News Leadership 3.0

August 31, 2009

How to drive clicks ... 10 million clicks!

In a guest post, SwitchYard Media’s Gary A. Seidman sends a dispatch from the trenches of entrepreneurial journalism

Gary Seidman runs the Seattle-based multimedia journalism company SwitchYard Media. Prior to founding SwitchYard in 2007, Gary was deputy editor and political director of MSNBC.com. In this guest post, he breaks down development of a highly popular slideshow on MSN Money..

By Gary A. Seidman

When SwitchYard Media produced a slideshow story on discontinued products for MSN Money, the piece generated tons of traffic. No surprise. MSN is a vastly popular site that sports a wealth of content and consistently ranks in the top five most visited URLs. Still, our story was an anomaly, and its success offers lessons about producing Web content that resonates with readers, publishers and advertisers.

To begin with, we plucked the idea for that story right out of MSN’s message boards. MSN’s editors have taken pains to cultivate a lively message board community that is not shy about posting animated opinions and sharing them around the Web. We knew that if we could tap into that hyper-vocal, hyper-loyal crowd, we’d strike gold.

What surprised us is how much gold. Nearly a year after it first published, the slideshow still racks up millions of new page views month after month. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving. It hit a chord with our readers,” an MSN editor told me over lunch just before ordering two sequels on the subject.

His enthusiasm wasn’t only about the content. Hardly. Stories that drive that many page views are, of course, valuable platforms for delivering ads. Do the math: 10 million page views at a CPM rate of $10 per thousand ad appearances. That’s a tidy sum.

MSN has a deliberate content strategy designed to appeal to a mass audience. It offers a bounty of stories ranging from predictable celebrity fare to “how-to-shop-for-the-cheapest-credit-card-deal.” In the nutshell, the formula is: Relatable, Useful and Fun. We nailed two out of three.

We started by rummaging around MSN’s message boards before stumbling across a thread of hundreds of comments about consumer products that are no longer on the market. Truthfully, it was more a pop culture topic then a business piece, but it had potential. After all, everyone remembers some commercial product from their childhood that has inexplicably disappeared ... and wonders “what happened to that?”

Immediately we recognized the subject’s appeal. It had great promise to become an enjoyable “distraction” story, and it lent itself to interesting archival photos and entertaining trivia.  Because the topic was light, harmless and fun, it wouldn’t take much prompting for a reader—despondent over the loss of Planters Cheez Balls, for example—to post a comment on a message board and get another thread rolling.

BTW, the great thing about message boards (and social networks, for that matter), is that once someone posts a comment, they keep checking back for responses. That amplifies the buzz.

But to woo readers these days, you have to work all the angles. That old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” has never been more true then in the attention-deficient Internet age. Our “Crazy Eddie’s-looking” caricature guy on the slideshow’s title page was specifically designed to lure in casual surfers. Once in, clicking through 10 slides—even if just to see the pictures—is not much of a commitment.

The engagement rate on SwitchYard’s slideshows is extremely high. Psychologically, clicking through a slideshow story—even one as long or longer than a newspaper article—feels like less work. It’s a mind trick. Publishers love stories told in slideshow formats because they generate multiple clicks and provide multiple opportunities to place advertisements.

While “discontinued products” was admittedly just a pop feature, its execution provides several lessons applicable to a range of online content:
#1. Think organically: How you present is as important as what you present.
#2. Bite-sized is better: Even complicated subjects can be boiled down to smaller, easy to understand chunks. 
#3. Visuals add value. Good imagery attracts an audience and lets you show a story rather than simply tell it.
#4. Monetization matters: (Most) publishers are in the business of making money. Design your story in a way that optimizes the prevailing metrics that advertisers care about.

One last thought. The Web is an active medium—you probably have your hand on your mouse right now. Take advantage of that tendency to click by producing stories that are clickable by design.

Comments

This article is rly intresting.


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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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