You remember the fight for the home page in the '90s? The home page was all -- "owning" the reader was news and media companies' intent. In addition, to various presentation strategies intended to increase "stickiness" (is there an online museum of over-used web buzzwords that have had short half-lives?), publishers frantically offered "make this my home page" buttons and gave awkward tutorials to uncertain newbies about how to change their "preferences."
Long story short, we know Google became many people's home page; to an extent it has become the web starter kit. Search and go. In harnessing paid search, it's made that model work, but has left mostly sloppy seconds for everyone else.
Now we're seeing a new round of "keep 'em on the site" strategies. CNN is the latest to bemoan those itinerant web users, those who cozy up to CNN, only to “bounce” away without so much as a thank-you. CNN.com -- the top trafficked news site on the web -- wants more loyalty, more time on site that will produce more revenue and simply some, you know, intimacy. “My hunch is that people go to it [CNN.com] more out of habit than they do out of love,” new CNN.com g.m. K.C. Estenson told the New York Times a couple of weeks ago. (The piece was done by TV Newser graduate Brian Stelter, whose work in covering the changing broadcast/cable trade, has increased the Times' media savvy, since his hiring. His blog, TV Decoder, here.)
How to win that love, how to romance fickle newsies is, of course, the bedeviling question.
Among those answering that question is the NYTimes.com's new Times Extra product. Launched at year's end, Times Extra is another attempt to make a media property if not more lovable, then at least more likable. Its plan: Achieve likeability by becoming a more-than-the-Times home page.
Essentially Times Extra is the Times + a non-customizable RSS reader. Toggle it on from a green link at the top of the home page, and you get Times Extra; turning it off is as simple. Its utility is so far limited -- home page only -- but on that home page, you'll see five or six boxes, with nicely highlighted green type for other news brands. In each box, folded smartly below the top stories of the moment, there are contextual web links to related stories.
So Times Extra says this: We know the Times is a great news source, but we also know we're not the end of the world. For Times readers, it's a chance to see what other major and minor sources are saying about top news, without having to go directly to those sites. For the Times, it's a bet, a wager that the value added by contextual content will win NYTimes.com more visitors, more visits and more time on site. So, essentiality overall, and time spent on site more measurably specific.
I appreciate Editor and Publisher giving more attention to time on site, in its monthly tallies, via Nielsen. (Though I'd appreciate a permanent, home-page link to it.) That’s because time on site is key going forward. We can bemoan the relative smallness of dollars going to newspaper online sites as compared to print newspapers; about 10% of all newspaper revenues now come from digital sources. But, consider the relative attention to the two products, and maybe the numbers make more sense.