Making Your Old Site Hip Again
Wake up, friends. It’s time to prove once and for all that old dogs can learn new tricks and make their sites hip again. They can and they have to. And which sites serve as the best examples for this? Newspapers’ sites, of course. So how funny is it that we heard from two big ones today? Let’s take a look.
First we heard the news that the Wall Street Journal, despite showing signs of intelligence back in November, has decided that they will keep most of the content on its site subscription-based. Two months ago Rupert Murdoch revealed he was contemplating removing the subscription pay wall, but then today we were issued this:
“We are going to greatly expand and improve the free part of the Wall Street Journal online, but there will still be a strong offering” for subscribers, Mr. Murdoch said. “The really special things will still be a subscription service, and, sorry to tell you, probably more expensive.”
On the other side of the coin you have The Atlantic who announced, that just like the New York Times did in September, they will be removing their pay wall and making the majority of the content on their site accessible to users free of charge. That includes 13 years of print archives, plus even more stuff dating back to 1857 that’s now in public domain. Sweet!
Wall Street Journal: Downgrade
The Atlantic: Total Upgrade
If you’re an old site trying to appeal to a new audience, my advice would be to follow the Atlantic’s upgrade and mature with the times. Here’s my advice to you:
- Drop The Pay Wall, People: If you’re still charging people to access the content on your site, quit it. You’re only hurting yourself. I’m not sure why Rupert Murdoch thinks keeping the pay wall and raising the price for full site access is a good idea but I very much disagree. When you knock down pay walls you’re not taking money out of your pocket. You’re opening up your site, increasing traffic and creating better advertising opportunities. It also helps make old content relevant again when users can find it in their SERPs. Why leave that stuff collecting dust on a shelf when you can bring value to your readers and establish yourself as helpful and relevant and wonderful?
- Experiment With New Content Offerings: I get it. You’re an old site and still under the impression that the Internet is a storehouse for static pages that never change and don’t evolve. Well, you’re wrong. If you look at The Atlantic Web site, they’re addressing their core audience but they’re also testing the waters in new areas.
One of the coolest things The Atlantic has done was to bring in high profile bloggers to headline their Voices section, which is highlighted both in their main navigation and on the left sidebar. They’ve paired up with folks like Andrew Sullivan, Megan McArdle, Ross Southat and others to bring in new visitors, differentiate themselves from everyone else, get Atlantic content showing up in multiple places, and raise general site awareness. Super smart.
They’re also doing some great things videos (like The Atlantic blogger political roundtable) and the were smart enough to offer not only full text RSS feeds, but have separate feeds for different blogs and content types.
- Encourage Engagement: That means allowing comments on your blogs if you’re going to have them, encouraging users to submit your site to social media networks, joining conversations that are already going on, and really taking the time to nurture your own community. A lot of establish companies forget that the Internet is just as much about "reaction" as it as about presenting information. Not allowing for both elements is a mistake.
This is actually one area where I think The Atlantic could improve on. There’s still a little too much talking at and not enough having a conversation with. I think they’re doing themselves a great injustice by not making it easier to have users submit their content to social news sites. Some of their blog entries would really be prime candidates for a lot of the sites out there.
If you want to change the brand DNA of your Web site, you have to give users what they want, which more often then not means easy access to your site and the ability to engage with your brand. Meeting these two requirements will turn even the oldest sites hip. You can no longer afford to have a sucky Web site.