SEM: Using Google Insights to Explore Old Media’s Geographic Reach

Written By Noah Mallin | August 12, 2008 | No Comments

Daily Planet

Newspapers by their nature tend to be local. Their location is even part of their name in most cases. Even so, certain newspapers are so influential that their reach extends beyond their location to other parts of the country and even the world. I thought it would be interesting to see how this might be reflected in Google’s dandy new toy, Insights for Search.

I picked four of the best know daily papers in the United States, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Miami Herald. As a ringer I added USA Today to see if a paper that bills itself as a national one really has national scope online. The timeframe was calendar year 2007.

Two important caveats to keep in mind: Insights for Search measures the performance of the search phrases chosen (“New York Times”, “Wall Street Journal”, “Miami Herald”, “Washington Post”, “USA Today”) and not website traffic to those sites. Site traffic can be broadly extrapolated from this data but it isn’t one and the same. The second is that Insights for Search doesn’t give actual numerical data, it only gives ratios with the highest value in a set = 100.

US Total Vol

US volume index comparison by term (above)

The first thing I learned was just how dominant the New York Times is overall. On Google’s 0-100 scale of search volume the Times is a big ol’ 78 within the United States compared to 48 for second ranked USA Today (remember we are talking about comparative volume, not share, so the numbers won’t add up). Globally the Times still dominates with 68, to 30 for USA Today and 29 for Washington Post. “New York Times” must be an expensive search phrase to bid on.

Global Total Volume

Global volume index comparison by term (above)

So how do our old line media sites compare from region to region within the United States? The Times gets a lot of volume but the bulk of it is from the east coast. Not surprisingly New York State is at 100 on Google’s scale, Vermont is next at 67 and Connecticut is third. For the rest of the country there’s a big dropoff, but the Times still represents well region to region – the lowest search volume is South Dakota’s 17. Still all of the top serach volumes numbers are from the northeast region for “New York Times.”

Compare that to “Washington Post” which is in single digits for volume everywhere in the country except the DelMarVa region and West Virginia. Similarly “Miami Herald” gets 100 out of Florida, plummeting to 12 in the next highest volume state Georgia.

USA Today US

US volume index for “USA Today” (above)

How did our ringer do? “USA Today” is spread pretty evenly as one might expect, strongest in the Midwest and rustbelt regions and relatively weaker on the coasts, though volume is double-digits everywhere. The surprise is how closely “Wall Street Journal” matched this pattern. Like USA Today the WSJ gets strong double digit volume nationwide, though it’s more concentrated on the east coast. Tellingly, the number one region for the WSJ isn’t New York, which is 2, but the District of Columbia. While the top ten regions for the Times were all in the Northeast, the WSJ includes Illinois at number 5 and Virginia at number 9.

Times Worldwide

Global volume index for “New York Times” (above)

Globally the Times was impressive, with search volume on every major continent. It’s no shock that the United States was a 100 on Google’s volume measurement – what did surprise was Iraq’s strong showing at number 2 with a volume index of 53, beating Canada’s 36. It would appear that those who have internet access in Iraq are (understandably) very interested in what is happening in the United States – most likely Iraqi business people, government members and American troops. This is reinforced by the Washington Post’s incredible 100 search volume index from Iraq, beating the United States’ 99.

In fact the Post does quite well in the middle east – Pakistan is number 3 in volume and Lebanon is number 4, followed by South Korea and Canada. In contrast the Times’ top ten regions are more far-flung, including Puerto Rico , Jamaica, Ireland, Columbia and Singapore in the top 10. Likely this is partly a function of the large number of immigrants from those regions living in New York.

Like the Times, the Miami Herald’s global results are heavily influenced by their local immigrant population. Panama is actually the top search volume location, followed by the United States. The rest of the top 10 is dominated by the Central and South American regions.


The Wall Street Journal brings Asia to the fore – The United States dominates but number 2 is Hong Kong and the rest of the top 6 are all from the Asia region. USA Today drops off sharply outside of the United States. The number 2 region, Canada, only brings a 19 on the search volume index.

What conclusions can be drawn from this? “New York Times” is an expensive keyphrase but it brings you the east coast and a big swath of the world. That being said, if you want to reach a more targeted group nationwide “Wall Street Journal” may be more cost-effective, especially to reach the east coast and Asia. If you are looking for hits from the middle of the country “USA Today” may be the best bang for your buck, but don’t expect much internationally. If you want to reach a Latin American audience “Miami Herald” may be a lower cost option than “New York Times”, though you miss out on Latin Americans within the United States who don’t reside in Florida.

Another helpful lesson was to compare these phrases to “Huffington Post” and “Drudge Report” to see if new media sources are competing with old established names. The old guys should have an advantage here, with both print and online properties that people might search for, and broader brand recognition. Sure enough they do, especially over Huffington which rates an 8 on volume index in the United States and 6 worldwide. Drudge on the other hand is at 33 in the United States, not too far behind the Washington Post and ahead of the WSJ. Worldwide Drudge is a respectable 26. The top volume region for Drudge? Iraq. It would appear that as online news sources begin to rival the established players in usage, the patterns of use begin to align.


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