The Internet is filled with nooks, crannies, and pockets that make tracking online media coverage of your Web site or event a nightmare. Here’s why…

Updated February 2002
by Eric Ward, aka The Link Mensch

It’s one of the first questions you ask after the launch of your Web site or Web event: “Did we get any online media coverage? Where? When?”

Sounds simple enough. People have been successfully using clipping services in the offline world for years. But on the Net, as the cliche’ goes, the rules change. Ready for some harsh reality? It’s impossible to fully track and clip the Net. And always will be.  And it will get harder, not easier.

With traditional media, you can know exactly when a publication or broadcast comes out and check for coverage, end of story. But online, the Net is quickly becoming an even more widespread collection of “mini-mediums”.

When I do a campaign to share news of a Web site event or launch, the media outlets, editors, writers, reporters, and site reviewers I submit to are made up of MANY different types of Internet related media, from online news sites to event guides, Web zines, E-zines, site guides, and many others. I also contact print publications that are about the Web or that closely cover it.

I even have contacts I reach at many Web TV and radio shows that cover Web news and sites, like ZDTV, MSNBC, CNet TV, and others.  Many are in the US, but some are in Canada, the U.K., even Australia.  Every single one them changing content every single day, and most are not archived nor searchable.  I can submit to over 100 *printed* Internet related magazines that exist in nearly that many countries.

It’s not feasible to try and subscribe and  track all of them, and even if you decided to try, they open an even larger can of worms: many print magazines typically have an online Web counterpart with content and editorial and editors that are different from that of the print version. In fact I submit to those editors too. That means for every print magazine you can subscribe to and track, there is a very different Web counterpart. Try tracking 100 rapidly changing Web sites 24 hours a day… It would be a full-time job for several people just to try and keep up with who’s covering what. A Web site might cover it but not the print version, or the print version but not the Web site, or neither, or both.

Thinking about having some commercially available software go out and visit all the sites for you? Innefective.  What about articles that are created on the fly via cgi or some other method? These articles or columns or news-snippets don’t technically even exist until the surfer clicks to request them, which then starts the scripts running that generate the copy that’s piped to the browser window. If they don’t exist, how can you track them? And any software that clips a site is only clipping it at one moment. What if you get covered at CNet a half-hour after the software clipped the site? Oops, missed it. What if you needed to click a link first to see the story?

Moving deeper into the online realm, it gets even trickier. Every single special pick-of-the-blank Web site would have to be checked on a daily basis. Not exactly cost-efficient, but perhaps by itself feasible to try. But remember that many special-pick publications are only available by Email. There is no Web site to veiw.  It’s taken me 8 years of being online 8 hours a day to just  to find these Email based publications, some of which have thousands of subscribers.  Next, for Web-zines, like Netsurfer Digest or WEBster or the thousands of others, you’d have to know the pub date for each one (some are weekly, some bi-weekly or monthly) and be able to visit each and every one of them just hoping to spot a mention somewhere.  Then there’s the online newssites, like CNet’s or iWORLDs, or Internet-Watch or Newslinx.

These change every minute of the day. Tracking these would mean someone must sit watching that site all day, and waiting to see if your story shows up. And these are just the well known ones.

You might code your own spider or bot progam to follow the online 24 hour-a-day new’s sites, but remember my earlier point. Many news stories are database generated and don’t even exist until a user requests it. There is nothing for a bot to spider… Factor in the vertical Web guides, directories, zines, news sites, etc., that serve your particular industry (if they exist) and by now you’re catatonic.

And yet there’s more.  Lot and lots more.  E-mail  delivered news briefs, like Media Central Digest or E!-News Daily or the excellent WDFM. Were still not finished. There are HTML Email news services like Exactis (Formerly Infobeat), Yahoo Mail, In-Box Direct from Netscape, and others. They, or one of their content providers, could cover your news to tens of thousands of subscribers, directly to their inboxes, and you’d never know it because there is no way to see what they mail to each and every person. It’s private Email. Still worse, every subscriber can pick and choose topics, so every subscriber could have different version, some with your story and some without. Track that.

And one final zinger. There are now hundreds of Internet based RealAudio radio shows popping up. To find and listen to each and every one every day is impossible, yet they are important. One of them, Ken Rutkowski’s TechTalk , has over twenty thousand listeners a day. Think a clipping service knows about all of these? Nope.  And even if they did know about them, they can’t track audio files, and they aren’t searchable.

Before you give in and try one of the paid net clipping services, note that they track less than 1% of the available Web, none of the Email services, a fraction of the dynamically generated news sites, none of the audio services, almost no listservs, and obviously none of the more complex vertical Web content, aka “The Invisble Web” because now you’re basically having to track every page of the entire Web, every day. Over a billion pages with a half million news pages added every day.

In fact, the Net news clipping services I have evalauated all miss the *overwhelming* majority of the very places my clients are covered. Yes, you can find a clipping service, and yes, it will find some mentions in some places, but it will miss far more than it ever finds.

One clipping service I experimented with missed my clients headline and link appearing at USA Today Online. If they can’t even find USA Today Online, one of the most visible outlets, they darn sure aren’t going to find something that appears in an obscure yet powerful Email brief like BestWeb or WebHappenings.

If it’s liks your hoping to track, your own server and referrer logs tell you much of what youwant to know. But even this technique has a tragic flaw: Not everyone gets to a site by clicking a link. Some people type the URL in after they see it in a magazine or somewhere else offline. There is no referring URL.


Until next time, I remain,

Eric Ward

Link Mensch

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