Nine problems stopping The Global Mail from getting an audience

global mail logoWhile it’s a shame The Global Mail has failed to make an impact on the media landscape, the signs have been there for some time.

I love the concept of a well resourced, philanthropically-funded independent news site. Anywhere in the world, that’s a rare and wonderful thing. In Australia even more so. So I hope that Grame Wood gets to see his investment make a difference.

And I have no inside info on whether Monica Attard’s sudden departure is linked to the site’s failure to find an audience so far.

Regardless, here are nine areas they can easily start to address:

1. Publish more content

Even before The Global Mail launched, I heard gossip that potential correspondents were being hired with the promise that they would not be subject to deadlines.

Which is a decent aspiration – ignoring the 24 hour news cycle to focus on what’s important is almost impossible to criticise.

Except they’re producing very little content. Take the last seven days for example – just five articles.

At the time of writing, just one piece has gone up on the site today. One yesterday too. Nothing at all over the weekend. One piece on Friday, two last Thursday.

As any regular blogger will tell you, the size your audience is directly linked to how often you post. You need to give people a reason for going back regularly. Few readers will be interested in every piece of content you publish, which means you need to overpublish.

Remember the old journo joke?

First journalist: “I’m writing a book.”

Second journalist: “Neither am I.”

I don’t think that freedom from deadlines actually gets the best from most journos. I’ve done some of my best work when I’ve got 60 minutes left to file.

Of course, proper investigative reporting can’t be knocked out in an hour or two. But there still needs to be a point where you have to deliver. With a staff of more than 20 it’s not unreasonable to expect more than one article a day.

2 – Social media strategy

At the moment, the strategy seems to consist of tweeting the articles and chucking them up a link to them on Facebook.

But when there’s so little content to share, that leads to little reward.

Given that whoever runs the Twitter feed and Facebook page probably doesn’t have any say over the low content output, I’d argue they need other strategies to generate more traffic.

I’m not sure it’s a huge sin to tweet an article more than once, if done with a slightly different wording and with a gap of a few hours. But more to the point, they need to find other things to talk about – connect with the audience by updating them on the news list or upload a behind the scenes picture, for instance.

Back in March, somebody was making an effort to upload interesting images to the Global Mail Facebook page. They generated a fair bit of interaction. But for whatever reasons, they stopped again.

It’s also important to make it a two-way conversation. There are examples on the Facebook page where people have left comments or posed questions which have been ignored.

3 – Allow comment

As we’ve discovered on Mumbrella, some of our best content can come in the comment thread that follows an article. I can understand the journalistic instinct – particularly when not many of the team seem to come from an online background – that the journo’s job is to impart wisdom, and the audience’s job is to be the audience.

It doesn’t work like that any more of course. But if the concern is that poor quality comments will drag down the quality of debate, then have an unashamedly strict moderation policy. But at least invite comment.

Comments generate page views and they also give extra reasons for people to link to the site.

4. Promote the email newsletter

One of the biggest hidden weapons for any site to generate traffic is via a daily email. It takes work because you have to gradually build it by pursuading people to sign up. Three years ago I started Mumbrella’s mailing list with a couple of hundred email addresses of personal contacts and it has now built to nearly 30,000 which drives about a third of our Australian page views. (If you haven’t yet done so, you can subscribe to our email for free via the box on the right hand side of this page – see what I did there?)

The Global Mail does offer an email subscribe box, but it’s hidden at the bottom of the page. Until I looked for it last night, I’d never noticed it.

5. Work harder on PR.

Whether new or established, media players need to make noise to bring an audience. So far, their director of communications and media has sent us two press releases – once announcing its launch, and one the departure of Attard.

By contrast, Southern Cross Austereo, probably the hardest working media organisation when it comes to PR, has sent me ten press releases so far this week. Guess which one gets more coverage?

global mail6. Address the user experience.

Users browse the site by scrolling sideways. It’s annoying, and anecdotally, works badly in certain browsers. The site was built by the same team that created music website We Are Hunted which has the same horizontal scroll, but works better for its magazine style content. They also did wotif, which isn’t beloved among its customers for its UX.

As a reader, I find it difficult to quickly browse what little content there is.

