case studies

Conversion analysis reveals missed opportunities. What is the proper way to charge for online content and increase the number of subscribers?

The New York Observer paints a pretty stunning picture of one attempt to launch an online newspaper website. Was it to be expected, or is this an online sales conversion problem?

The article states that, after a $4 million overhaul and redesign, newsday.com, the online arm of the Long Island daily Newsday had attracted only 35 subscribers in three months.

Author John Koblin also writes that, since moving the site content behind a “pay wall,” traffic has dropped from 2.2 million monthly unique visits to 1.5 million in just three months. This may not be surprising, since there is little free content available from the online newspaper.

Is Newsday.com the Titanic of Online Newspapers?

What online newspapers can learn from New York Newsday

We can learn a lot from big disasters.

We can’t help but watch — self-conscious but riveted – when great endeavors come to a disastrous end. Myriad books and movies have been produced round the sinking of the Titanic, and after almost a century it still resonates in our collective memories.

Long Island daily New York Newsday launched a grand ship in their online newspaper at newsday.com. At a reported cost of $4 million they launched a designer’s site and placed their content behind a pay wall. After the passing of three months, they had garnered only 35 paying subscribers. The acquisition cost is staggering.

But it wasn’t a single iceberg that struck the hull of newsday.com. Instead, they got mired in the ice flows off the coast of bad choices.

No disaster is the result of one mistake. It is the culmination of a series of poor decisions with a dose of misfortune.

You’re making the same mistakes on your Web site.

I completed an in-depth review of the newsday.com site in my fast-paced presentation from PubCon South.

Does Content Want to be Free or Behind a Pay Wall?

I don’t think so. The price people will pay for content is determined in part by:

  1. The price placed on it – What do others think it is worth?
  2. Relevance – Should I care about it?
  3. Timeliness – Am I getting information when I need it?
  4. Uniqueness – Can I get the same thing somewhere else for free?

If your content wants to be free, then you haven’t branded it with at least one of these aspects.

Newsday’s content should pass the test with flying colors.

  1. Price: They’re pricing it at $5 a week.
  2. Relevance: It is certainly relevant to residents of Long Island.
  3. Timeliness: New stories every day and breaking news.
  4. Uniqueness: How many online news sources are there for Long Island?

As you will see in my website review of Newsday.com they didn’t make the case. To some extent the content – stories, videos and applications – should make the case by itself. However, the site has the same categories, layout and value proposition of many news sites.

So far, all Newsday.com has done is put a price on it’s content.

How to Charge for Online Content

What Newsday’s designers and developers failed to tell management is that newsday.com runs on computers, and computers can monitor the activities of those reading the online edition. This means you can test just about anything in the court of public opinion.

Instead of changing everything, newsday.com should have tested their way into the new business model.

  • Test the variety of business models to be available: micropayments, donation strategies, “pay for everyone” strategies, as well as the “pay wall” approach.
  • Test how much “free” content is needed to keep site traffic up.
  • Test how to present pricing.
  • Test the price points that will deliver subscribers.

Of course, a testing strategy doesn’t deliver a $4 million pay day to an agency and development team. There are few incentives for patience. If management didn’t think they had the time for a measured rollout before, they certainly don’t now.

Key Page Review-Free consultation.

Key Page Review-Free consultation

Newsday.com Reacts

Blog BobBlitz.com posted a chart showing four possible layouts for the Newsday.com site. It appears that newsday.com is “enhancing its website” by “updating its color scheme.”

I don’t believe this is going to help.

It’s great that they are asking their readers what they think, but Newsday’s problems are elsewhere when you look at it through the eyes of a Conversion Scientist.

I believe Newsday has worked to prevent subscribers from completing a transaction on their site.

Would you like an analysis of your site? Request a Conversion Sciences Free Page Review.

