‘How often should I update my website?’ was just one of many questions that stemmed from the wildly popular recent webinar on the topic of Content Differentiation: How to Drive Online Audience without Cannibalizing Print. A practically standing room only crowd, figuratively speaking of course, logged in on a steamy June Thursday morning to hear what GateHouse Media’s Brad Dennison, Vice President, News & Interactive Division and his colleague David Arkin, Executive Director of the division, had to share on the topic and absolutely no one went away disappointed.
With follow up comments like “best webinar ever”, “this sheds tremendous light on important web strategy” and “super useful stuff here”, the webinar-sponsor SNA Foundation knew they hit a home run with this one and a huge debt of gratitude goes to Brad and David. There were many lessons like what content belongs online (and what does not), setting and managing online expectations, how analytics and page views help drive strategy and a quick trip around an open access resource found at www.ghnewsroom.com. We’ll report on different webinar lessons in the future with todays focus having to do with updates.
Updates: When, What and How
The ‘how often should I update’ question is a common one and ‘constantly’ is the easy answer but how often and with what are questions answered by the scope of your resources and the strategy to which you subscribe.
Part of GH’s recalibrated digital strategy, which they rolled out about a year ago, is the expectation that every newsroom, regardless of size and publishing frequency, will manage their web sites as companion products to their printed newspaper, not replicas. Underlying this is the experience factor — a newspaper website should offer a different experience for the reader/user than the newspaper print product which, in turn, will drive audience to each without cannibalizing one other. (Many GH newspapers also have e-editions, but they are viewed as more of a circulation strategy than a digital strategy. When we talk about web sites here, we’re not talking about e-editions.)
What’s an update?
Anything that is happening throughout the day. Based on the market, the definition of an update could change drastically. For larger newspapers hard news and breaking news should flow throughout the day, but in smaller markets, simple press releases, police briefs and other community announcements make up updates.
From GateHouse Media Newsroom Handbook 2010
On the question of when to update, the GH strategy sets a specific timetable for daily updates, regardless of print publishing frequency, and a set of expectations is based on size of newsroom, not circulation level. “These are scalable to the available resources,” says Dennison. “For example, what constant updating means to any given newspaper really depends on who they are. For a newsroom of one to five staffers, we recommend five to 10 updates per day. For a newsroom of 20 staff members or more the number climbs to 15-20 a day.”
Stemming from the content differentiation element of their digital strategy, Dennison says that newsrooms are ‘feeding two beasts now’ and need to find ways to develop content for both. While this may sound like double the work, in reality there are elements that most newspapers already possess that can feed the updating stream. Identifying them, setting the expectations, and managing the expectations through specific assignments and designated update timelines will get page views moving in a positive direction.
GateHouse, per their GateHouse Media Newsroom Handbook 2010, defines updates with three layers:
This layer of scheduled content utilizes a calendar posted in your newsroom or on your server listing specific pieces of Web content to be published on specific days every week by specific staff members. The goal with scheduled content isn’t to take a news story reported the night before and have it appear the next day, but to find content that has a “today feel” to readers that can be set the night before. Much of this content can be set up in advance to publish at set times. Scheduled content could include, polls, photo galleries, This Day in History, today’s weather and more.
Here is an example of what a weeklong layer of scheduled content could look like, combined with News Now posts, to produce a consistent flow of content throughout the day. Breaking news, print-to- Web content and other updates would fill out the schedule.
News Now is news posted to your website as it comes into your newsroom. Posts could include newsy press releases, weather alerts, city announcements, brief advances and agenda items for a government meeting that night, police briefs and more. These items should be three to four paragraphs and, when appropriate, can be timed to publish throughout the day. News items — hiring announcements, road closings, alerts — should be posted immediately. Some calendar items — a flu clinic or blood drive two weeks out, for example — could be set to publish within a day, but no longer.
Print to Web
The final layer of content, on top of scheduled and News Now, is print-to-Web content and follows the GateHouse content differentiation strategy. Print-to-Web content does not have to be published in a single dump. Consider each piece and decide two things: Does it fit the strategy? And what is the best time to publish it to the Web? News items should be posted promptly. News features and other appropriate content could be timed to contribute to consistent updates through the day.
There are many valuable lessons contained in the Content Differentiation webinar and these on updating are just a small part of what Brad Dennison and David Arkin shared. All are invited to replay the webinar via the archived recording on this site. In addition to the webinar recording and presentation you can also access a treasure trove of collateral materials that Brad and David very generously shared.
A huge gratitude goes to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for a generous grant to the SNA Foundation. It is the Knight grant which enables SNAF to make webinars such as Content Differentiation and their follow ups freely available to our industry.
The grant also covered all costs associated with the SNA Foundation-sponsored e-courses on Poynter Institute’s NewsU.org. They are offered at no charge and are self paced. Over 3,000 students, many from suburban and community newspapers, have already undergone these top-notch courses. Use them for personal as well as staff development.
Build & Engage Local Audiences Online
Get to know your local online audience and see what the power of local content can mean for you.
Leading An Online Newsroom: What You Need To Know
Learn how to manage your newsroom for timely multimedia publishing.
Innovation at Work: Making New Ideas Succeed
Learn how to tilt your natural tendencies into innovation territory and put the ingredients and processes of innovation to work for you and your company.
Charitable Campaign Underway
Do you appreciate the work of the SNA Foundation and want to help it continue? The 2010 Personal Giving Campaign to benefit this work is now underway. Please consider a donation, no matter how small or large. You can choose to make a tax deductible donation conveniently and securely via credit card online at www.snafoundation.org, mail a check to the SNA Foundation, 116 Cass St., Traverse City, MI 49684, or call us at 888-486-2466.