To attract and retain online readers, traditional magazine and newspaper publishers must respond to the explosion of interactive and Web 2.0 features, such as RSS feeds, blogs, social bookmarking and user generated content.
“The key is to develop a large crossover audience that reads both the print and online versions of your publication,” says Erin Teeling, New Media Associate, The Bivings Group. “In order to do that, we believe these publications have to offer things online that they don’t offer in their print version. Using technologies like video, podcasts and blogs helps you expand your readership online in a way you can’t in print.”
To gauge how well major US magazines and newspapers have adapted to the new online environment, Bivings has published surveys for the past two years outlining the use of new Internet technologies.
We spoke with Teeling about the results and asked her to identify areas where publishers can improve their use of these features. Her six top tips follow:
-> Tip #1. Use custom video to stand out
Video is one of the most popular multimedia features offered by the major newspaper and magazine Web sites surveyed: 92% of newspapers now offer video. Use of video by the magazine sites nearly doubled between 2006 and 2007 to 60%.
Still, the widespread use of video by publishers presents a challenge: Marketers have to make sure your content is unique, something Web users won’t find anywhere else. To do this:
- Offer custom video content. Many sites rely on video feeds from third-party providers, such as The Associated Press. This is an easy way to add video to your site, but the content won’t be unique.
Newspapers are getting better at creating their own videos, however. In 2006, the majority of sites surveyed used AP video feeds. In 2007, 39% offered custom video.
- Keep video content short. The shorter and more compelling a clip is, the more likely it will become a viral video and be shared among users.
- Consider allowing user generated videos. Letting users contribute their own videos to your site not only adds unique content, but it makes for more compelling online interaction. If you don’t want to host such content on your own site, consider creating a special tag for your brand for use on YouTube or other video-sharing sites. Then, users can aggregate their videos under your brand name on those sites.
-> Tip #2. Improve blog quality
While 58% of magazines and 92% of newspapers surveyed in 2007 offer blogs, the quality of those blogs varies greatly. Teeling identified several instances of “flogs,” or fake blogs, that were simply reporter-written columns that didn’t include interactive features, such as user comments and blog rolls (links to related, external blogs).
Instead, high-quality blogs include:
o User comments - 54% of magazines and 93% of newspapers surveyed allow user comments on their blogs
o Blog rolls - only 18% of magazines and 22% of newspapers included these external links
Another tip to improve user interaction on your site: Allow user comments on articles. Only 20% of magazines and 33% of newspapers surveyed allowed article comments, even though those sites allow readers to interact with blog posts. “It really doesn’t make sense to allow comments on blogs and not allow comments on articles.”
-> Tip #3. Place ads in RSS feeds
RSS feeds are another of the most popular features among publishers, with 64% of magazines and 97% of newspapers surveyed using them. Surprisingly, *none* of those sites is offering advertising in their feeds -- so they’re missing a big revenue opportunity.
“If your site is losing traffic to people using RSS readers, you can put ads in there and at least make some money from it,” Teeling says.
One potential reason why publishers aren’t using RSS ads is that the majority of sites offer the partial text of articles in their feeds: only 2% of magazines and 3% of newspapers included the full text of articles in their RSS feeds.
This strategy may help ease publishers into the world of distributed content. It would allow them to serve some text in RSS feeds and still have readers click through to their Web sites to read complete articles. But if you have identified a group of readers who prefer to receive content through RSS, why not make it easier for them to read the full content of those articles in their preferred medium and still generate revenue from it using RSS ads?
-> Tip #4. Try new user registration policies
In an era when Web 2.0 publishers are breaking down barriers to their content, Teeling was surprised to see an increasing number of magazine and newspaper sites requiring user registration. The number of magazines requiring registration jumped from 38% to 42% between 2006 and 2007; the number of newspaper sites requiring registration doubled to 20%.
Publishers are obviously interested in gathering information about their users through online registrations. But Teeling recommends trying an alternative route that makes your content more accessible while still allowing you to collect user data:
- Make registration voluntary in exchange for a better user experience. Voluntary registrations can include features that let registered users build online profiles, create personal libraries or customize their favorite sections, blogs and RSS feeds.
-> Tip #5. Include external bookmarking features
The use of social bookmarking services, such as Digg and del.icio.us, increased among publishers, largely because of improved technology and the emergence of new services. Still, only 36% of magazine sites and 44% of newspaper sites surveyed included social bookmarking tags.
Publishers who haven’t adopted these features should consider adding them to improve person-to-person sharing of their content. They help spread your brand and content organically across the Web, which can improve awareness and increase traffic.
-> Tip #6. Consider a redesign to accommodate new features
Teeling observed several newspaper and magazine sites that underwent redesigns between 2006 and 2007 but says there’s still room for improvement in terms of aesthetics, layout and navigation.
Attempting to plug new Web 2.0 features into an old-fashioned magazine or newspaper Web template can create a cluttered homepage, where navigation is difficult and popular content remains hidden.
Before adding a new feature, consider whether your existing Web design and structure is sufficient. Interactive features should fit seamlessly with your traditional content. If they don’t, you should consider a redesign that helps clean up the clutter and makes those features compelling.Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from The Bivings Group’s 2007 reports:
The Bivings Group's Analyzing the Web Sites of American Magazines report:
The Bivings Group's American Newspapers and the Internet: Threat or Opportunity? report:
The Bivings Group