Getting online content right

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Magazine editors must avoid putting shovelware on their sites and offer readers unique content that promotes not duplicates their title. 

When on Writers’ Forum we first launched on the newsstands in 2000 there were few magazine websites.

By 2006 many titles and newspapers had at least a basic online provision. This was usually a duplication of the issue, updated on a monthly or weekly basis aka shovel ware. Today nearly all publications have a website, which are updated regularly, if not on a daily basis. The bigger players such as IPC, Bauer Media or Hearst have sufficient budget for a dedicated team of web editors and copywriters who constantly update content as events unfold.

Online means 24/7 updates. Sites with out of date or irrelevant content are quickly abandoned. Repetition aka shovelware is another no. Avoid shovelware at all costs unless you want to lose visitors and may be potential readers.

Your site must make an impact

Any new magazine entering the market needs a strong online presence. Build in plans for the website along with a digital provision (if required) at the start. Develop a clear online strategy for content, which ties in with your magazine and reflects the brand. Launch the print version and online content together. Don’t duplicate content as the site must compliment the title and not detract readers from buying issues.

 When developing your title’s website consider the following:

  • Content: How many pages, categories and adverts?
  • Revenue: Will your site be pay-per-view, free or have paywall on some categories to generate additional income?
  • Adverts: What ratio of ads per page?
  • Interactivity: The site should be about having a conversation with your readers. How will you get readers involved? Can they provide some of the copy?
  • Sales opportunities: Archive and sell back issues of the magazine, but do describe these clearly in terms of themes to maximize sales.
  • Links: choose your associations carefully or risk damaging your reputation.

Keep it simple

Websites need meticulous planning with a clear organization of content. The strategy is to generate maximum traffic. Your site must be easy to navigate and quick to download.

Consider the best way to structure content. It must be organized in a logical way and easily accessible. Keep it simple and be consistent. A website which has lots of pages, gimmicks, plus pop-up adverts is likely to be difficult to naviage or risk alienating your visitors.

Have an online style guide

Like magazines very site must have in a house-style guide, which reflects its brand. Decide on visual imagery, tone, style and format. How long will taster copy be? What about longer articles? There isn’t a definitive answer. Each publication is different and therefore will not have the same requirements.

When building the site do your research. Look at similar publications and websites for ideas. Note clever concepts as well as the ugly ones. Be critically analytic. Figure out not only what you like, but also what irritates you – your reader is likely to feel the same.

As a general guideline don’t include articles of more than 700 words. Generally online copy tends to be short and to the point. Headlines must be kept simple to maximize tagline opportunities.

Extra content? 

Copy from each issue should not be regurgitated for your website. Poor quality content is just as off-putting as regurgitate copy. Avoid text that is repetitive, too long or requires too much scrolling.

If you are running an exclusive interview in an issue of your magazine, it should be repurposed, but not duplicated. The interview should take another angle using different content plus either a short video clip or podcast. Don’t forget to make it interactive – encourage readers to comment. End the piece with a question. The online version should also act as a preview (or sell) for the current issue, which is running the exclusive piece in full. Readers not only need added value, they also want to see a clear difference between the magazine and its website.

Remember you have less than a minute to convince the view your site is worth investigating. Your audience can make or break your site with a click of their mouse. Therefore when designing a new website think about what can you do to produce a unique, user-friendly site that helps to sell your magazine.

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