Despite the hype surrounding "Web 2.0" (or 3.0 or 4.0, whatever we’re in now), the majority of magazine publishers (particularly smaller and mid-sized companies) continue to play catch-up with fledgling Internet strategies. Reni Publishing, a Winter Haven, Florida-based publisher of titles such as Florida Real Estate Journal and Destination Florida, was one of them. As of August 2006, the largely static Web site for Florida Real Estate Journal averaged 750 unique visitors per month. But after some basic tweaks and a software investment of just $1,000, Reni expects 50,000 unique visitors by the end of this year, according to IT director/circulation Jay Hook.

The first step was adopting a content management system that was easy for all staffers to use. "One thing I wanted to do was look at a program where we could all do it," says Hook. "We’re not a big company and I needed to devote my time to developing IT."

Hook evaluated 100 different programs before settling on Xigla Software. "Not only is it a CMS but it handles RSS, photos and videos," says Hook. "It’s cheap, which is what we needed. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. It’s out there, it’s just a matter of me finding the right solution."

Reni adopted the software, redesigned the site and began uploading its archives. The redesign took place in August 2006 and by November, the site had 3,000 unique visitors per month. In June 2007, the site boasted 15,000 unique visitors and about 100,000 page views and print subscriptions have gone up 20 percent.

Search, Save, Archive, Print

Reni’s online content strategy boils down to four main points: Search, Save, Archive, Print. "Things like blogging and podcasting are fun but the priority was getting our content online and making it searchable," says Hook. "I’ve seen a lot of articles downplay search engine marketing but I feel SEM is a huge part of the strategy;it’s half of your traffic if not more."

SEO and SEM capabilities were the first features Hook looked for in Web software, followed by RSS and "e-mail to a friend" functions. "These were three things that were going to take us from having nothing and a site updated once a month, if that, to a site updated almost every day," he adds.

Beyond the technology, fresh, original content was key. "After we found the software, we needed to make sure there was fresh content and we could get it out without killing the print," says Hook. "We put all articles online but our feature stories we put on immediately. Anything else is archived after a month, which for us means two issues."

Earning Staff Buy-In

Hook knew he had to earn the approval of the rest of the staff to implement the CMS. Too often software decisions are made simply by price or on a CEO’s whim without feedback from the people who will be using the technology on a daily basis. During the software evaluation process, Hook included representatives from editorial and from sales. Hook recalls words that Mansueto Digital president Ed Sussman said at a Folio: Road Show on building the Web business last year: "ムThere are only a few things you need to get started;someone who can get content on there and someone who can sell it.’ That rang true. A lot of people have a question about bringing your editorial department together and bringing your sales department together, and that can be a very difficult thing to do. We took our highest editor and said, ムHey, this is your thing. It’s not mine, it’s yours. This is going to give you the chance to showcase your stories and your acumen in the industry, and it will give the salespeople a chance to sell.’"

Even more significantly, Reni has started getting buy-in from outside partners, including Directory M, an online vendor that normally provides services to heavyweights such as Ziff Davis, and "One of the biggest results is that other companies are now seeking out Reni for partnerships," says Hook. "Not only do you get audience development, you get partnerships. The size of company we are, we wouldn’t be able to offer these services in any meaningful way to the customer. Looking good and having great content online allows you to expand your presence."
Florida Real Estate Journal anticipates 50,000 unique visitors by the end of the year. "We’ve definitely made money with the site," says Hook. "We spent about $1,000 on it. The main CMS was $200, the newsletter was $200, and there are about five other programs we use. If we sell 10 subscriptions we’ve paid for it and we’ve sold a lot more than that."

Refining the Process

Putting the archives on the site proved to be one of the biggest technical challenges for Reni. "A lot of people are looking at digital editions because they’re practical," says Hook. "Sometimes the simplest solution is the answer. We want to give it to you very simply;there are no drop-down menus but we have a lot of content, with more than 30,000 articles in system, and only one or two times people said they couldn’t find an article. You have to be careful with the search function within the CMS system."

Hook advises other publishers to focus on functionality over gimmicks. "Give people what they want;don’t make it complicated, you don’t want to create these traps for people to go through to get things,"says Hook. "It’s all free, it’s all simple."

Next Hook wants to experiment with social networking, podcasting and video classifieds. "We want to give advertisers another point of revenue," he adds. "My goal is to get the basics down."

Four Steps To Boosting Traffic

Reni Publishing’s Jay Hook describes his four-step process to a booming Web site.

  1. Put the software in place.
  2. Decide how to handle the content (how it will be presented, how it will be archived).
  3. Implementation, getting software loaded, getting lay out done with CSS. "I did the design myself," says Hook. "I don’t know much programming, I’m proficient in html, but I don’t know Javascript. A lot of the parts and pieces were thrown together. As long as you’re familiar enough with the computer, you can do that. You just have to have the confidence. A lot of people don’t want to take that leap and put the content on."
  4. Get the marketing out and optimize your content for search. "When we had trade shows, we promoted more heavily with house-ads in the publication. We bought some lists and did opt-in, opt-out e-mail campaigns. We didn’t do a whole lot but everything was stored in the central database. The CMS system has a built-in spider. If you keep your most important links two to three levels down, that’s where the spider will find them. The spider takes care of everything. We’re ranked above a lot of pubs on search engines and I’m sure they have a bigger IT department than one person. It’s just a matter of getting ranked on the search engine."

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