I also find it weird that the site dedicates a strip along the bottom of the page to external sites such as The Guardian which it then links to within a Global Mail frame. Considering it blocks those sites’ ads from serving, that looks like a straight case of content theft to me.

7. Do some marketing.

There’s nothing wrong with marketing a product – particularly one you’re spending$15m on. Buy a few ads on news and current affairs sites where you might find the sort of audience you want to attract. Locally, a few display ads on the likes of New Matilda or even the SBS World News news site would spread the philanthropic dollars further and cost very little. Back it with a little Facebook advertising based on clever keywords.

8. Act like a start up

Start ups news sites are usually hungry. They scrap for stories. They grab every opportunity to promote themselves. They establish themselves by working harder than the established players. The lack of a commercial imperative may have blunted that. Find a way to reignite the competitive instincts.

9. Sort out the SEO

Not much thought seems to have been given to optimising the site for search. The meta data – the behind the scenes text fed to search engines such as Google – does not contain high volume search terms. Instead it features the phrase “Philanthropically funded, not-for-profit news”. The search volume for this phrase is pretty damn small.

The sideways navigation also hurts SEO because search engines tend to prioritise information from top to bottom.

However what The Global Mail has going for it is quality. Unfortunately, that’s not enough. If you build it, they won’t come. You’ve got to tell them.

Tim Burrowes

Comments


  1. Archie
    9 May 12
    1:22 pm

  2. bloody excellent advice Tim on each and every point

  3. Archie
    9 May 12
    1:25 pm

  4. just visited TGM for the first time and only heard of it through Mumbrella

    site nav couldn’t be a bigger turn-off

    please, those responsible heed Tim’s advice and fix this worthy project before it fails and gives this important fledgling business model a bad name

  5. Melbourne Photographer
    9 May 12
    1:48 pm

  6. You nailed it. Regular content is key. I’d visit if they had daily articles.

  7. Heather Tyler
    9 May 12
    2:17 pm

  8. The Global Mail has quality content and a slick design. I like what I read. I subscribe. But GM sure needs to educate itself on the gospel of SEO, social media promotion and marketing. Tim Burrowes is bang on. These are foreign concepts to crusty old journos (like me) but I’ve managed to get on board. I have an SEO adviser. Imagine that! I hope Graeme Wood understands that successful publishing is a very long haul, labour intensive and resource hungry. Philanthropic enterprises still demand the nuts and bolts of skilful marketing. And while over publishing is a pain, it’s painfully necessary. We live in an age of info overload and time poor readers. It’s damn hard getting people’s attention let alone maintaining it.

  9. Carol
    9 May 12
    2:58 pm

  10. “Quality” content? Don’t make me laugh. Quality is defined by its scarcity and none of the stuff on the GM site I have seen differs to any marked degree from what I can find on The Drum, Crikey, Fairfax, ABC, New Matilda, etc etc. Plus their editors and reporters appear to be the laziest bunch since Tom Sawyer persuaded the other kids to paint his aunty’s fence. Do they really think visitors want re-hashed versions of Guardian reports?

    If Graeme Wood had any nous he would hire an editor out of left field, define cash goals for the site and make his lazy reporters work a lot harder, as well as SEO people etc. He needs to get people talking about GM, which is a laughingstock at the moment among professional journos. One idea: Instead of a site with a hodge-podge of unrelated stories, break them into categories and open new subject areas that are now going begging. Know of a good book review site in Oz at the moment, for example. The publishers would support it, and if things stay bad at GM, they can sell the review copies under the table to bookshops to make ends meet. (Orwell did it. No shame there)

    Maybe Wood just hates being rich. It’s the only explanation.

  11. Jimboot
    9 May 12
    3:00 pm

  12. Hey Tim, great post except the SEO bit :) Meta data isn’t a big deal these days for rankings but essential is the meta description as this is what will appear in the SERPs and encourage people to click. Whilst the sideways nav sucks, it doesn’t effect how the bots crawl it. Here’s how Google sees it’s pages http://webcache.googleusercont.....38;strip=1

    The site actually has much bigger SEO problems than the metadata.

