Back in the day, I remember Eric Meyer on the Online-News e-mail discussion list predicting doom for newspapers online. OK, maybe he wasn’t that dramatic, but he said we had a big problem to over come.
The problem was push vs. pull.
Newspapers are largely push. You get people to subscribe, and you deliver it to them, or you put it out on a street corner where it is easy to pick up. You’re not making people come to you.
The web is entirely pull.
The only way you get a visitor to your site is if you give them a reason to visit. They have to remember there is a reason to visit. There is no “newspaper on the door step” reminder.
RSS and e-mail help, but for a large segment of the audience, people have to remember.
That’s one reason it is so hard to develop a large segment of a newspaper.com audience who are daily or more frequent visitors.
But I believe that is where the money is. When we can get 12 to 15 percent of our DMA adults hitting our site at a least daily basis, we’ll be a long way toward making enough money to pay for quality journalism, regardless of how healthy, or not, the print partner is.
So, if the web is pull, how do we do a better job at pulling?
As a thought exercise, here are my “Seven Be’s of Pull.”
- Be relevant
- For most newspapers, that means, be local, even hyperlocal.
- Be frequent
- The daily dump doesn’t cut it. You need a steady flow of news and information from roughly 6 a.m. to midnight. People need to be rewarded for stopping by often. That happens when there is new stuff every time they visit.
- Be complete
- It isn’t just about the headlines. It’s also about school lunch menus, crime stats, real estate sales, deans’ lists and dead fish.
- Be diverse
- Get beyond the City Council and crime reports, because people have other interests, and some of those interests are as local as they are national, such as gardening, chess clubs and child rearing. Let 1,000 niches bloom.
- Be easy
- Make search good and effective; make sure your navigation is smart and obvious; don’t clutter your home page, but make it easy for people to find stuff.
- Be friendly
- It’s not just your site. It’s your community’s site, too. Let them participate in it. Let them make friends with you and their neighbors.
- Be reliable
- Don’t forget the traditional journalistic values of fairness, honesty, diligence and looking out for the interests of everybody in the community. One of the key findings of the Readership Institute is that people want to know their news source “looks out for my interests.” These things are a big part of your brand, and brand is a big part of pull.
I should add that one reason paid content won’t work for general circulation newspapers online is the pull nature of the web. Until people know a site is something the are going to remember to visit everyday, they are reluctant to pay for it. That’s a corollary to my contention that people pay for delivery, not for content.