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Post online strategy: Grow audience, and engagement

By Andy Alexander

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.

Recently, launched a redesigned site that has been widely discussed for moving away from using gimmicks to gin up page views. Thomson Reuters has done the same.

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.”

By Andy Alexander  | July 14, 2010; 11:25 AM ET
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Next: Advice for publishing sensitive stories: Tell readers why


Any staff written stories on the DOJ/New Black Party issue?

Posted by: d1carter | July 14, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

I try to check the Posters who "beat up" Mr. King, Mr. Robinson and Mr. Milloy, regularly. Race continues to be of interest and of anger by many Posters. Some must be just young,white bad boys , but something is going on. The Race issue in America is alive and not so well...perhaps, more in depth reporting.

Posted by: judithclaire1939 | July 14, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

"But print-oriented staffers fear that using gimmicks to attract online audience will cheapen The Post’s brand, thus damaging its journalistic reputation."

Oops! Too late. The horse is already out of the barn.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | July 15, 2010 12:21 AM | Report abuse

definitely it is true that major brands always give out free samples on health products get yours from tell your friends also

Posted by: nelsonjoe15 | July 15, 2010 5:20 AM | Report abuse

But the comparison isn't really apples-apples. There have been hundreds of stories about the BP spill to comment under; only one about Crocs.

The stories that seem to generate the most traffic, from my extremely unscientific view, are those that expose how government largesse are funding unsocial behavior -- businesses that act like the only regulation they need to respect is the free market; or crime in neighborhoods in which the government is the second income but not the second parent.

Posted by: WmarkW | July 15, 2010 6:03 AM | Report abuse

What a crock Mr. Ombudsman, look your latest news story published a couple days ago:

"Making the online customer king at The Post"


Laughable WaPo hacks.

Posted by: screwjob17 | July 15, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

The Post's online executive producer sounds like she has a mighty scary attitude vis-a-vis what a newspaper should be striving for. Publish the news before it's fully reported?? That's called "spreading rumors," deary. Maybe the Post's publisher needs to take a class in journalism ethics and then take a look at what she's been allowing to happen to a once-great newspaper. The Post could be in the forefront of educating the public about WHY print newspapers are different from the government-controlled Internet and other broadcast media, but, instead, it chooses to "join the crowd" by making the public THINK its First Amendment rights are protected on the Internet. The First Amendment is all about limiting government control, and access to the Internet will always be controlled, ultimately, by the government.

Posted by: Kathy8 | July 17, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

Posters will be further marginalized by this actionable intelligence in the virtual world of our virtual President Obama.

Posted by: le-idiot | July 19, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

The Post's liberal bent, and especially the drumbeat in support of catastrophic global warming caused by CO2, was the reason I recently canceled my forty year old daily subscription. No coverage of the Justice Department's black only voting civil rights policy; no coverage of the Muir Russell whitewash that now has been covered by Atlantic, New Scientist, and maybe even Scientific American.

No response to comments on blogs. Never responds to my emails.

There is apparently no CAGW warming article that is too ridiculous to mention in the Post, and no skeptic article that is worthy of mention. That house of cards has been imploding for some time, but the Post will probably continue trying desperately to find something positive to say about global warming.

US funding for CRU/UEA was just suspended pending a review of their behavior. Of course that came from a government that resides in Washington DC, but it didn't rise to the level of news that the Post would report.

Posted by: AGWsceptic99 | July 19, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

In next week's column, I expect to see an explanation of why the Post thinks it's OK to jeopardize our national security to sell a few more newspapers.

Posted by: diehardlib | July 19, 2010 8:50 PM | Report abuse

How many readers have noticed that a new format for comments has been unveiled today with the Post's absolutely reprehensible article on the intelligence community?

Try to either write or read a comment on that article and you will see what I mean. Is this a coincidence? I don't think so. Seems to me that the Post is afraid of readers' comments on this article, despite their assurance that they "encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.coms articles, blogs,..."

So here's my take on the article. Simply put, the Post is knowingly making it easy for our country's enemies to attack us by attacking our vital intelligence community. What possible reason is there for this story? How does the Post justify putting hundreds of thousands of intel workers at risk like this? An interactive one-stop information source for all intelligence matters? Locations of secret intel operations sites? What businesses assist our country in national security issues? Are you for real? When did the Post decide to go to work for the intelligence agencies of North Korea, Russia and Iran?

This story more deeply undermines our defense industry than any other article that I have read anywhere in the past 40 years.


Posted by: tacheronb | July 19, 2010 9:08 PM | Report abuse

Okay everyone, it is time to start your watches and check your calendars.

Tonight (July 19, 2010) Fox News captures on video the African-American heading the Georgia USDA office. The woman is caught confessing to a local NAACP dinner audience how she consciously withheld loans to a white farmer because he was white. The woman has reportedly just resigned.

Much like the two Philadelphia Black Panther Voter intimidation thugs or the ACORN scandal, the clock is again now running. How long will it take the Washington Post and the rest of the MSM to get around to covering this latest administrative racist scandal? How long indeed? My bet, however, is one month.

And so it goes...

Posted by: pgould1 | July 19, 2010 11:02 PM | Report abuse

How do you look at yourself in the mirror? You gutless piece of garbage: Quit trying to suck up to your employers, Murdoch and the right wing and strat to talk baout the real issues re WP reporting.
(Oh, I forgot why you were hired. A cushy job like you have is not to be thrown away by being honest - there are plenty of other sellouts who would be happy to have such easy work.)

Posted by: jos587 | July 22, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

That's funny...I thought the Post's new online strategy was: Commit treason, get cheap publicity.

Nothing would drum up newspaper sales like a terrorist attack, would it?

Posted by: diehardlib | July 22, 2010 8:35 PM | Report abuse

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