Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Ultimate question for the survival of newspapers

Newspaper websites are picking up the pace, attracting more and more visitors as their print brethren are struggling to keep slip behind. The key is that web content is largely free, thus relying on online advertising and/or support from print revenues.

As independent.co.uk adds:

Three-quarters of the visitors to the Telegraph website do not currently buy the paper. They tend to be very desirably 15 years younger than all those ageing faithful readers. Shouldn't a major objective of websites be to achieve conversion?

Web readers expect and usually get news as it happens, so what can a print version, that has deadlines offer? There needs to be extra value cross-references to and from the paper for both to survive and feed off each other.

My solution would be to offer stories up in short, concise format online, leading to, and heavily promoting a fuller, objective follow-up story in print.

But this would effectively mean newsrooms producing two versions of all copy, tightly sub-editing copy immediately for a web audience, then subbing a full version ready for the paper.

As well as creating more work the news team, shouldn't full stories be archived online? Repeat story viewings via search engines and related backstories all add to page impressions.

The only other strategy is to provide content in the print offering that cannot be provided digitally. Currently CDs, DVDs, books and wallcharts are the solution, but surely there's only so long this tactic can work?

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Web audience measurement

From: Measuring "engagement" online at Guardian: Organ Grinder:

Nielsen points out that publishers are having to look at different ways of assessing visitor numbers and usage, mostly because new technologies such as Ajax refresh page content without actually refreshing the whole page. That means the data would show a user had only viewed one page, but actually the content would have changed many times. Ah, the delights of web statistics...

Friday, 13 April 2007

Keeping online news fresh

What do people want to read about? Newspapers can tell when their front page leads return big sales spikes, or particular issues or campaigns elicit a lot of letters and feedback. Newspaper websites have far more understanding and hard figures backing up their decisions.

Online, the options are endless, what works and what doesn't, where, how and when your visitors arrived at your site can be measured in minute details. Most popular stories can be recorded, eye tracking enables designers to produce layouts tailored towards the sites audience preferences.

Measuring trends and activity

At work we are getting an upgrade to our WebTrends site analytics software, which will greatly enhance our ability to track success stories amongst our site structure, layouts and page elements.

I can see it being fascinating to pinpoint what choices we make are working across the site, but coupled with the danger of getting too caught up in the statistics and forgetting to get on with keeping the site fresh.

One of the key methods of keeping the site fresh in terms of content is breaking or updated news at pivotal times of the day. This needs to be habitual, keeping your regular visitors returning when they know there will be something new. Jodie Hopperton describes The Telegraph's similar strategy at editorsweblog.org:

The Telegraph in contrast has 'touchpoints' throughout the day which are in essence mini deadlines to ensure news is fresh at each of its peaks: before work (9am), lunchtime (1pm) and leaving work (6pm).

Landing pages

It is important to remember, unlike newspaper readers who more often begin their read via the front or back page, not everyone of your site visitors comes in through the front door. So it is important to make use of site navigation and to create relevant mini hub pages where more content can be found, encouraging more clicks from passing 'trade', Jodie Hopperton again:

The pattern of usage is different from print to web and many people come through search engines looking for specific content/stories rather than browsing whats on offer as you would normally do in a newspaper.

Another vital key for first time or passing visitors, particularly to localised news sites is a sense of community. Local issues and campaigns should be prevalent, and opportunities for visitors to get involved and have their say should be easily accessible, Hopperton once more:

Creating a community ensures that these readers come back to the site as a central point, it's a good way of guaranteeing a base readership (assuming that the site continues to provide the same level of quality).

Online content doesn't go out of date the same day

Stories online can become or stay popular for days after they were first published. Anne Spackman, Editor of Times Online comments: "even after 2-3 days, old news is still alive, particularly with multimedia."

We have frequently found popular stories, in terms of page views, several days after a story went live, when it was buried lower down headline lists. This gives more valuable feedback on what an audience prefers, it's certainly not a mandate for leading stories, but remembering topics and issues that generate interest is part of the editorial process in a digital news-on-demand environment.

Monday, 2 April 2007

Online advertising continues to rise

Online advertising now accounts for 11.4% of all ad spending in the UK compared with 10.9% for newspapers. Modern online advertising systems like DoubleClick enables advertisers to buy exactly what they want, when they want, directed at people more likely to be interested. This is one key benefit when selling ad space with more confidence to businesses used to buying print media ad space. You get exactly what you pay for.

There is never a guaranteed return on any ad spend in national or local newspapers, print advertising can be hit and miss, unless you are placed in targeted supplements or specific sections of a publication.

The web enables companies to target their customers like never before. The user practically asks for ads that are relevant to them, or at least the technology is there to enable sites to do it, the big search engines are prime examples.
Richard Wray and Katie Allen writing in Saturday 31 March's Guardian Business add:

In search engine media, the advertiser is the content itself," according to Warren Cowan, founder and chief executive of Greenlight, a search-marketing group. He said: "In search engine marketing users request the advertising they see. No other type of advertising has been able to tap into this type of 'user solicited' advertising".

Online newspapers should take up this opportunity, giving local visitors to their news content relevant local ad content, rather than random generic brands that may be of no interest locally or specifically to the viewer on any page.

Search advertising allows companies to vie for position on search engines, so when a user looks for cheap TV sets, a holiday, an iPod or a car, their brand comes out on top. Search marketing is the antithesis of traditional advertising. Traditional TV, radio and print advertising relies upon brands interrupting a connection between an individual viewer or reader and content meant to inform or entertain them.

As the Guardian article concludes, one area that has been contentious is measurement of web statistics. But the Audit Bureau of Circulations Electronic will later this month begin publishing online statistics to enable advertisers and web companies to be better informed about how successful sites are and audience reach.