It’s about information, not content

I’ve tried to get the word content out of my vocabulary, when discussing what we put online. I’ve gone to information, because it seems to me to more fully describe what we’re trying to provide. Here’s how I see the difference:

Content: That’s what the newsroom provides. It’s the backbone of news sites, because without those valuable and important breaking news stories, updates, photo and video galleries, users would have very few reasons to come to us.

Information: That’s everything else. Money-saving coupons. Marketing information. Subscription offers. Everything else that tends to be ignored on newspaper homepages, unless it’s in a paid advertising position.

It helps me better focus on the user experience when I think about information. So in addition to the content the newsroom provides, I want to highlight valuable information from throughout the site.

Doing so boosts traffic and brings more value to a number of different areas. If circulation is selling the Sunday paper at $0.99, wouldn’t local users want to know that? If there’s a coupon online for a $5.99 pizza, isn’t that valuable information? And if your organization is helping raise money for a good cause over a period of time, wouldn’t customers want to know where to give?

Some will argue that putting this information on your home page takes away from news. I don’t think so. We all study online metrics and understand what stories do well and which ones don’t. Too often, we put news stories on our home pages that attract few page views. Why not replace those with information that drives clicks and stickiness?

We did an experiment once that proved the point. On a slow news day, we took out a poor-performing story and replaced it with this headline:

Get an oil change for less than $11.

The story had garnered a couple of dozen page views in the two hours on the site. In the same amount of time, the coupon generated more than 200 click-throughs.

Over and over again, valuable information trumps content users aren’t interested in. If newspapers want to create more web site value, they should look at the totality of what they have to provide, and pick the best, regardless of where it’s produced.


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