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Competing For Web Real Estate

How publishers determine which group gets priority.

By Chandra Johnson-Greene

While most magazine companies will agree that the most important element of a Web site is the editorial content, there are many other departments that are vying for prime space on the homepage. The circulation team wants a prominent spot for its “Subscribe Now!” button while the sales team wants that top banner ad space. If your company happens to sell additional non-magazine products, they’ll want some space, too. So how do publishers negotiate who gets what?

At Hearst Digital Media, dedicated space is assigned to each department and all parties sign off on the template, according to SVP and general manager Chuck Cordray. The space each department receives is based on test results. “For example, we found that subscription marketing works better at the bottom of the page than [paid] ads do,” Cordray says. “It’s a good spot because subscription marketing tends to work best when the person is interacting with the content. They’re more primed to convert.”

But that doesn’t mean that departmental debates  over the space don’t come up. “Each group essentially wants the highest and best placement but we’re seeing that it works well for us to rely on the data to tell us what to do,” Cordray says. “It’s really not any different from when a print magazine is deciding its layout.”

Group-Specific Performance Metrics

Cordray says that a different metric is used for each department to determine what space it will receive. For the editorial team, the company uses “content velocity,” or how many pages a consumer will click through before leaving the Web site. “The goal is to get consumers to read through 10 to 20 pages before leaving,” he says.

For advertising, Hearst looks at “clarity of experience,” or making sure that consumers are clear about the fact that they’re reading an ad. “We want them to know what’s content and what’s not,” Cordray says. “But we also want to offer them flexibility and variability. If everything’s always in the same place, that’s not a good ad or user experience. We have to keep our consumers visually interested.”

And for subscription marketing, Cordray looks at the overall yield per unique visitor—or how likely the user will convert—but the conversion of total traffic is most important. “So we would look at conversion in terms of percentages of uniques coming to the magazine sites as a measure of how we are doing overall, and then look at individual units, etcetera, as an element to maximize within that mix,” he says.

A Constant Battle

At Active Interest Media’s Yoga Journal, the topic of Web space is always up for negotiation. In addition to circulation, advertising and editorial, space has to be made for Yoga Journal’s product business, conference business, insurance program for yoga teachers and teacher directory. The situation got especially sticky in 2004 when Yoga Journal decided to rebuild its Web site.

“It was brutal,” says circulation director Barbara Besser. “Everybody was arguing that their business had to be represented with a prime space on the homepage. We would have group meetings to fight it out.”

The circulation department had some other advantages. At the time of the redesign, Yoga Journal made so much money from online subscriptions that no one suggested their placements should be removed. The team tested cover ads on the upper right and left hand section of the homepage as well as pop-ups in order to pull consumers in. And when it was time to prove that they deserved to keep their placements, the department spoke in dollars. “It’s better to talk in dollars than subs,” she says. “Selling $20,000 worth of subscriptions sounds way better than selling 2,000 subscriptions.”

Still, it’s online editorial director Andrea Kowalski who makes the final decision regarding Web space for Yoga Journal and Vegetarian Times. “Because of my background, I’m a bit biased, so while I’m looking to accommodate all of the departments and revenue streams, I’m also conscious of the user interface. That’s why we have a prominent editorial well where readers know that they can go to and not be solicited or sold to.”

By Chandra Johnson-Greene

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