Return of the Portal
Online portals are back and this time they seem to be paying off (unlike early attempts such as Pathfinder on the consumer side and VerticalNet on the b-to-b side). Portals have slowly been making a return for several years;they were a staple of TechTarget's strategy long before the company began expanding to print. And Cygnus Business Media seems to be gradually shifting its existing Web sites over to a portal model. But now publishers outside the tech field are dipping their toes in as well. We spoke with three b-to-b publishers about what appeals to them about portals versus magazine-branded, stand-alone Web sites.
While Vance Publishing is still sticking to magazine-branded Web sites for most of its online presence, the company is developing portals as it reorganizes into three broad verticals;food, interior design, and beauty and hair salon. "We do have a few sites that are portals and we have a couple more planned that will be portals," says vice president of digital media Leonard Timm. "Take food for example;half our Web sites, maybe 15, are in the food category. That lends itself to a master site. Our idea is to build that out. It's really a matter of how much synergy exists among the sites we have now."
More Bullets in the Gun
Advanstar has taken the portal plunge with DentalProducts.net, which encompasses eight dental industry magazines. "The dental market is set up in a more homogenous way than other markets are," says Michael DeLuca, director of business development. "I don't think there's a whole lot of a different strategy from a standalone Web site;you just have more bullets in the gun, all at one spot."
DentalProducts.net offers more features than the typical standalone Web site, including Dental Explorer Search, a vertical search engine which has been profitable since it launched in April 2005, according to DeLuca. Ad clickthroughs on Dental Explorer Search average 1.75 percent;compared to the industry average of 0.5 percent. Advanstar is also exploring an advertising feature called EPR Interactive in which manufactures purchase video of product demonstrations shot at trade shows.
DentalProducts.net is averaging 40,000 visitors per month and is currently generating revenue in the six figures, although DeLuca says the goal in 2006 will be seven figures.
PennWell is primarily sticking to branded Web sites but is experimenting with portals, particularly as revenue streams change. "Both are the right approach;magazine sites which are highlighted by the brand;those are the cases where the brand is synonymous with the magazines," says vice president of digital media Tom Cintorino. "But at that point you've overly constrained the brand online. There's another approach you can take;the portal. With that, you're having multiple brands online;but you can lose the magazine brand."
"Banner advertising is still dominant but each year becomes less as a percentage of revenue," adds Cintorino. "The next two in line for us are Webcasts and e-mail newsletters. We're probably talking 35 percent from banner ads, 25 percent from Webcasts and 25 percent from e-mail newsletters. The rest are miscellaneous. We're relying more on search;users can search all the content or search the articles or search Webcasts or white papers."
Keeping Budgets Stable
Most publishers agree that setting up a portal doesn't cost significantly more than a standalone Web site. "It's not a lot more money, the difference may be whether or not you have to replicate them or you can do it once," says Timm.
"Portals are not any more labor intensive," agrees DeLuca. "It comes down to what you want to do. If you feel you can do it better with a specific brand strategy, that's the way to go. The cost is the same, there's just more depth."
DeLuca says that print magazines aren't harmed by not carrying their brand over online. "Assuming the portal is produced by the company that publishes the magazine and is not a broad-based content aggregator, the only downside I can imagine would be in possible loss of some brand exposure for that print magazine," he adds. "But even that can be overcome with some creative logo placements wherever content derived from the magazine appears. Revenue is more a function of the site's metrics;unique visitors, page views, click-through rates, etc.;so if you can build better viewer numbers with a portal, the revenue will come."