7 Ways Local News Sites Can Grow Their Digital Audiences

Share this:

Crowd of people at the street, city center

People are consuming more news than ever, but most local publications still aren’t getting the traction that larger, national news outlets are experiencing. According to a recent paper by Shorenstein Center fellow Matthew Hindman, local news organizations attract just 0.5% of all web traffic, and 85% of the traffic going to news sites heads directly to national publications. The solution to this problem, according to Hindman, is for local publications to make their websites “stickier” through a mix of improved technical experiences and more strategic content considerations.

“Creating a ‘sticky’ hyperlocal news site is certainly something that publishers need to work toward,” says Bryan Marovich, founder, publisher and editor of the Newport Dispatch. “Site design plays a large part in keeping readers from leaving after reading an article, but there are some things that any site, on any platform, can do to increase the amount of time visitors stay.”

Here are seven strategies that hyperlocal publications are using to make their websites sticker, in the hopes of attracting and retaining a larger base of readers.

1. Keep an eye on analytics. “Most analytics tools will register ‘pages per session,’ and ