Top tips to win readers

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In the publishing world today – with print ad revenues drying up – for a brand to survive creating a compelling presence in the online space is a must.

Most Canadians today look to the Web as a source for news, and as a media channel, the Web surpasses all others, save television.

The Internet now reaches more adults each week than magazines or newspapers, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) of Canada.

Canadian adults spend 23 per cent of their time online, says the IAB –a non-profit association representing interactive advertisers, agencies, publishers and service associates.

It reports that 2007 Canadian online advertising revenue climbed to a little more than $1.2 billion, increasing 33.8 per cent over 2006. Online advertising revenue is expected to have grown 25 per cent in 2008 to $1.5 billion.

However, online advertising makes up only 8.7 per cent of all media ad spend – indicating there is still an untapped market many advertisers will start to take advantage of.

In Canada, consumers who are also heavy Internet users comprise 25 per cent of adults aged 18 and older.

For online publications this is a very important audience, suggests IAB president Paula Gignac, as they are the biggest buyers of upscale consumer products.

For instance, heavy Internet users’ credit card spending totals around $1,500 a month, they own $5,000 worth of personal computing products, make $10,000 in RRSP contributions, and own or have recently purchased a new car.

To help advertisers reach these niche readers, analysts are recommending publishers change their strategy by complementing printed content with online features.

Companies are increasingly looking for more measurable forms of marketing to justify spending during the economic recession, Gignac said.

The challenge for 2009 will be continuing to make money with the transition to online, said Carol Krol, senior analyst at eMarketer, an Internet market research group, and author of the report Newspapers in Crisis – Migrating Online.

Offline dollars are much more lucrative than the “digital pennies” publishers receive for online ads, so publishers need to be thinking beyond display ads, joining an ad network, monetizing online video, or creating advertising partnerships that are unlike traditional banner ads.

Build an online social community

One way of moving your readers to the Web is to build a social community, she said.

Publishers can increase traffic and charge premium prices to advertisers by creating a trusted environment for members of the community to gather, read and comment on the day’s news. 
To engage younger consumers, newspapers should be thinking of ways to enhance their online content, rather than copying and pasting their editorial content online.

By building interactive forums – such as blogs and social communities – around their sites, visitors will become more engaged and spend more time on the Web page. And this, in turn, will lead to higher ad revenues.

User generated content is easy for a publisher to access and very useful, as it requires little employee input and could bring other types of media – such as video – to your space.

Placing video ads before and after news clips will also help increase revenue and appeal to a wider reader demographic.

Alex Dunae, a principal at Victoria, B.C.-based Dialect, a Web marketing firm, says building an online news presence can be more resource-intensive than creating a newspaper.

“When a big event happens, such as Obama’s inauguration, readers expect live feeds, photographs and related stories instantaneously; whereas traditionally, newspapers had a day and an evening to prepare.”

However, there are many steps that even small and mid-sized publications can take to maintain a Web and print presence, while maximizing advertising revenue.

Having a flexible plan is the first step, Dunae said.

When breaking news occurs, content needs to be posted as quickly as possible; so having little bureaucracy for Web posting procedures is imperative to getting hits.

If the Web site decides to use social media or blogs, it is important to have a corporate culture in place to deal with negative comments and respond to customer criticisms.

Start with the basics and slowly expand

New and small publications should focus on creating a simple Web presence, he says. “Have a rough idea about where you want to head in the future, but start with the basics.”

“Don’t spend ages trying to build high-tech architecture that will blow your budget,” he said. “Technology changes so fast anyway that the widgets and social networking badges you invest in now could be extinct in the few months.”

The most lucrative piece of real estate for advertisers is still the big box “above the fold” on each Web page anyway, that’s the place most advertisers want to be.
For a small publication, Duane recommends starting with a customizable blog. Companies can purchase a skin and have the blog tailored to their brand in less than a month and for less than $5,000, he said.

Build a blog

Cision Media, a social media research team in Chicago, found that of their database of more than 10,000 influential blogs, about 1,000 are hosted on newspaper Web sites.

The Cision research group reviewed more than 500 newspapers’ blog networks and ranked them based on back links from other blogs and social networks across the Web.

“Newspaper networks have breathed new life into their cover, and could represent the future of new,” said Jay Krall, manager of Internet media research at CisionBlog.

Create a mobile presence

There’s plenty of opportunity for publishers of all size to develop new marking partnerships, especially in growing areas, such as the mobile market.

Many advertisers are trying this out, and it’s proving to be a very lucrative area as the smart phone market continues to grow.
Canada’s largest print publisher, CanWest, launched a version of the Calgary Herald for the iPhone last October, which received a lot of traffic and positive feedback.

Graham Moysey, senior vice-president and general manager of digital media at CanWest, says the key is complementing print content with branded online, or mobile, content to appeal to wider audiences. 

By redesigning their dailies with local content, adding rich media to the Web and putting a strong emphasis on classifieds, CanWest increased traffic by 30 per cent with fewer than three million unique visitors, he said.

Within Canada, there continues to be a huge opportunity for publishers to attract advertising as users continue to flood to the Web for news; the challenge is now getting agencies to spend more.

“The U.K. and U.S. have both increased their online ad spending to between 13 to 19 per cent,” Moysey said, “so it’s safe to say there is a huge opportunity for advertisers and publishers in Canada.”

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