While 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?
6. 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.