7 ways newspaper websites can succeed (or why Rupert Murdoch is horribly wrong)

Newspapers by Alex Barth on Flickr
Newspapers by Alex Barth on Flickr

Also known as seven reasons as to why Mr. Rupert Murdoch is wrong about how the internet works.

  1. Consumer is king on the internet. Your reader is important. Seth Godin, marketing guru, would agree. On the internet, stuff spreads faster than it would online and there is a lot of stuff in the way of your content, your product, your message. To beat out the competition, to stand out from the crowd, you have to first find your target audience and then make it easy as possible for them to get to it. That means you give them something for free. That means they don’t have to sign up for access to it.  That means no pop up ads when they turn up at your site. That means that they get relevant content – what they search for they find. That means you allow the search engines to index it (Mr. Murdoch, I’m talking to you). Make it easy to get to. Would you run a store offline and make your potential customers run an obstacle course to get in the front door?
  2. The sites that make money are either those that offer a combination of free and paid content or services or those that manage to scam a lot of people very quickly. Newspaper editors take note: offer all or half of your online content for free. Focus on making your news site work as a companion to your print edition that you sell. Or do it the other way around and pass out free print issues that act as business cards directing people to your website where you have both free and paid content.Immediately, free content has value to your customer – they don’t have to shell it out and even better they don’t have to click a paypal button or sign up with a credit card. There is value in getting something for free. You make money selling online by offering the core product or service free and then pricing any optional extras and add ons. If you offer your news for free, you can gain revenue from the ads you run or from optional extras.Maybe your main headline news is free (the news everyone needs to know) but indepth information such as the lifestyle columns, the food reviews, the entertainment full length pieces, the long articles on business and stocks, the longer than it possibly needs to be coverage of sports issues, all that content could be paid content. You might offer the news item that a certain musician is dead for example for free and then link to an indepth article on their life, their work and the industry’s reaction that could be paid content.
  3. Make it easy for the customer. If I came across this set up on a newspaper site, I would only be interested in reading the Arts section indepth. Make it free for me to read the basics of what is going on and then allow me and other readers to pay for just the content we want. I don’t want to pay for indepth news on Sports, so don’t make me pay a blanket fee for everything, let me customise it. Someone else may want to read Sports but not the Arts section and so on. Offer me a trial so that I can take it for a test drive and remember that I am test driving not just the newsworthiness of the content or the way it’s written but also how easy it is for me to use the content. Let me share it with anyone I want to. Give me several ways in which to access both the free and paid content – email, RSS and so on. What is easy for me won’t be easy for another customer.
  4. Don’t get in the way. Don’t stop search engines from indexing your site. You will never ever get enough people directly typing in your website’s address to visit your site. You will never get enough people bookmarking your articles to find you that way. You need the search engines. If you allow people to share your articles with others, allow them to email the links around, allow them to publish them on twitter and facebook, then you should allow the search engines to index your site. This is an important part of marketing yourself online. The search engines work because this is how the average reader thinks and behaves online. If they want to find something, they don’t type it into the address bar unless they have the location typed out in front of them – they put it into Google. that way your average reader only has one address to remember – ever: Google’s. You will never get enough people to access your paid content to make it worthwhile if you kick out the search engines. Mr. Murdoch, fire the person who gave you the idea in the first place. Your credibility as a news provider has been damaged by your lack of understanding as to how the internet actually works.
  5. Teach your journalists how to write for the web and how to write for print. Teach them how to use the software. Teach them how to tag articles. Teach them how the search engines work. Teach them how to do all this regardless of whether they are 18 or 60. Train them. They need it. They will thank you for it later on.
  6. Put your best foot forward. Keep your subeditors and copyeditors. Train them in how the web works and let them go find every error possible in both the free and paid content. Don’t slack off just because it’s free or just because your stats say that it’s the most or least popular section. Make every single part of your site look good in terms of text. The amount of errors I find in print and online editions make me cringe. It does not make you look good.

Do you think Rupert Murdoch is wrong to ask Google not to list/index The Australian website?

Marisa is a globetrotting freelance writer, journalist and editor with cat for hire (her, not the cat). She is currently based in Melbourne.

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