Big numbers vs local audience – what should regional newspapers chase?

The conflict between chasing huge web traffic figures or meeting the demands of a core local audience online is one of the key challenges facing regional newspaper websites, according to a group of digital editors, who gathered last week at the University of Central Lancashire’s (UCLAN) Digital Editors Network meeting.

Coming together on the same day as the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations Electronic (ABCe) figures for the regional press were released, assessing current strategies for building web traffic was certainly topical. January had been a record month for the Lancashire Evening Post, digital editor Martin Hamer was proud to say with 8,215 user comments on articles on the site and 4,121,621 page impressions for the month beating the previous record of 3 million.

Average time spent on the site per visit had never been more than 6 minutes, but had risen to 6 minutes 15 secs in January, said Hamer.

Crucially 85.65 per cent of those visits came from within the UK – a figure the Post is keen to increase and several of the editors present said they had abandoned promoting content via social sites such as Fark, which had previously been used to drive traffic to websites from an international audience. With some local advertisers said to be in need of some digital hand-holding, the group suggested that guaranteeing a strong local online audience would be crucial in securing ads.

Web analytics are helping digital editors to understand the casual nature of most reader’s experience of their websites, added another journalist, whose group of sites sees 32 per cent of visitors only looking at one page, but a core 5-10 per cent looking at 10 pages in one sitting or visiting several times a week.

Growing that 10 per cent and make their engagement deeper and monetise it should be the priority, he added, and there have been some big shifts in the thinking around this recently: several groups admitted to cutting back or dropping video and podcasts entirely.

Instead building interaction using social media was encouraged and, as part of this, not chasing big numbers on these platforms, but rather focusing on engaged, local users and improving the service to meet their demands. Focusing on who those followers are and responding to those users who engage with the paper via those platforms will be more of more value in the long term.

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