I’ve written earlier about troubles facing the newspaper industry as well as some ideas for improving online newspapers. Here are a few more ideas.
- Make sure your pages are crawlable. Most newspaper sites do just fine at this when it comes to news stories. But if your entertainment guide, discussion boards, classifieds and other such content are on database platforms that aren’t being crawled, you’re leaving free traffic on the table.
- Don’t rely on the front page. While most people start at the front page of a print newspaper, many of your online readers come directly into stories through searches, emails, IMs, etc. Showcase your best (and most current) content on each page in a continuously updated section.
- Don’t require registration just to read stories. People want to consume your content; don’t keep them from it. If I hit a registration wall, I usually go away. If I really want to read the story, I’ll try BugMeNot. (Note that the top 5 sites on bugmenot.com are newspaper sites.) I have to really, really, really want to read the story to register. And in that case I’ll give fake information. At the very least, if you require registration, make sure that traffic that comes from search engines or bookmarks at least gets the first few stories registration free.
- Don’t expire content (unless you have to for licensing reasons). When I blog, I try not to link to stories from The New York Times because I know that after 7 days my readers won’t be able to see the story unless they pay for it. I usually try to find a similar story in The Washington Post because they don’t expire content. More inbound links mean higher search engine placement. Storage is cheap; it doesn’t cost much to keep old stories around. If you’re concerned about cannibalizing archives revenue, let users read a set amount of archived content a month free. (Casual readers won’t pay you for the articles anyway.)
- Make sure you have feeds. In the early days of the online news business we thought we could get users to set the newspaper site as the homepage. The ship has sailed on that. Make sure that users who have set their homepage to MyYahoo, iGoogle and other portals can see your content easily by creating feeds of your content. Let them slice and dice to fit their particular tastes – just news for a specific town, a sports team, a columnist, etc. The Post does a great job of this.
- Make it easy to find all work by your key columnists. I would love to see a page that revolves around Tom Siestema’s dining reviews or Neal Justin’s TV columns, that is easily accessible from all stories written by them. This page should contain recent articles, contact information, RSS feeds and email alerts.
- Make sure your pages are bookmarkable. Much of the content I read is from blogs that reference them and emailed/IMed links. Sites like del.icio.us and digg also need static URLs. A “bookmark this” link that generates a custom URL isn’t good enough; users should be able to cut-and-paste from the browser address bar.
- Don’t split stories across pages. It may get you more page views (and ad impressions) from a single user, but it’s a bad user experience. Don’t care so much about that? There are more selfish reasons. Stories split across multiple pages won’t get indexed correctly by search engines. They are also less likely to rise to the surface on social sites if users bookmark or tag different pages of the story.
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