Joel Kramer Crunches MinnPost’s Visitor Data

Joel Kramer has been doing some excellent analysis of MinnPost’s traffic data. I get the impression that few publishers have this depth of understanding of their website’s traffic. Or, if they do, aren’t building businesses based around transparency for advertisers.

But on most websites, ours included, the vast majority of unique visitors are passersby. They come through a search or a link from a blog, and they visit the site precisely once, usually for a quick glance at one page. In many cases, if you ask them 30 seconds later which site they just linked to, they won’t remember. It would be folly for us to build a business plan around consumers like that.

It sounds like Joel is trying to build a business around generating revenue from advertisers interested in reaching MinnPost’s regular readers. If that’s the case, paying attention to where those people come from, what they read, etc. is going to be valuable. To do this, Joel could segment his Google Analytics data down to people who’ve visits X number of times, by time on site, or other metric he finds useful in order to see what they’re doing.

He could also track clicks on his site’s donate button, or comment submission form to get a feel for which type of visitors are potentially coughing up some cash or engaging in the site at a high level.

Joel offers his theory on why pass-through traffic that arrives from all over the world through search engines and random links:

(In fact, the passerby phenomenon, driven by Internet search and linking, is a major factor in why online advertising revenue doesn’t come close to replacing what newspaper publishers are losing in print: There are simply too many page views, too much inventory, chasing too few advertisers, so online advertising rates stay low.)

This, to me, ties back to some of the stuff I wrote about CityPages in the spring. Newspaper websites are living a lie if they think someone from Romania visiting a random page of their website through a search engine is worth as much to a local advertiser as a subscriber, registered user, or regular visitor.

This should probably be obvious, but for those who don’t already get it, if you’re selling local ads to local businesses, serve the ads to local visitors. Or, only charge them for the percentage of impressions your site receives that are actually local.

To me, Joel’s leaving some money on the table if he sees no value in pass-through traffic. But the tactics for monetizing that traffic are different than local ad sales.

Here are a few things I find effective for monetizing pass through traffic:

1. Be good at SEO. Pass through traffic is largely an SEO play where people search for things written months or years ago. If search engines can’t access ALL of your site’s content, you’re missing out on potential traffic and revenue. Search engine optimized tags and a few content strategies can make a big difference too.

2. Google AdSense. The diversity of locations, topics, and motivations of this type of traffic makes it hard to serve relevant ads at any kind of scale. (There may be exceptions for this surrounding topics of posts.) Google’s AdSense program solves this by serving contextually relevant ads to visitors based on the content found on the page and the location of the visitor among other metrics. This greatly increases the chance that a visitor will find an ad relevant and click on it.

3. Limit AdSense. Don’t bother serving AdSense ads to regulars. This is the corollary to why you shouldn’t serve local ads to pass through traffic. Regulars don’t click AdSense ads. They may someday, but for now, the local ad inventory in AdSense is still very limited so not particularly compelling compared to what you can build yourself (and avoid splitting the revenue with Google). In fact, I’ve made one cent all month in AdSense revenue off my 10+ visit crowd.

4. Get aggressive with your archives. Pissing off your regular readers with intrusive ads is the StarTribune’s forte, but don’t make it yours. However, this doesn’t mean that every page should have the same ad mix for all users. If someone’s only going to be around for a single page visit, they may as well leave through a relevant ad.

5. Additional Ad Networks. Depending on your traffic volume, there may be other ad networks worth considering who’ll deliver relatively consistent CPM rates for your inventory.

To me, these are tactics that generate a growing volume of passive advertising income without having a negative impact on loyal readers.

MinnPost.com Experiments with Journalist-Specific Fundraising

I’m digging the fundraising experiment MinnPost started running today: Readers can help fund a specific writer: David Brauer.

As it’s set up, you can contribute in increments of $10 or $25 toward Brauer’s writing. All contributions up to $10,000 will be matched by a generous donor.

This type of funding makes a lot of sense to me. Reporting is unbundling from a combination of comics, classifieds, and news down to narrow consumption based on specific reporters, topics, or even keywords. Some will prove to have a viable market (my guess is Brauer fits this category) and others won’t be sustainable. When not tested against the market, they were held up by the mothership. Once they prove not to be directly sustainable, funding will become even more creative.

This type of funding will likely break down at least two different ways: funding specific reporters and funding specific topics. On the topic side of things, I think there is demand for coverage of events that mainstream news sites never touch. For example, I bet five parents at a typical upscale private school in the Twin Cities would be willing to chip in $20 each per PTA meeting to receive well written summaries that may or may not ever be publicly published. That’s at least a $400/month one weeknight a week opportunity for an underemployed reporter.

As Joel Kramer mentioned in the comments on MinnPost.com’s BrauBlog experiment, donations are coming in. Do you think they’ll find the 400-1000 (combination of $10 and $25 contributions) donors they’re looking for to take full advantage of the $10,000 matching donation?

MinnPost.com’s First Video

MinnPost has an excellent story with accompanying video about people who are working to identify the graves of people who lived and died in Minnesota’s state hospitals and were buried in numbered graves. This is a great example of well done web journalism:

Grave by grave, group restores Minnesotans’ forgotten lives

In death as in life, a name symbolizes a human being. Yet at least 8,700 persons who lived and died in Minnesota state hospitals still lie in unnamed graves.

In life, their days were marked by mental illness, developmental disabilities, tuberculosis, alcoholism, epilepsy. In death, their graves are marked by numbers scratched on metal tags or chiseled on tops of concrete cylinders about the size of a coffee can.

The video is larger on The Deets than on MinnPost because I decided to use more space for it. If you decide to embed a MinnPost video in your site, just change the width and height settings to something suitable. I went with 492×400 here.