Brian Massey Conversion Marketing

How to build a marketing database that keeps prospects engaged

It sounded like the perfect market:

  • A large and growing marketplace
  • A need so critical that it strikes at the very foundations of the family
  • Increasing competition for scarce supply
  • A marketplace actively using the Internet to solve the problem
How to build a marketing database that generates engagement.

JobCannon for Job Search.

Add to these the fact that existing solutions were failing miserably, and you’ve got a market ready for an effective online solution.

I’m describing the unemployed job seeker marketplace. Few marketplaces have the natural alignment of trends that this marketplace does. JobCannon (formerly CardboardResume) sought to create an online job search solution that actually worked, and build a business in the bargain.

First, let me disclose that JobCannon is a client of Conversion Sciences.

You might have thought that this would be an easy sell. We knew it wouldn’t be. We needed to keep skeptical, frugal job seekers engaged and informed. Here’s how we did it.

Before you read any further…

If you’re on Twitter, please visit and play along.

Building the Battery with Informational Marketing

Since no tag line was going to help JobCannon rise above the noise, and since new job seekers needed advice as much as the software, we lead with an informational approach.

JobCannon commissioned an eBook to help break job seekers of their job board habit. It turns out that spending hours a day on Monster and CareerBuilder was the least effective way to find work, especially in a crowded job market.

I wrote the eBook for them. My primary qualification was my fundamental inability to hold a job. Get your copy of The Market for Me.

A book blog was setup to catch job seekers searching the Internet. I began speaking at job clubs on to help seed the marketplace promoting the book heavily.

Charging the Battery

To receive the book, prospects provided a name and email address, and asked the prospect why they wanted to read the book. About 10% of the attendees to a live presentation requested a free copy.

Of the people who visited the book request page 30% completed the form. This is a relatively high conversion rate.

The presentation model was not easy to scale, as I could only speak so many times. But the pipeline proved that we could engage and educate an audience with informational marketing.

The book/blog strategy was proven when one of my presentations was featured on applicant.com, an influential blog. It was subsequently picked up by Slideshare as a featured presentation. Over the space of three weeks, almost 30,000 people viewed the presentation. A link to the free eBook in the description drew viewers to our educational content.

This one presentation doubled the size of our email database. It charged our battery.

This is proof that high conversion rates amplify all of your online marketing efforts.

Tapping the Battery’s Energy

Informational posts generated for the blog became email newsletters that were sent to the book database.

This was an efficient battery. When we sent educational emails to the list, open rates were astronomical, between 77% and 98%. I’m usually ecstatic at 30% open rates. Click-through rates were as high as 22% and unsubscribe rates were near zero.

Because this market was bombarded by solutions to help them find work, we were dealing with a skeptical group. We found out it took as many as seven relevant contacts to generate a JobCannon trial: One reference from a friend, one presentation, one free eBook, and four informational emails.

Without our marketing battery, we would never have been able to generate the number of “touches” necessary to make prospects feel comfortable trying the software.

Like batteries marketing databases “lose charge” over time

As a rule of thumb, we assume that 25% of the contacts become invalid over the course of a year.

  • Prospects become customers
  • Email addresses change
  • Prospects choose to stop receiving email (opt-out)
  • Prospects choose alternative solutions
  • Prospects just stop paying attention to your emails

Many marketers drain their battery by sending promotional content. Discounts, feature-oriented posts and irrelevant information drain the battery very quickly.

In our case, many of our prospects find work, even though they’re not using JobCannon. Hopefully, they’ll continue to network and search for new opportunities even though they have found work.

Build your own battery with informational content

You may not have an eBook available, but your business generates informational content every month. Press releases, product descriptions, old blog posts, and sales presentations all can be transformed to charge your marketing batteries.

Join us on December 10 in Austin for BYOContent: The Extreme Conversion Makeover Workshop.

We’re going to transform a blog, a white paper, some video and an email newsletter into lead-generating and sales-generating tools.

Brian Massey, The Conversion Scientist

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