  13. anon_coward
    9 May 12
    3:19 pm

  14. Pretty good observations. I suspect it will go down as another failed Australian media experiment, similar to the Indpendant Magazine from the eighties (IIRC).

    There’s some great talent, but the site is atrocious in terms of layout and execution. Too much funk – the HuffPost got to where it was by a combination of it news agenda supported by usable, even pedestrian, web design – same can be said of Mumbrella (that’s a compliment BTW).

    It’s the content that will generate success. But no matter how good the content is, if you over funk the site layout and design you’ll never get traction. I think Tim you went pretty light on them in that regard.

  15. robbo
    9 May 12
    3:23 pm

  16. Might’ve thought: “Don’t be just another left-wing group-think vehicle” might have featured somewhere in your list….

  17. You have no mail ...
    9 May 12
    3:33 pm

  18. The Global Mail is a journalist’s wet dream and that’s its biggest problem.

  19. dave
    9 May 12
    3:38 pm

  20. Great analysis Tim.
    There’s something about this project that smells like TV and radio journalists not understanding (or caring) that digital is a well-developed medium and as such needs to have content and audience experiences that are made for the medium.
    It’s simply not good enough to post a couple of long-winded magazine-style articles a week and somehow think that you’re a relevant digital news product.
    Design is obviously subjective I’m not surprised that the horizontal scroll annoys people.

  21. Zac
    9 May 12
    4:31 pm

  22. Agree entirely with this. Except they also need one further thing: distribution. Find a source which has traffic and can refer new eyeballs early in the piece.

    Mia Freedman does this well.

    My view is that publishing all about great content, at scale, with distribution.

  23. Can be fixed?
    9 May 12
    4:45 pm

  24. Bang on with this, Tim.

    As has been pointed out elsewhere, the site seems to have greatly underestimated the need for someone with a strong, proven track record in online to steer its editorial direction. Being a celebrated radio and television journalist does not equip someone to launch a vastly ambitious new online venture if they have no experience in the area. It smacks of old media not bothering to really understand the new media landscape.

    And though there needs to be more content posted more regularly, this could be an allocation of funds issue. Setting up correspondents around the world must have been a vastly expensive undertaking, and now those reporters are not filing enough copy to deliver returns on that investment. It hasn’t left much over for a freelance budget, which means that the quality of outside contributor content will not be as high as it could be.

    Got to spend money (on marketing, particularly!) to make money is the rule, always will be. Redesign the horrible layout and poach someone with the right experience to run the ship and the whole venture could easily be turned around.

  25. Blue
    9 May 12
    4:56 pm

  26. Great analysis, Tim. Not just for Global Mail (is that your effort at philanthropy? Giving them some free advice?) but for many sites reliant on traffic.
    Interesting what you say about comment – I think many users on Mumbrella would like to be able to upvote and downvote comments and articles, but there’s no option to do so. It makes comment moderation easier, as the good stuff floats to the top.
    And after all that, I can’t believe you didn’t give GM a link to their site! Oh go on…
    Interestingly, I just clicked on a story on their site, started reading, and only then did I realise I was actually on the Slate.com site (an excellent site, I find!) http://www.theglobalmail.org/v.....way/89168/
    What a curious design they have.

  27. Ponce De Leon
    9 May 12
    6:35 pm

  28. Speaking of comments Tim, Mumbrella seems to have much fewer comments these days than it used to have.

    Previously comments were posted quickly so one could have an ongoing debate in the comments which drives people back to the site.

  29. Shane Dowling
    9 May 12
    10:54 pm

  30. I’m a blogger and do it my spare time and the site has been running since January last year and I do one post a week. My Alexa ranking as of today for Australia is 8,044 and The Global Mail’s for Australia is 7,528. The rankings globaly The Mail’s is 162,145 and mine is 955,790. But a my site is growing and a lot of the global traffic are one off hits and very few would return.

    I have 854 followers (at the start of this year it was 300) (An email goes out when I do a new post) I bet I have more than them becasue it is hard to find their subscribe button and I finish every post asking poeple to subscribe.

    From a marketing veiwpoint they are getting beaten by one person who does it part-time and they have 20 staff. Why? Because I hope to build it up so I can do it full-time and as it says in Tim’s story above “Start ups news sites are usually hungry. They scrap for stories. They grab every opportunity to promote themselves. They establish themselves by working harder than the established players.”

