Web users self-select their content, meaning they find and consume select information that appeals to them or fulfills their immediate needs. And when publishers wade through the process of determining what content categories best serve their readers online, much thought is given to the interlinking potential of those categories. In other words, why commit resources to a section of a Web site if no one participates with it? The flip side, of course, is to avoid being top-heavy in a single section or vertical.
Forbes.com, with 15 million to 20 million uniques per month, has a navigation system crafted around nine main verticals, with a number of subcategories under each. Tracking visitor patterns helps determine what content users are interested in. "We’ll track on a very direct basis our high usage pages like the index pages for the channels and the home page for the site," says Jim Spanfeller, president and CEO of Forbes.com. "And we certainly will look at page views per session, page views per unique, time per session, time per unique, and so on."
Yet because visitors aren’t necessarily interested in every piece of content Forbes.com has to offer, Spanfeller notes that time and resources are adjusted according to how much interest there is in a particular topic. "We have this notion of wide aperture and narrow aperture. The end-user decides what they’re going to look at and how much time they have for it. So how much time we invest in a given area will probably depend on its narrow aperture or its popularity on a wide-scale basis," he says.
For Forbes.com, the formula focuses on driving mass-market traffic with popular features such as its Billionaire’s List and the Celebrity List, which get full promotional muscle behind them. Mixed in, however, are the targeted verticals, such as Logistics or Intelligent Infrastructure. "[The verticals] will get dramatically less uniques in overall page views but yet are extremely important to the site because what people come to the site for is the wide aperture stuff, but they then come back on a regular basis for the narrow aperture stuff," says Spanfeller.
Keep Them Moving
Caranddriver.com offers users a variety of opportunities to see related content. The site’s traffic, which tops out at about 3 million monthly uniques, tends to congregate around the buyer’s guide, the reviews, news and photo galleries, says Mike Dushane, executive editor of Caranddriver.com and transportation Web sites for Hachette Filipacchi Media. Within those sections, however, are cues to see similar content in other areas of the site. "We want to make sure that when someone gets to our site looking for a particular vehicle they immediately have access to other content about that vehicle or that subject," says Dushane.
Links to other stories are in a related content rail and sometimes links are hardcoded into the story itself to pull the reader deeper into the site. "We have a feature on the new BMW M3, and if you’re on that feature there are links to a photo gallery of the car, there are links to the buyer’s guide pages about the previous M3 model, and from there, there are links that are created automatically for the review of the next generation product. So anyone who comes to the site for M3 content is only one or two clicks away from the newest and/or most relevant content," says Dushane.
Red Headed Stepchild
There are, however, areas on the site that don’t get so much attention, either from visitors or the content producer; Caranddriver.com’s forums, for example. "That’s not a huge focus for us right now. So they’re kind of self-sustaining and consequently they’re only 5 or 6 percent of our traffic," says Dushane. Nevertheless, 5 or 6 percent of three million is still at least 150,000 users. For a section that requires little, if any, upkeep, that’s a respectable number. "They don’t pull any resources away and even though they’re a small proportion of traffic, they do well in search, and the few readers who do use them like them. And they’re growing," says Dushane. "We continue to support the forums because they’re increasing in popularity, not decreasing, so we figured there’s no reason to pull the plug if they’re relatively easy to keep up."
Pages are primarily bought and sold based on page views, despite a looming industry focus on time spent. So the onus is on the publisher to make sure that traffic flows throughout the site. "Our automotive sites are not sold by section but on a more granular level based on the vehicle make and model that’s discussed in the content," says Dushane. "So the buyer’s guide is aimed at car shoppers and the news is aimed at enthusiasts and so on. Inventory is still bought and sold on page views, so it’s very important for us to focus on maximizing the number of things a visitor sees on the site."