When it comes to content that works really well on the Internet, or at least that drives a lot of pageviews, I’ve always thought it comes down to the Five Ps:
* Passions — People go to the web to find out more about the things they love. Whether they love to travel, or love to shop, or love shoes, or love the Kansas Jayhawks, or love gadgets, or whatever, the Internet is awesome at helping you find out almost everything you could want to know about your favorite things.
* Practical — Movie showtimes. What restaurants are open right now? Which huge-ass flat-screen TV is really the best? How in the heck do I get to this new friend’s house? How much are homes selling for in my neighborhood this month?
* Playful — How many times have you heard someone say, “You know, I was on YouTube last night, and I just lost myself. I must have been on that site for two or three hours.”
Now when was the last time you heard someone (especially someone who is not a journalist) say, “You know, I was on my local newspaper’s website last night and I just lost myself. I must have been on that site for two or three hours.”
* Personal communication — Uhh … e-mail, Facebook, instant messaging …
* Porn — Yep, I’ve heard that at least some people use the Internet to look at nekkid people. Not me, of course, but definitely you.
Here’s what is wild: With the exception of porn (and probably personal communication), newspapers should really be able to deliver on these things. And give Sam Zell a little more time and he’ll probably figure out the porn thing.
This is probably going to be a surprise to many people who work in newsrooms, but go to your newspaper’s receptionist (or whoever the heck answers the phones at your place) and ask them this simple question: “Do you get more angry calls when I misspell the mayor’s name or when the answers to yesterday’s crossword puzzle are omitted?”
Then prepare to be humbled.
I remember, when I was at The Washington Post, Don Graham — who is one of this world’s noblemen — told me that one of the reasons The Post became the dominant newspaper in the D.C. area was because it had the most (and best) comics.
Now, look me in the eye and tell me with all honesty that you don’t think people use the print edition to be entertained or to kill time … along with getting their news.
I’m not for one second suggesting that newspapers should become People magazine. Far from it. The reason I wanted to come to the Las Vegas Sun was this place’s commitment to practicing real local journalism.
My guess is that newspapers might be able to compete much better in all of the chaos that we find ourselves in if we would just look at what readers used to like about our print editions and embrace those sorts of equivalents with new media.
It isn’t just the journalism that made the printed newspaper work. It’s the comics and crosswords and movie listings and the product reviews and the sports stories and Dear Abby. And especially the ads.
I remember one weekend when our family was still back in northern Virginia. I saw someone buy the “bulldog” Sunday edition of The Washington Post on a Saturday morning at a local grocery store and then throw away the news sections right there at the newsstand and keep the ad inserts. The ads were the “content” they wanted from the newspaper.
It’s the total package that made newspapers successful in print.
And I’m guessing that the total package for newspapers in regards to the web and e-mail and mobile includes at least some of the Five Ps.
At the Las Vegas Sun’s website, we’ve focused on:
* Passions — UNLV, UFC, boxing, gaming business info, gambling info, the city’s colorful history, Las Vegas entertainment news and gossip.
* Practical — breaking news (which we’ve basically made our No. 1 priority), great calendar info, restaurant guides that are deep and wide, crime info, and many other types of things like this.
Since making these changes to the Sun’s site, the effects have been impressive. Our site’s overall traffic has increased by almost 300 percent in the last six months, and that’s with almost no marketing at all.
When I first told Rocky Mountain News editor and publisher John Temple that I was coming to the Greenspun family of publications, he gave me lots of great advice, but the piece of advice that he gave me that relates directly to this blog post is “benchmarking.”
He told me to track everything. And we have.
We’ve benchmarked the effect of nearly every single change we’ve made to lasvegassun.com so we know exactly what is working and what isn’t. When you look at the difference in our traffic from May 2008 to October 2008, nearly all of the dramatic traffic increases fall within the categories I outlined above.
The traffic to lasvegassun.com basically falls into three buckets: story content (text, photos, video, etc…), databases (calendar info, restaurant guides, stats, etc…) and classified ads (well, just an employment vertical).
Of the traffic on our site that goes to content, about 30 percent goes to stories from the print edition of the Sun, about 35 percent goes to breaking news and the rest of the content traffic goes to our stories from the “passions” categories I listed above.
What hasn’t worked … at least early on?
Though the numbers to our high school sports content continue to grow, they still aren’t anywhere near where we had hoped they would be. We’re definitely re-thinking and re-tooling this strategy, and haven’t given up hope yet. But we’re close.
Numbers to our new section for Las Vegas badboy magician Criss Angel — who just opened a new 100-million-dollar show on the Strip with Cirque du Soleil that has received less-than-stellar reviews — haven’t materialized. (Though anything we publish about his social life gets *huge* traffic.)
And I was positive that as dedicated as the hockey fans that I’ve met in previous markets are, that our online-only coverage of the local hockey team would generate at least some traffic. It hasn’t. (Of course, we haven’t exactly blown-out the section and made it super easy-to-find.)
So, that’s a rundown of what we’re up to and how it all relates to the Five Ps.
If you do these sorts of things at your newspaper site, will you see a 300-percent increase in traffic in six months? I doubt it. The Las Vegas Sun’s site was in a very unique situation when our team took it over.
I can’t even begin to explain just how neglected the old Las Vegas Sun website was. And it basically only had content on it from the print edition.
The neglect alone meant we didn’t have to do much to improve it. Newspaper websites typically aren’t killer, and the Las Vegas Sun’s site was about 10 years behind the rest of the industry.
For us, just doing some basic blocking and tackling made a huge difference with traffic, especially considering this market.
But should we be doing more with the Five Ps? Yep.
And we will.
We’ve got lots of new things rolling out over the next few months that fall squarely within the Five Ps. Well, most of the Five Ps.
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