  31. Wayne
    10 May 12
    12:50 am

  32. While your comments are all valid Tim they overlook the single big issue. Content or as we still say in journalist land, the stories. And i don’t mean the quantity. You finish by saying what GM has going for it is quality. Another commenter describes it as a worthy project. Quality? Worthy? Measured by what? Carol is dead right. This sort of stuff is around everywhere, but the big and exclusive stories just aren’t there and unlike normal marketing or PR campaigns, big attention grabbing stories are the only things that can bring an audience to a news site. That’s as true for the AFR as it is for TMZ. The simple fact is I can’t remember as exceptional, nor has anyone recommended to me, any single story that GM has published.

    It’s hardly surprising that GM has failed on that score. GM harnessed a mix of semi-retired old hands and very inexperienced new ones. That’s delivered them a not too attractive compote of tired old analysis on the one hand and naive thought bubbles (especially in international coverage) on the other. Hardly attractive. Add a managing editor with no record in online or print production and with her own inimitable management style and you have a project whose only supporters are those who think it’s “worthy” [and even they probably aren't reading it].

  33. Andre Lackmann
    10 May 12
    8:02 am

  34. The RSS feed only featuring an extremely short description is also a bit disheartening. Considering they aren’t relying on advertising for a crust, they should be including the whole article in the feed.

    I also agree on the design. I mean, vertical AND horizontal scrolling on the same page? (eg. http://www.theglobalmail.org/f.....economics/). Really, if you’re going to break the mould, stick to one paradigm.

  35. Craig Ashley Russell
    10 May 12
    8:28 am

  36. Good Lord Mr Burrows. I hope Mr Wood sends one large cheque your way for the considerably consulting advice you just gave him.
    Although he’d be better off rolling his publication (with a name change) into your empire, giving you the $15M and then sit back, relax and let the cheques come to him.

  37. Jaeger
    10 May 12
    8:48 am

  38. “6. Address the user experience.

    Users browse the site by scrolling sideways. It’s annoying, and anecdotally, works badly in certain browsers.”

    Not just badly – not at all on some portable devices. Why wrap the content – text, pictures, and maybe videos – in a layer of bling that prevents potential readers accessing it? I sent them a suggestion for a mobile/”lite” version of the site when they launched, but heard nothing back. Their loss.

  39. Jai
    10 May 12
    9:44 am

  40. But, The Global Mail HAS a comment option… With the other interaction buttons down the bottom right, visible at all times…??

  41. Elbogrease
    10 May 12
    10:06 am

  42. 6 is my biggest problem with the site.

  43. Tony Healy
    10 May 12
    11:01 am

  44. I think Graeme Wood needs to rethink exactly what he’s hoping to achieve.

    He might be better off just awarding Fellowships to selected reporters, and then funding them while they do their own thing, whether contributing to established media sites, or writing books or whatever.

  45. Me
    10 May 12
    11:04 am

  46. Love the concept and the writing, but never read it because it’s so awkward.

    Simple. simple. simple. Less is more online. This site good. Fairfax bad.

    Text and an image, simple format, scalable to all platforms – win.

  47. Adam
    10 May 12
    11:08 am

  48. All great points, but not sure about the ‘content theft’. I just clicked through to a Guardian story from the GM site and, despite it being in the GM frame, I saw all of the site’s original advertising. Still, putting it all inside a GM frame is cheeky and irritating, but not sure it’s theft.

  49. Marrickvillain
    10 May 12
    11:35 am

  50. The site’s launch day was a problem too – a bunch of ho-hum stories that would not encourage anyone to bookmark the site. A bigger splash at launch with some agenda-setting stuff would have helped.

  51. Online journo
    10 May 12
    12:26 pm

  52. There aren’t many things more entertaining for much-maligned online editors than watching journos with no digital publishing experience wade into the Web thinking they know the answers.

  53. Emmie
    10 May 12
    2:13 pm

  54. I have been a subscriber to The Global Mail since launch day – and have only ever got two newsletters in my inbox….so I’ve just forgotten about it. Also, I couldn’t tell which were the new stories when I visited the site…and which had been on the site for a while. I was expecting so much more.

