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Editor's views: Revamped web site is getting the job done

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August 2, 2014

So how's that new website working out for you?

I've heard that question or a variation of it many times in the past year.
My answer has been and continues to be: pretty well, thank you.

It's been one year since The Gazette locked down much of the best content on gazettextra.com, making it available only to paid subscribers. We're among many newspapers that have gone that route after offering our content free online for more than a decade. We still offer breaking news, obituaries and some other content to all, but we limit access to our strongest original stuff.

Some people thought we were crazy.

“Your website is basically pointless now,” one critic wrote shortly after the change.
Well, not quite.

To be frank, one of the reasons for the change was to make money. Yes, we are a for-profit business, and we need to pay our bills and compensate our employees.
When all of our content was free on the web, it was tough to raise prices on the newspaper. People who didn't want to pay more could drop the paper and read us online.

They can't do that anymore, so we've been able to charge more—after years of not raising prices—and help our bottom line. That's critical. We're not getting rich with this extra money; we're just doing what we must to stay viable. We also bundled our products into an all-access package that gives customers more for their money.

Yes, advertising on the web makes money, and we're working on ways to make it more valuable. The bottom line, though, is that web advertising hasn't been the answer, and we need to be aggressive in finding new revenue. Our new web strategy is part of that, and the results are better than we expected.

We knew going into the new site that traffic would drop, and it did by more than half. The numbers have shown steady growth since, though, and our unique visitors were down just 34 percent in June from the year before. We're confident that the positive trend will continue. We also stress that our paying customers are more engaged and more valuable to us and our advertisers than those who skimmed our site for free.

Not only are we pleased with the revamped gazettextra.com, but others who have online expertise think it's good, as well. The site just won a raft of awards in the Local Media Association's 2014 digital contest, including second for Best Community Website and third for Best Overall Local News Site.

From a user standpoint, our goal was to provide customers access to our content in any way they wanted—print, digital or mobile. The site's responsive design makes the experience easy and comfortable no matter what device you use. Like many media companies, we're putting considerable effort into mobile because we believe it has big potential, and now 30 percent of our visits come from mobile phones and tablets.

We're far from satisfied, though, and we're continually working on ways to improve the website. We're always looking for new and better content, including video and interactive features that can't be duplicated in print, and we plan to personalize content and advertising. We will offer different pricing options, including short-term passes, and want to simplify the sign-in process.

Lon Haenel, our vice president of digital media and circulation, summarizes our approach better than I could:

“We hope print will be around for a long, long time. But that's for our customers to decide, not us. In the meantime, we will continue to work to deliver the news, information and content that matters most to our customers. We'll deliver it across all platforms. Over time, platforms change. The Gazette's commitment to local never will.”

Scott W. Angus is editor of The Gazette and vice president of news for Bliss Communications. His email is sangus@gazettextra.com. you can follow him on Twitter at @sangus_.



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