The Web ought to be a strong source of new subscriptions and the easiest way to generate renewals. Indeed, many publishers are already capitalizing on the opportunity. And an important key to generating subs online is based on a simple concept: Increase traffic.
Travel media company ProMedia.Travel produces four publications. At launch the company’s strategy included offering advertisers category exclusivity in newsletters and on the Web. CEO Tim Reid knew one of his challenges would be growing circulation. "We went out with two initial newsletters offering category-exclusive annual contracts with our marketers," says Reid. "If you overpower your newsletters and Web site with ads, you’re not going to be able to develop the community as well or as fast. The challenge is to develop circulation."
That fell in line with Reid’s strategy of market segmentation. A deal with advertisers allowed them to post editorial content on their Web sites, as long as it linked back to the ProMedia site. "Part of the marketing agreement was they could use some of our content to put on their site to enhance it," says Reid. "The client got the cachet but then if the reader wanted to see more than the top two or three sentences they came over to our site, which built our traffic."
Reid also created an electronic white paper when he was launching a new publication called Procurement.Travel that he says helped his initial circulation goals. Reid went to six advertisers and offered them the chance to sponsor the paper, which was to be distributed to 12,000 e-mail names. The clients could also send the white paper to their internal lists.
"We said ‘here’s a white paper on what you’re trying to accomplish, if this helps you, you may be interested in our new publication that is dedicated to this subject," says Reid. "We gave them value before they even subscribed. This program developed about 20 percent of our circ goals and it didn’t cost us anything."
The New York Times Magazine links directly from the Web powerhouse NYTimes.com, a site that receives nearly 700 million page views a month. Utilizing its sister publication drives heavy traffic to the magazine site, says Vivian Schiller, senior vice president and general manager of NYTimes.com.
"Our approach, whether it’s the magazine or the newspaper, is we don’t mind how you consume us. If you want to read us in print, wonderful. If you want to read us online, great. If you want to watch us on video, great," she says. "Our approach isn’t the platform but getting our journalism and the stories out there."
Schiller drives traffic online by making print plugs that notify readers of additional content, including video and blog coverage, online. Reverse publishing is another form of traffic building, where online content drives readers to the print publication. "We want to make sure there’s always an interplay between print content and Web content," says Schiller. "You will see more and more online videos as the year goes on that are very specific to magazine content."
The Volatility of SEO
Search engine optimization is a place where many publishers are investing online to increase traffic [see ‘It’s Not About Critical Mass,’ page 20]. But not all publishers are looking to outside SEO vendors to get their names at the top of the list. If you have the know-how, going in-house is an option.
Promedia’s Reid says paying for SEO isn’t the right strategy for everyone. Instead, he relies on his in-house team to maximize SEO. "The people who run our content for our publications grew up with the Web. They know how to get our content indexed on the search engines so that we pop up," he says. "It’s the way we write our headlines, it’s the way that we index, it’s the way we have our Web sites set up, it’s our RSS feeds, it’s knowing the right keywords."
Schiller heavily invests in paid SEO and also purchases sponsored links on Google and Yahoo!, which, she says, drives a lot of traffic. "When we purchased About.com, it came with a staff that has worked with us to optimize our articles," says Schiller. "Our pages are ranked very high on search."
Driving Web Traffic: Do’s and Don’ts
In order to get non-subscribers to log on and to sign up, whatever is being offered needs to be of perceived value, says ProMedia.Travel’s Tim Reid.
Do give free access to some content and allow readers to opt in, or out, to receive the publication for full access to content.
Don’t forget to make note that the publication is free only to those who qualify if your publication is controlled.
Do make note of which geographic regions warrant free subscriptions. "In the age of the Web, the potential for getting subscription inquiries outside your desired area of operations is very real," says Reid. "There is nothing worse than telling someone they can receive something at no charge and then not delivering on that promise."
Don’t combine efforts in e-mail marketing messages. If the main reason you are sending the e-mail is to promote an informational white paper, don’t muddle the message with a "By the way, you may also want" says Reid. "The sign-up page on your site is where to make that pitch."
Do push e-mail subscription offers using text messages rather than HTML. Promedia.Travel found that plain text works better where the message is short and concise.