Gannett Upgrades Local Sites, Eyes National Buys
Gannett Co. is near completing the rollout of more than 100 revamped local newspaper and TV station Web sites as it seeks to drive audience growth amid heightened competition. These sites, along with the flagship USAToday.com, make up the Gannett Digital Network (GDN).
The changes, including cleaner design, improved navigation, and more video are intended to entice readers and advertisers alike. "We've made the site design much more engaging for users, focusing on making multimedia content much more available and also making sure we provide better solutions for our local and national advertisers," said Josh Resnik, vice president and general manager of GDN.
Expanding and upgrading digital offerings is a key part of Gannett's broader growth strategy. The company's digital revenue -- including from units such as rich media technology provider PointRoll, as well as across other segments -- was about $1 billion last year, or 18% of total operating revenue.
To boost the digital business, the updated sites sport a more streamlined look and feel. A single top story and photo or video dominates the top left corner with other top stories chosen by editors occupying the center column. Navigation tweaks include the ability to hold a cursor over category headers like "sports" and "business" to open a pop-out menu filled with subcategories and a list of relevant headlines.
Beyond the front page, Article pages now features lists of the top five most popular stories and most commented stories on the right rail to encourage clicks and more reader interaction. Icons for sharing content via social tools like Twitter and Facebook are placed prominently near the top right of stories.
On the advertising front, the new design offers more options for both standard and oversized ads including pushdowns and other expandable units like the XXL box. The hope is naturally that higher-impact ads and more uniform formats across sites will generate higher sales and more national ad buys. "A national advertiser cannot only buy into USAToday.com...but they could buy into the full network and have some comfort knowing they'll have consistency in the approach across all sites," said Resnik.
When it comes to multimedia, both the front page and article pages have beefed up photo galleries and video offerings. Not surprisingly, the sites tied to Gannett's 23 TV stations are especially video-centric, featuring carousel formats for packaging multiple videos. Resnik said the new emphasis has led to a 60% increase in video consumption. Monthly video views increased to 25 million as of December, according to Gannett's 2010 10-K report.
Adding urgency to the company's Web overhaul is the influx of new players in the local space from AOL's hyperlocal news initiative Patch to the Yahoo Contributor Network to Facebook Places and Google Places. To counter these emerging rivals, Gannett sites have added a community news section below top stories that lets users select the particular town or neighborhood they want news about.
The company is also creating local topics pages to deepen engagement by automatically tagging stories for certain subjects. An IndyStar.com article relating to the Indianapolis Colts, for example, might link to separate topics pages about Peyton Manning or Conseco Fieldhouse. "A big part of this is the hyperlocal aspect, and we're making sure to build that into the overall experience," said Resnik.
Gannett has already created topic-specific hubs such as HighSchoolSports.net and MomsLikeMe.com, aggregating niche content from across its network and tapping into the popularity of social networking.
The redesign also extends the companion mobile sites for Gannett's properties. That likewise means making mobile sites more user-friendly and ready to deliver on-demand video for the growing proportion of smartphone owners. Last year, the company served 1.6 billion mobile page views, up 435 million from 2009.
The refresh of local sites started last year is already paying off in the form of increased traffic, page views and page views per user, according to Resnik. Overall, Gannett sites including USAToday.com had 38.3 million unique visitors in February, up slightly from 37.5 million a year ago. That put Gannett right in the middle of comScore's list of top 50 Web properties, at No. 25.
Increasing traffic and ad sales stemming from the digital redesign can't come soon enough for the nation's largest newspaper chain. Last week, Gannett said it expects publishing revenue in the first quarter to be down 6% to 7% despite a wider ad rebound. That would be slightly worse than the fourth quarter, when publishing revenue fell 5%.