Who reads the front page?

I was trying to determine how profitable Tribune’s online operations would be if they blocked sites from displaying links to their stories. The answer: “Not very.”

The stats for washingtonpost.com and nytimes.com (which have much stronger online operations than Tribune) are dismal. Of all the people who visit the washingtonpost.com site in a given month, less than 14% visit the home page, according to comScore data. For nytimes.com, that number is 20%.

People are getting to newspaper Web sites from a wide range of sources. Google News, the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post are among the top traffic drivers to latimes.com, washingtonpost.com and nytimes.com. The long tail of the blogosphere is also a heavy contributor.

Instead of trying to turn back time, newspaper companies need to embrace the link love and optimize that traffic to get the best possible return. I’ve talked about some of these techniques before: Making the most of search engine traffic and Adapting online newspapers to a search/Web 2.0 world.

Newspapers need to borrow techniques from direct marketers to convert those passing visitors into regular readers (or at least RSS feed subscribers). On that first hit from a new reader they need to:

  • Show them the story they came to see! Putting up a big firewall here is a wasted opportunity.
  • Deliver other stories the reader might be interested in. You know why they came – they might want more on that topic.
  • Make it easy to subscribe to your content on that topic. If someone lands on a Tom Sietsema restaurant review from a link, let them 1-click subscribe for the rest.

About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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