I’ve been reading a lot why online revenues have stagnated in the past year. While the economy is certainly a prime factor, I really like consultant Mark Potts’ theory that newspapers’ web sites are … well… too much like newspapers. Potts offers a good number of suggestions to clean up and focus newspaper sites.

But the biggest issue with newspaper web sites is that … like their print counterparts .. are still a “one-size-fits-all” product. As a reader, I have to sort through the bag to find the information I want. Some web sites are easier to sift through than others, but I still spend time sifting.

Why haven’t we looked at creating a customized web site that reflects the individual reader’s interest and reading patterns … sort of an electronic “zoning” of the web site, but drilling down much farther than print zoning could ever do.

Look at some of the great retail web sites out there. Amazon.com pioneered the ability to track customers to monitor where they go and what they buy. So when that customer comes back to the site and logs in, not only can they see what they’ve bought, but Amazon offers suggestions based on their previous purchases which may fit their lifestyles.

So, borrowing from Amazon’s success, wouldn’t be cool if, as a reader, I could log into my Daily Local News web site and get a home page that has headlines from my neighborhood, the presidential race, the White Sox, and media business news? Then, there would be a rail that “suggests” stories that would be of interest to me (based on my previous visits to the site). Plus, there would be a link to the non-registered users home page, just in case I’m curious of what I’m missing.

If the basis of a custom site was a ZIP code, that could be an opportunity for a small business to advertise on your site. The local pizza parlor who doesn’t want to advertise on the web because the reach is too broad may consider buying if the ad goes only to readers in certain ZIP codes. And, you could sell it at a lower price to make it more attractive to the small advertiser.

When a paper zones in print, it usually creates a page template and swaps stories per zone. The same could be done online. Tagging could direct stories to where they are most pertinent, and a template could swap stories based on information gained when a reader registers, as well as tracking where the reader goes on the site. Frankly, the web template would not necessarily have to look like your home page. You’d just need to carry your brand on the page.

So why haven’t more newspaper web sites tried being more like Amazon? I have a feeling that Potts’ theory that publishers aren’t keen on real innovation is not that far off the mark.

But, oh, what a way to tell your readers what we’re doing is all about you!



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