Post online strategy: Grow audience, and engagement
Quick quiz: Among staff-written stories, what’s generated the most page views on The Post’s Web site in the past year? Something about the BP oil spill, perhaps? The Haiti earthquake? The health-care reform vote?
The answer: Crocs. A story about financial problems facing the maker of the ubiquitous colorful foam clogs is tops. “By a mile,” added Raju Narisetti, the managing editor who oversees The Post’s Web site.
The Crocs story illustrates a sobering reality about The Post’s site. Often (not always), readers are coming for the offbeat or the unusual. They’re drawn by endearing animal videos or photo galleries of celebrities. And as my Sunday column noted, The Post consciously uses this type of content to lure traffic -- in part so that it can show potential advertisers that they would be reaching the largest possible audience.
But it's not just about audience numbers. The Post is also fixated on increasing engagement. When people come to the Web site, The Post wants them to stay for as long as possible. The greater the level of engagement, the greater the likelihood that a reader will consider The Post’s site indispensable. And that’s a huge selling point to advertisers who are increasingly concerned about the “quality” of a Web site’s audience.
The idea that the quality of readers may matter as much or more than the quantity of readers is an idea that is taking hold throughout the online world.
Ken Doctor, a news industry analyst and author of “Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get,” notes that these and other sites believe that “increasing knowledge about their customers [and] the kinds of ‘uniques’ they have and the kind of engagement they have with those people is much more important to advertisers.”
To be sure, the largest possible audience does appeal to some “bulk buy” advertisers, like fast food chains, that simply want to expose their products to the masses. But the ad rate – the CPM (cost per mille), or the amount charged for the ad to appear on 1,000 page views – is typically lower for these large-scale purchases.
In The Post's case, the intense pressure to boost online traffic and engagement has revealed, as my Sunday column noted, a newsroom divide between Web and print-oriented staffers. Some with an online focus believe that print veterans are too wedded to traditional journalistic standards and are too slow to embrace the more freewheeling Web. But print-oriented staffers fear that using gimmicks to attract online audience will cheapen The Post’s brand, thus damaging its journalistic reputation.
When I suggested last week that there’s a disconnect in the newsroom, Post online executive producer Katharine Zaleski said that it’s more of a “lack of awareness” on the part of some print veterans. She said the site needs to be “more of the moment,” with content being posted even if it isn’t fully reported. And she said there needs to be more emphasis on “what people want to read, instead of telling them what to read.”
By building traffic, she said, The Post’s brand of journalism will be exposed to a wider audience. But, she added, “you’ve got to get them to the site first. You’ve got to give them something to chew on... multiple things to chew on.” Of course, people drawn to The Post’s site by celebrity news may not have much interest in politics or policy.
Narisetti said there’s a temptation by some to “blame the medium” -- meaning the digital platform -- “as the reason why The Post might stray from its brand.”
He added: “It’s a soft, easy and ultimately false argument in a rapidly changing world where one much loved medium, print, is in trouble with audiences and advertisers, while another medium is rapidly evolving.”
“If we don’t start treating our audiences as customers,” he said, “they will stop treating us as a brand they want to consume.”
| July 14, 2010; 11:25 AM ET
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