  55. Katie Kangaroo
    10 May 12
    2:37 pm

  56. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians methinks; reputations alone won’t make this idea sing.

  57. AC
    10 May 12
    4:42 pm

  58. I think one big problem you have left out is subediting and the length of stories. They need to be comfortable saying “this is still a really important story, but you only need 500 words to tell it”. At the moment everything is epic and you just can’t get through a lot of the articles (and this turns you off reading more). Also, they way articles are subedited is really important and the GM seems to make some odd choices on that.

  59. Champ
    10 May 12
    5:17 pm

  60. AC is right on – I tried to get through a relatively interesting piece on Mongolia, and after getting through quite a fair chunk I scrolled down to see the 1000’s of words left and gave up! I’m interested but not that interested!
    Long form journalism only works when the topic is strong enough or the writer is interesting enough to hold you for that long (like hunter s thompson)

  61. Ant
    10 May 12
    6:24 pm

  62. The GM mobile site doesn’t even give the full title of each story which annoys the hell out of me. The first time I used it, I tried going to the full site on mobile. Big mistake. The full site isn’t usable on mobile, and unusable on a computer. I did it again today to see if it’s the same and just like last time now I can’t get the mobile site back, I worked it out after some time last time, just can’t be bothered this time. OK, I’ll give it a go. Cleared my cookies, didn’t work, cleared history too, works. Before I did this I winged it that the GM mobile address was m.theglobalmail.org – wasn’t, than I tried theglobalmail.org/mobile/ – didn’t work either. But clearing all history and cookies on my phone, I got mobile back and the address of the mobile site is theglobalmail.org/mobile/ which is what I tried already. And I’m back to the reason I haven’t used The Global Mail since the first time this happened. Which means they haven’t bothered to fix it after I contacted them about it.

  63. Browser
    10 May 12
    6:42 pm

  64. I was impressed by some of the articles that I read in the early days. However, like others, I found the sideways scrolling was annoying and difficult to skim read. I have a 23″ (58mm) screen but even that does not make it any easier to scroll to get a good idea of the physical scope of articles.

    It will be a shame if this endeavour fails, so hopefully Tim’s comments and recommendations will be heeded.

    Monica Attard is a journalist for whom I have a lot of respect and yet I did not even realise that she was involved with the site!

  65. jean cave
    10 May 12
    8:45 pm

  66. Tick Box No 3 then.This comments thread must be a shot in the arm to Global Mail.
    However ‘good’ writing isn’t just about the size or integrity of the article.
    The title has to be engaging and worthy of my time. I will share if it, if I get to the end.

  67. Anna
    10 May 12
    11:03 pm

  68. Have gone there a few times this week looking for some decent reporting / analysis on the French election results. Zip. Meanwhile, Nick Bryant’s recent piece was a gem: http://www.theglobalmail.org/f.....rself/207/ Otherwise, all very slow moving … not enough regular new content.

  69. Magpie
    11 May 12
    12:57 pm

  70. “Content or as we still say in journalist land, the stories. And i don’t mean the quantity. You finish by saying what GM has going for it is quality. Another commenter describes it as a worthy project. Quality? Worthy? Measured by what? Carol is dead right. This sort of stuff is around everywhere, but the big and exclusive stories just aren’t there and unlike normal marketing or PR campaigns, big attention grabbing stories are the only things that can bring an audience to a news site.”

    To agree with a few posters, but perhaps to disagree on the conclusion: I don’t need flashy stories.

    I like the style of story they’re doing, I want to read that stuff. But there doesn’t seem to be any reason to have such a small output. This is not earth-shattering material we’re seeing – it’s good, it’s solid, and I want to read it, but I’m not going to keep visiting the site purely in the hopes of one amazing story that’ll change my life.

    I want to get on the site and have a reasonable chance of finding something I’d like to read about, every time I go there.

    To get that, I need to find a lot more stories.

  71. Fran Barlow
    12 May 12
    7:49 am

  72. Much of the above is beyond demur, though it was the horizontal scrolling that was decisive for me. There were parts of the text I could access only by copying and pasting to Word.

    Content is king of course.

