Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Good thinking on how to capitalize when Yahoo! drives millions of page views to a newspaper's Web site

In writing about steps newspapers should take to survive and thrive, my third recommendation was, "Realign the internal operations of local newspaper companies to make marketing, advertising and editorial partners every step of the way."

Reader and friend John Leach, managing Partner at Digital Strategies LLC, pointed out how the recent experience of The New York Times, when it received more than 9 million page views on one story in a few hours from a Yahoo! link, was a good example of how what I was proposing could help newspapers. If news organizations were restructured in the way I described, they'd be better able to capitalize on this kind of opportunity because the whole team would react instantly, together. Instead, according to the Nieman Journalism Lab story, the Times sold remnant ads on the page getting the fire hose of traffic.

John wrote me: "You talked in No. 3 about putting together news, advertising and marketing staffs along the lines of what you described for CNN at the Democratic convention when you talked with the (CU Journalism School) advisory board. It's a great idea, and it's long overdue.
An online advertising staff has to be as nimble as the online news staff in order to take advantage of opportunities like the one the Times had -- and the same thing goes for the online marketing staff. As I pointed out in a brief comment to that post, the online advertising staff should have sold a client like Bing on being able to pick up 1 million or 2 million page views from a big event like that one, which is an ideal place for Bing to promote its new search engine. It could have done something similar with other big advertisers.

"What an opportunity that presents to deliver extraordinary value to a key advertiser, even if it's for a price halfway between the usual rate and the dismal remnant rate.
Instead, newspapers are functioning online like they do in print -- selling ad space, building the ad and putting it into that space on a set schedule. It's the equivalent of posting the day's paper and stopping there. Why can't we have breaking news ads to go with our breaking news?
The Times also could have targeted a marketing campaign for itself onto those pages -- getting far more value than it did from remnant ads. After all, the Times undoubtedly was getting visitors who hadn't been to the Times very often before, and visitors who hadn't been there at all, and that's a prime group to tell about what the Times offers in breaking news, in-depth coverage and multimedia. It's also a group that might well buy Times photos or other products."

I think John makes great points. Are newspapers nimble enough and are they structured to seize opportunities that present themselves quickly? Instead of complaining about the link economy, they should capitalize on it. By the way, I'm not saying the Times was complaining. But John is right that in my previous post on Yahoo! driving traffic to the Times I undervalued the opportunity that kind of traffic represented by not reiterating the importance of advertising, editorial and marketing working side by side.


  1. Thanks for giving this some thought, John and John. I wrote the piece at the Nieman Journalism Lab, and I find the topic fascinating but have no good answers. Even if publishers could anticipate traffic spikes, it's nearly impossible to sell inventory at that magnitude, and regular advertisers probably wouldn't be interested in flash-in-the-pan traffic. (The demographic of readers coming from Yahoo, for instance, likely doesn't match up with the Times' typical readership. That's just one of many complications.)

    I like John Leach's idea of using the traffic spike as a marketing opportunity: The Times could reach into its archives and promote articles that might particularly appeal to those coming from Yahoo — stuff that went viral in the past or otherwise lifestyle pieces that attracted large readerships. Or, hey, what about offering up articles the Times has written about Yahoo, on the assumption that there's some built-in interest? That would definitely work for traffic spikes from Digg, where articles about Digg do better than anything else.

    All of this reminds me of what Joel Kramer has said repeatedly about the traffic at MinnPost, where he's editor and CEO. Readers from outside Minnesota simply don't interest him; they're useless, and MinnPost serves them remnant ads by default. Only local readers are served the ads from local businesses that MinnPost sells itself. And that's how the site has been able to achieve a $15 CPM, on average, which is spectacular for a local news site.

    —Zach Seward

  2. Excellent points, John. The sad fact is that while newspapers are set up with marketing, circulation and advertising departments to take advantage of readership spikes in print, very few are even close to being similarly sophisticated about taking advantage of Web traffic. I touched on this a while back in a post on my blog about search engine optimization (SEO) ( Rather than complaining about link traffic somehow "stealing" their business (which is so absurd it makes my head hurt), newspaper sites should be learning how to track, analyze and take advantage of traffic, and it should be as important a job as the print circulation and marketing departments. Sadly, it's not even close, even 15 years into newspaper Web sites.

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