South China Morning Post’s (SCMP) New Site

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post (SCMP) has been relaunched with a new look and feel. There are things I like about the new site:

1. Wider page spread means photos and typefaces are bigger and overall it is less cluttered than before.
2. More prominence placement of podcasts (you’ve gotta love this), vidcasts and other types content.

I am trying to figure out the search engine friendliness as well as tackle other issues that complement search engine visibility.

Subscription like it’s Yahoo! in the old days
A ton is obviously an exaggeration but if someone pays to subscribe for a paper, why does SCMP ask for these mandatory fields?
A brief explanation of how the paper uses such personal info:

Your allows us to verify your application for registration to our services, enquiries or feedback, and billing and payment. It also allows us to serve you more relevant content, and to continue to develop new information products and services to suit your ever-changing needs and expectations.

Sounds lame duck explanation to me. Already one blogger made a comment about how this feature sucks. I understand it is probably going to be used for e-mail marketing purposes. The more fields they place, the better segmentation they can do. As the paper assures user that it takes at most, five minutes to fill up the form,

This form will take you less than 5 minutes to complete. After order confirmation you may immediately begin using your account, or set your Additional Services (e-newsletter, mobile) preferences.

Anyone who hasn’t got an idea what he’s doing even for a minute won’t bother to do the exercise.

Comparably Straits Times of Singapore subscription form is even worse, but that’s beyond the point.

I’d be interested to know if they tried to get rid of those fields and compare the number of subscriptions.

RSS Where?

It’s Really Simple Syndication (RSS) yet SCMP seems unsure how to place this link in the first place. Let’s find a hint. According to its FAQ section,

How do I access RSS news feeds?

RSS (or Really Simple Syndication) provides a convenient way for you to receive regular content “feeds” of the latest news and information headlines from scmp.com. You can subscribe to scmp.com news feeds using an RSS reader or a browser (eg. Internet Explorer 7 or Firefox recommended) that supports RSS feeds. Simply visit our RSS Services page and click on the RSS icon to add this feed to your feed reader, or click on the +myscmp icon to add to your MySCMP personal page. When you subscribe to an RSS feed, new stories and updates are automatically delivered to your browser or RSS reader the moment they are published. Visit tucows.com or versiontracker.com to download an RSS reader for your computer.

There is a similar experience for “email to friend” function. I can send a story to everyone else via email but the only message they read is the teaser and a link leads to a page protected by a login function. So it’s basically a useless function unless my recipient is a subscriber. What’s more, the link does not warn my recipient that it is a password-protected page.

scmp-email

Sorry, I might be afflicted with night blindness, but I can’t find it!
Update: Yes, it’s at Services, but should it be visible to non-subscribers who find it useless because a single feed leads to a page asking for username and password to access the whole content?

(If the link above on Services don’t work, it becomes an issue of session variables. Read Google’s Help Center Technical guidelines.)

JavaScriptiscm and all

Finally, some SEO stuff.

I mentioned about Web 2.0 and SEO not too long ago, and this article fell into my lap as a concrete tangible good example how to mess up with it at the expense of those poor robots.

We know that search engines generally follow anchor links and ignore links embedded anywhere else, including the loadLifeAJAXPage() function. So the links under the Life subsection (captured below) pose a risk of getting snubbed by search engines unless another anchor link points to them.

I may be wrong but perhaps this is a wrong choice of technology for a news website. There’s Web 2.0 fancy on news sites like New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune or Boston Globe.

South China Morning Post’s (SCMP) New Site

No effort for keyword research?

Remember that’s a question mark because I don’t know and will not go against copywriters who could easily pinpoint my mistakes in this article. I notice some trends in coining catchy titles. SCMP’s Life Section is using twisted terms from popular phrases that rhyme:

Home Safe Home (Home Sweet Home)
Space Evaders (Space Invaders)
Soldier of Misfortune (Soldier of Fortune)
Glow Forth and Multiply (Go Forth and Multiply)
and So Forth…

Nothing wrong with that since the section somehow calls its editor to be a creative one. But puhleeze, be an artist and a scientist too. Unconsciously, news websites exist to be found by searchers who visit the site, subscribe, click the ads and so on. Read about Newspapers Thinking More About SEO.

Missing opportunities
Usually a URL is difficult to memorize, let alone a long one like SCMPs. So it’s more likely that links that point to internal pages can be a wrongly-coded URL, especially if sessions are in play (see RSS where section above). This means visitors who click links pointing to SCMP pages will end up seeing the “Page Not Found” error. This is a page the site could tweak so that a wrong URL will display a more informative message.

Yes, I know I clicked a wrong page / dead link, but do you have to show it to me in big letters?

Displaying a custom error page that contains valuable information like links, FAQ’s and contact information will help visitors stay on the site.

Popular nothing
Most Popular Articles (none)

With due respect for the site, it’s running on its second week so there may be pages that aren’t accessed (what a lame excuse but I’ll let it pass). Most popular articles are represented by heaps of whitespace (or was it some sort of black hat SEO implemented by some snake oil consultant to hide text behind background colors?).

The effect
I tried to search for any news item culled from South China Morning Post at Google News and I found no results — yet. I don’t know until when can I wait for any result but as far as I am concerned, looking for “hong kong” from The Standard yields some results. Sites that have subscriptions are explicitly noted on search results to warn users that they may need to login before they can access the news found on a result link.

Sorry SCMP, maybe I am just an overzealous observer who can’t appreciate the good things in the new site and cannot subscribe to your online publication.