MinnPost.com Sneak Preview

It’s tough to keep stuff on the public Internet private. For example, MinnPost.com is supposed to launch at 11am tomorrow but it can be found online today at http://build.minnpost.com.

Here is a screenshot in case the site is taken offline until launch (and a PDF of the homepage):

MinnPost.com Sneak Preview

(Lead with Weed)

I’m glad to see that they appear to be doing RSS right. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was concerned that the site would have only one RSS feed. However, they’ve done a great job of breaking it out by topic and author:

MinnPost.com RSS Page

Hint on how I found this: turn off pinging during testing.

MinnPost.com Reveals Site Preview

MinnPost.com has released a preview of what their soon to launch news site will look like:

MinnPost.com Homepage Preview

It looks pretty good. Clean. Fairly scannable. Links to a river of news stories and posts along with a link to a river of comments would seem like valuable additions.

I’m a bit surprised that there isn’t more real estate set aside for ad space. Clean is good, but it’s tough to bring in much ad revenue without ads.

The use of sketches for authors seems strange to me. Personally, I prefer author images that build a personal connection with readers. Eyes play the biggest roll in this. As Ben from BenCredible likes to say, everyone’s eyes are drawn toward people’s eyes, so make sure their eyes are in focus when shooting video. I don’t think that translates to sketches very well. The Huffington Post uses b&w images of authors, which is a pretty smart strategy. That makes it fast and easy to get author submitted photos of themselves into the system with a consistent, yet personal, look. That could be done with the journalist photos they’ve already collected.

Will the RSS icon take people to a page with RSS options or will it like to a site-wide fire hose of content? Can I subscribe by topic, author, post comments?

Since the target audience isn’t the most tech savvy, is an RSS icon enough of an explanation of syndication options.

I’d also drop the “Home” link from the homepage. Redundant.

There is a Corrections link in the footer. Will stories themselves be updated with corrections?

MinnPost.com’s RSS is Getting Better

Imagine my surprise when I found a post from MinnPost.com in my Google Reader:

Minnpost in Google Reader

Very cool.

And it wasn’t truncated. Double cool.

That’s a small thing that makes a big difference for news hounds.

I’d still like to see permalinks (#7) to news releases. Without permalinks, it’s impossible to link to specific news stories. I suppose I could say, “Go to this page, then scroll down to the post dated ______ to see what I’m talking about” but that would be kind of lame.

MinnPost.com Pre-Launch Tech Revisit

I feel like offering some unsolicited advice to MinnPost.com. If you’re not into techie web stuff, just move on now.

Last week, I mentioned that MinnPost.com’s pre-launch site’s lack of an RSS feed was kind of scary considering how important RSS is to the news hounds the site is apparently targeting.

This led to a quick response from Matt Grey in the comments, pointing to the RSS feed and mentioning that it was available from the News page of the site.

Less than a week later, here is what I’m seeing:

1. The initial press release was added to the RSS feed, but truncated. Not sure why.

2. A story was published to the RSS feed today, but was slightly truncated. Not sure why.

3. A progress report was published to the site on 8/27, but never showed up in the RSS feed. Not sure why.

4. The Featured Journalists and MinnPost Press articles on MinnPost.com never made it into the RSS feed. Not sure why.

5. The “news” section has been renamed “Progress” and the RSS feed is no longer available from that section.

6. New sections, Press and Journalists, have been added, and do not have discoverable RSS feeds.

7. There is no permalink to the 9/4 progress report.

8. Or the 8/27 progress report.

9. The 9/4 progress report isn’t available under the “Progress” section of the site.

10. It’s strange how few blog write-ups of the MinnPost.com announcement have made the press page. Compare the press page to Google’s results for the term “Minnpost.com” to get a feel for this. Where’s Chuck Olson, Charles Quimby, or MNSpeak, to name just three? As far as I can tell, unless the write-up came from either the online side of a traditional media site or the blog of a media insider, it didn’t make the cut.

This all may seem picky, but it raises what I see as legitimate concerns about their understanding of web technologies and the role of blogging in online journalism.

BTW, if MinnPost.com is looking for an easy way to fix most of the stuff listed above, here’s how to do it:

1. Install WordPress. It’s free.
2. Slap the current logo into a comparable WordPress theme.
3. Copy/paste the current stories into WordPress.
4. Set a 301 redirect from the current feed’s location to MinnPost.com/feed/

Less than 2 hours of work and you’ll have a platform that’s probably easier to use and will scale nicely between now and the launch of the site. I’d also consider using that as a permanent press center at the domain minnpost.com/blog

MinnPost.com: New MN Online Newspaper

A new news site is about to launch in Minnesota with a big list of names you’re probably familiar with. Basically, dozens of people who’ve taken a buy-out or been fired from the StarTribune or the Pioneer Press are going to be writing for this site.

This is a look at what I see from a technical perspective.

Here’s a link to their press release. Eventually, this link will not take you to the press release since it isn’t a permalink to an individual story, but a link to the news section of their site as it exists today.

There is no RSS feed. Yes, the real site hasn’t launched yet, so I’m being kind of tough on them about that. However, looking at the portfolio of their design company leads me to believe that they could quite possibly not offer RSS feeds for their site’s content. If that really happens it will be a disaster since their best audience for their content will be news hounds who are using RSS readers today. That will make their site’s content close to invisible since people with RSS readers tend to consume what in their reader first, then venture out to non-RSS friendly sites if and when they have the time.

For example, BestBuy.com, another site built by the same design firm, doesn’t seem to offer RSS feeds for shopping or even the press release section of the site. They do offer email alerts for press releases, which is basically serving Bacn.

A powerful online news site needs great writes and a great platform. Hopefully MinnPost.com will have post when it launches.