Buyology", by one Martin Lindstrom. I wanted to read the article at my leisure, so I went online to look it up and email it to myself. I searched for "Buyology", figuring that would be sufficient. And I thought it was when I saw the results, it looked like I had a direct hit--the only result included the same photo that had accompanied the article. But when I clicked on it, it turned out that the link was only for the photo.
So then I searched the Washington Post site for "Buyology" and "Martin Lindstrom". This time I got a couple more results, including a review of his book from back in October, but still not today's featured article. My next step was Google News search: "buyology + washington + post". Bingo, first result.
I seem to experience similar behavior when I search within my local paper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Except, if anything, it is worse. I haven't ever bothered to analyze what is going on, but many, many times I search for an article I saw in the last few days, and either can't find it, or it is buried very, very deep within a lot of goofy results.
There is a lot of speculation in the air about how endangered print newspapers are, and that the ones which will surivive are those that will find a good transition to the web. Given the difficulty they have executing the basics on the web, I have my doubts. Read Dave Winer's article "A Plan B for News".


  1. What is the incentive of the paper to have good indexing? I'm not sure there is any value (monetary) in doing so. Most people don't use the paper site to search anyway.

  2. You could be right, Matt. Judging by its absence, you probably are.