50 Media Properties and their Article to Article Optimization Methodologies

Dennis recently wrote a post on article-to-article optimization and the importance of having a zone or module that promotes ‘what else is on the menu today?’.  I decided to follow this up with a study on how 50 Media Properties actually do this promotion.

I assume that we’re all in agreement with this form of reader ‘engagement tool’- after all, every media destination I visited as part of the following study is doing it in one way shape or form- but possibly herein lies an issue.

As we’ve stated before there are primarily two forms of article to article optimization; the ultimate goal being to increase engagement and decrease bounce rate of readers:

  • Contextual – those links/lists that are placed either in or at the end of the article a visitor is reading and are typically very much related. These are perfect for those visitors who have a desire to dig deeper into a given subject matter
  • Other (a.k.a. VFP zones (Virtual Front Pages) in our terminology) – those zones or modules that address ‘what else is on the menu today’ and there are many names for these

My lunch break sees me scouring my 5-6 news destinations of choice to get my daily news fix. They are all different; traditional news, tech, business and media, and (for the most part) those Contextual links and related links remain in the same or similar places across these media properties. However, seeing ‘what else is on the menu’ on these properties is not always that easy- and I am a frequent reader. I used Other on purpose above as there is surprisingly limited consistency in how these Virtual Front Page zones are named.

So it got me thinking, was it just down to the difference in media property or was it more intrinsic of the publisher themselves? I decided to take 50 media properties from various industry segments and catalogue what they have termed their VFP zone(s). It’s fair to note I have been overly generous with the naming, combining similarly named modules- if I were to have done this verbatim then the list would be well north of 60 different terms!

More | Hot Topics 34
Also | Don’t Miss | Must Reads 17
Latest Headlines 16
Latest Videos 15
Most Popular 15
Most Viewed 11
Most Read 11
Top Photo Galleries 10
Most Commented 10
Top Stories 8
Editors Picks 8
Day in Pictures 6
Most Emailed 5
Trending Stories 3
Most Shared 3
Best of 2
Features & Analysis 1

That is a total of 175 VFP modules distributed across 50 article pages on 50 media properties (an avg. of 3.5 modules per property). More | Hot Topics certainly seems to dominate as a preferred method of promotion (though as I said before I was fairly lenient in terms of grouping similar terms). It’s also interesting to view the total number of VFP modules per media property:

1 VFP per article page 5
2 VFP per article page 9
3 VFP per article page 11
4 VFP per article page 11
5 VFP per article page 11
6 VFP per article page 1
7 VFP per article page 2

I’ll leave you to make your on conclusions on the above, but I think it’s fair to say that six or seven VFP modules on a single article page might be over doing it somewhat. The promotion of ‘what else is on the menu today’ needs to be focused and clean in my opinion and I believe this creates way too much noise, sub-optimal navigation patterns, ultimately losing a reader faster.

Further to the quantity of Virtual Front Page modules we have 20 different names for almost exactly the same thing. Remembering that the publisher’s intent here is to increase engagement and decrease bounce rate- surely inconsistent naming is detrimental to overall reader experience? This is a publisher’s secondary landing page- the side door traffic that is spoken of so often comes through here (not to mention the loyal readership that’s been nurtured over the years). Helping side-door traffic quickly ascertain ‘what else is on the menu’ by aligning terms for Top Stories, What’s Hot, Also Today, Don’t Miss and the like must surely benefit the media property and the reader.

In my opinion media properties should look to optimize their Virtual Front Page zones in four key areas:

  • Terminology – they’re all currently saying the same thing but they’re not
  • Placement – is all over the place; above the fold, below the fold, on the left/right or even in the middle
  • Emphasis – some are so poorly promoted it’s a wonder anyone finds them at all
  • Content Selection – promote the right content at the right time for the right audience- update frequently and often using tools such as Visual Revenue’s Front Page Automation Platform

In conclusion I’m not suggesting aggressive change- we’ve seen the reader backlash with Newsweek, Gawker and the likes but surely some uniformity wouldn’t be a bad thing? We’re not a static news audience, we’re migratory, we have our favorites but just like retail we’ll still look into other shops and, with that in mind, a Publisher has an opportunity to win us over. Help me see what else is on your menu today, front and center and in a terminology and location that’s familiar.

If you want to find out more about how we provide real-time recommendations for Virtual Front Page zones do get in touch!

For those of you who are interested you’ll find a screenshot of one of the Virtual Front Page zones from each of the 50 Media Properties I looked at:

  • http://tumbleweedmarketinganalytics.com/ Tom Wolfer

    Charlie, does your theory regarding ‘Virtual Front Page’ zones differ for a news media site versus, for example, an employee Intranet portal? I ask because there is an organization who wants my help developing a content creation/distribution strategy for their SharePoint Intranet system. The structure is all set-up; it’s all about the content now. Decisions must be made about which content should be rotated in the different areas of the Intranet portal’s main page. Can you offer any suggestions?