Why Gourmet Died: Publishers, pay attention

Ian Lurie

I don’t buy the whole “Gourmet was a luxury brand in a recession” economy argument. How’d they get through the 70s? The 80s? The early 90s?

They’re dying, in part, because the publisher refused to accept the Internet as a business channel. Here’s a quote from CBC News:

“The magazine industry in the U.S. has been hit by a slumping ad market, with Gourmet’s ad pages down 50 per cent. The food magazine also lost out to internet recipes and food writing.”

Well, duh.

How easily could Gourmet have avoided the chopping block? Oh, maybe change a title tag or two:

Gourmet Magazine Meta Title

The hottest term out there? ‘Recipes’. Percentage of title tags on Gourmet that include the word ‘recipes’? Less than 1%. Most common first word in a title tag? ‘Archive’.

Then there’s the long list of ‘302’ redirects:

Gourmet Magazine 302s

The fact that there’s one instance of duplication for every 10 pages:

Gourmet magazine - duplicate content

And, of course, the endless PageRank leaks (most notably from the home page, which has 108 outgoing links):

gourmet magazine homepage

Don’t even get me started on the forums, where the first word in every title tag is? You guessed it: Forums.

The most telling statistic

The real death knell is their keyword count:

According to Compete.com, Gourmet.com gets traffic from 355 organic search terms.

Epicurious gets traffic from 8,040.

That has nothing to do with brand, and everything to do with SEO. Gourmet has thousands of pages, and thousands of great incoming links. They could have doubled or tripled their traffic with a concerted, ongoing SEO campaign.

Just a little effort

For Gourmet, just a little effort might have made all the difference. Their only number 1 ranking for a really choice term is ‘gourmet’. That’s great, but it’s also branded and doesn’t bring the kind of researchers the magazine needed to survive.

Fix a few inconsistent linking issues, get the editorial team going on real SEO copywriting, change a couple of 302s to 301s, and who knows? They might still be around.

More food for thought

Gourmet’s SEO failures certainly didn’t help. But there are other ways they could have generated more online traffic, more pageviews, and therefore more ad sales:

  • Have an RSS feed linked and subscription-ready on every page. Right now, they have a link in their footer that takes you to a page that then lists a bunch of feeds.
  • Provide easy sign-up to an online newsletter. Newsletter advertising is pure gold for advertisers. So build a list and use it. I couldn’t find a signup form anywhere (may just be me?), and no, I don’t want to register. I just want news.

The tipping point

I’ll bet the tipping point for Gourmet came about a year ago, in a meeting. It went like this:
Person 1: We need to edit the title tags…
Person 2: Oh, don’t be silly. We need titles that will intrigue the user.
Person 1: But we need visitors, too.
Person 2: We can’t change the title tags. We can add a field to the database but it’ll take 4 months.
Person 1: Can we remove some links from the home page?
Person 2: No. Everyone wants placement on the home page. We have to make them all happy.
Person 1: Can we add an e-mail subscription form?
Person 2: People have to register to receive e-mails. We need that.
Person 1 gave up. Person 2 won.
Well, you sure showed them, didn’t ya?

It’s a crime

Instead, we have a great publication, with top-notch creative and copy, passion for their industry and a strong following that’s DOA.
It’s criminal. It’s a waste. And it pisses me off.

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  1. Ian,
    I LOVED this post. You are so on the money, especially with your faux conversation re: the website problems.
    In fact, I emailed your post to the guys at Marketing Over Coffee podcast, and they linked to your post in their show notes for their latest episode.
    Danny Sullivan has pointed it out on multiple occasions. Many mainstream publications have created websites and complain about Google and the online “free content” model. Yet, one look at their respective sites show that they’re doing a HORRIBLE job with SEO. Maybe if they stopped complaining, accepted the reality of the current media landscape (the good ole days are gone – your competing against a bunch of people who are writing great content on blogs, are passionate, and are building serious audiences) and focused on improving their sites SEO, they could do a great job at helping readers find their content online.

  2. Hi Ian
    Great report. Could you tell me what program you use to check the PR of the pages, 302s, duplicates and stuff.. Is it one program or a couple. Couldnt seem to find any mention off it on the site.

  3. Ian, before you get upset over the ‘Ian’s angriest posts’ post, you should realize that it was thanks to that post that I got to enjoy this old gem!
    And is that ~not~ somehow priceless?
    Keep that in mind before you flog Elizabeth, please!

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