From BRASS TACKS DESIGN, April 2002
As easy as 1-2-3: Averting the crisis in classified
By Alan Jacobson, Brass Tacks Design
The problem: Newspapers are losing their classified franchise (both print and online) to competing websites.
The goal: To capture the classified franchise at newspaper-owned websites before losing the franchise entirely.
The good news: Reaching this goal is as easy as 1-2-3.
Step 1. Improve current print classified products to make them easier to read, easier to use, enhance their appeal and consolidate all products under a single brand.
This effort will position the newspaper as the leading source of classifieds in the market. These improvements will boost users' (both readers and advertisers) opinions of the newspaper's classified brand, and make customers more likely to patronize other products with the same brand, in particular the newspaper's online classifieds.
NAA's recent report – The Power to Grow Readership – cites making advertising content easier to read and navigate as part of one of their eight imperatives to grow readership. The report goes on to identify brand as another of their eight imperatives.
Step 2. Use the newspaper to promote online classified.
Research has shown that newspapers are the most effective means for promoting online sites. Promotional messages can be generic (online is faster than print) and/or vertical specific (online real estate allows you to calculate monthly payments while you shop.) These messages should appear throughout the newspaper, but should be designed into the opening page of classified everyday.
Step 3. Improve online products to make them easier to read, easier to use, enhance their appeal and make sure they contain ALL the content (advertising and editorial) that users want.
Newspaper companies will not convert readers and advertisers from their print products to their online products unless their sites are easier to use, more fun to visit and contain more information that any other sites.
To meet the goals in Step 3, newspaper sites must:
• Be easy to navigate.
• Provide a visually appealing experience that is designed everyday to maximize the appeal of the content.
• Offer multiple, pre-designed custom interfaces on a daily basis to match typical user profiles. This will provide users with an experience to match their preference.
• Download quickly for dialup users and provide a media-rich experience for broadband users.
• Eliminate banner ads and other devices that clutter the page in favor of much larger, visually engaging, multimedia ads.
• Promote the advantages of online classified on the homepage.
• Be easy to use with an uncluttered interface that users can understand intuitively.
• Provide more national and local listings than any other source.
• Provide national and local listings in employment.
• Provide national and local listings in real estate with virtual tours.
• Provide color photos in automotive.
• Allow users to place and price ads interactively.
Here's a quote from Gary Kebbel, director of news services for America Online: “Forget the gut-wrenching self-flagellation about when local online news sites will be profitable. That's an unimportant argument about things that exist perhaps only in the laboratory: good local news sites. Most of them aren't yet good enough to deserve to be profitable. The more pertinent argument is when are these sites going to drive their audience away?”
And here's a quote from Jay Small, chief of interactive for Belo (and a former newspaper designer): “No one yet knows how to design an ideal interactive service for a general news audience. Key components have not been discovered, invented or properly combined. Key problems have not been solved. And even if all impediments were removed, we could never all agree on where to go first.”
Both of these quotes echo what Knight Ridder's Steve Rossi said: “The fact that there is not a proven business model for newspaper Web sites is no excuse for hoarding capital - intellectual and monetary - while waiting for one to magically appear. What's more important is gaining the dominant position in digital media for our brands - in the way that Yahoo! and eBay did during the Internet's Round 1, and newspaper companies did not. Research is what's important in digital media today, not misguided short-term runs at profit.”
• Click on any image to see more.
• Hartford Courant
• Omaha World Herald
• Daily Press, Newport News, VA