Chron.com Nixes Registration Requirement

In an effort to boost traffic, the Houston Chronicle Web site has stopped requiring visitors to register by providing personal information before reading online articles.

"Our goal is to be an open site," said Stephen Weis, vice president, general manager of Chron.com. "We feel that our growth will be from people using our site as often as they might use a search engine."

Chron.com also hopes to draw visitors with an upcoming local search engine and directory, and an online classified service that will be free for lower-cost items, Weis said Tuesday.

Many online newspapers implemented registration requirements in the last five years, especially between 2000 and 2003--when the ad market was relatively weak and publishers had to persuade marketers that the online audience was worth reaching. But now that online advertising has picked up, some newspapers view attracting visitors as the biggest priority. Online ad revenues at newspaper sites in the third quarter soared to $518.9 million--a 26.7 percent increase from last year's third quarter, according to data released Tuesday by the Newspaper Association of America.

David Morgan, CEO of Tacoda--which provides behavioral targeting services to online newspapers including Chron.com--said he expects that other papers will also drop their registration requirements. "Sites like Houston Chronicle are finding an exploding demand for advertising on their pages, and so strategies that would restrict the size of their audience and the number of page views don't make sense any more," he said. "On balance, since the marketplace is growing so fast, most publishers are now focused on growing share and just increasing the amount of advertising and the volume they sell."

Rob Runett, an online publishing analyst with the Newspaper Association of America, added that a number of newspapers are experimenting with different online registration models--although, bu and large, papers are using some form of registration. One approach gaining steam, Runett said, is to let people access a threshold number of stories before asking for registration data. Another strategy is to give readers an incentive to register in exchange for certain types of interactive experiences, such as posting comments.

Before abolishing mandatory registration, Chron.com had, for one year, intercepted online readers after several page views and asked for personal information, including their names, addresses, dates of birth, and household income. Weis said that Chron.com quietly eliminated the registration requirement in May as part of a site redesign, and has since "seen a very steady increase, and in some cases a jump, in site traffic."

The paper didn't publicize the move until this week, when it posted a note to readers explaining the redesign and the site's new features. Registration is still required for certain offerings, including free access to the archives.

Weis added that the benefit from collecting data about every visitor didn't outweigh the fact that some visitors left the site rather than register. "While some advertisers are interested in that demographic information, we just didn't see the growth in monetizing that information that we would have thought we would see," he said. Besides, he added, "you can still build databases on behalf of advertisers ... without having your whole site have registration."

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