Newsletter No 31 11 July 2006
Online Publishing:
Using Online Advertising Tools to Learn What Readers Want

Presentation by Agustín J Edwards, Publisher, Las Ultimas Noticias, Chile, at the World Newspaper Congress, Moscow, 4-7 June, 2006.

Page view counters have long been used to measure "click-throughs" on online advertising banners. Las Ultimas Noticias has attached them to every editorial story online, "so we can infer what readers are most interested in," says Mr Edwards.

Mr Edwards has been working with readership data on a per-story basis for three years, and he shared his experiences with the Congress.

"It does not tell us what to publish, but it's a good guide for future content decisions," says Mr Edwards. "It's helpful in getting the newsroom to focus on readers interests. It encourages editorial experimentation: the reader's "click" reaction will be decisive and fast."

Every hour, stories are ranked according to "clicks" and this information is shared daily in the newsroom -- and with online readers.

Among the strengths for readers is that the newspaper does not dwell on stories after readers have lost interest – the click-throughs help guide when to drop or continue with a developing story. Because adjustments can be done quickly, the system allows the newsroom to try different types of stories and unusual angles. But the downside is that not everyone is happy with reader derived content.

For the newspaper, the advantages are that it is quick and inexpensive way to gather data, it sparks debate about readers interests in the newsroom. On the downside, readers decisions are based on headlines and photographs before reading the stories. "An over-promising headline can lead us astray," he says.

There are other innovations as well. Mr Edwards admits he did not want banner ads on the site – because they have so far proved to be incapable of financing good journalism -- so he created the "on-screen free newspaper" with thumbnails of the day's print edition pages that can be clicked and read in a paper-like format. Online readers are exposed to the same advertisements as print readers.

"Thousands of new readers bring added value (for advertisers)," he says. "And there is a reader profile improvement -- younger and more up market. As the on-screen free newspaper format gains acceptance, our advertisers will have to pay for the readership increase and exposure that today they enjoy for no additional cost."