    It’s important to create a sense of community around a site like this — that’s what (moderated) comment does. If you are going to moderate (they absolutely should) it has to be speedy — up within no more than 30 minutes during business hours (basically 8am – to about 10pm AEST on the web) Perhaps people who have signed up and whose posts are accepted regularly could go through without more than string mod as a reward for observing netiquette.

  73. Juliw
    12 May 12
    8:27 pm

  74. I”d simply add- let your readers help you! (also lack of sleaze is clearly a factor:) )

  75. Tom H
    12 May 12
    9:23 pm

  76. I’ve added TGM to my bookmarks, but it won’t be there for much longer. I really liked some Bernard Lagan political writing, and Eric Ellis’ colour commentary on European locations, but often the writing feels like the transcript of a script pitched to (and rejected by) Foreign Correspondent. Aubry Belford, I’m not naming names or anything, but…you are unreadable. Without genuine news breaking, the site lacks the drawing power of The Drum, and is a more high minded but less frequently topical version of The Punch.

  77. Hack
    12 May 12
    10:31 pm

  78. Woods should have made marnie cordell of New Matilda the editor. She has balls and knows how to market her stuff. Runs the whole operation on an absolute shoestring and probably gets 4 times as many hits as TGM

  79. Rosemary von Stieglitz
    13 May 12
    7:44 am

  80. I am just an ordinary person (midwife actually) who has always read a huge amount of newspapers. I like the GM, both the idea behind it an the content. Sometimes I found the articles a bit long. But apart from that I don’t really understand why everyone is complaining.

  81. Alex White
    14 May 12
    7:39 pm

  82. Great points. I think the issue that you touch on is that media/journalism is intimately intertwined with public relations. Because Monica Attard and Graeme Wood wanted to silo off The Global Mail from the public relations media cycle, they lost access to lots of interesting stories and content.

    (more here: http://bit.ly/JypBXQ)

  83. krangsquared
    19 May 12
    5:24 am

  84. I really want this site to succeed, but they have to simplify the design of the site. Sideways scrolling? A search box that displays a black page and no Submit button? It’s a pity that such a design is inflicted on content that deserves a much larger audience. (Well at least they’re not using Flash and huge GIF files to show text, I guess)

    Annoying users with “our user interface is a pretty little snowflake that’s not like any other site you’ve used before” is not the best way to win friends. The web is swimming in content. If users can’t get it here because they have to actually try and figure out how it works – they’ll just go away and find any other sites that Google returns.

    Again to the people responsible for the UX: Don’t try to be unique. Try to be like those other sites people are currently familiar with, in terms of following common UI patterns and web conventions. You don’t need to look like Facebook or Google, but don’t make the users work to access the content. If you’re using forms, make them act like forms on other sites. Put a submit button in there, don’t take up the whole page, and allow us to select the text and change it.

    Make sure it works on some mobile devices, and give up on the side-scrolling. Just because you can do it on a newspaper doesn’t mean you should do it on the web. Or at the very least, make the scrolling obvious – I spent a few minutes wondering if my browser was the issue, as I expected a scrollbar. The L and R arrows blend in with the text so are very easy to miss.

    I can understand why they don’t have comments. Moderating these takes a lot of work. Having a system for users to vote comments up/down only works if you have a sufficient number of users who care about the content and the site.

  85. DavidSG
    25 May 12
    7:25 am

  86. I discovered GM through this analysis, so popped over to have a look.

    My laptop has 1366×768 screen. I have quite a bit of space taken by FireFox add-on bars, menu bars etc. When I clicked on an article, my mouse scroll wheel became horizontal scroll, and I cannot see the bottom part of the article at all. If I CTRL/scroll (an accepted way to magnify or shrink) it grows but won’t shrink back down again. These guys need to stop playing with themselves and learn about website useability.

    HTML-tidy flags 470 warnings on the home page.

    I enjoyed reading the analysis, BTW. Very thoughtful.

  87. Rod Bruem
    29 May 12
    5:17 pm

  88. Great free advice, stating the bleeding obvious. How about, rather than just generate more content, generate a content niche? More of the stuff you’d get from any number of soft-lefty news outlets isn’t going to swing too many eyeballs from where they are now.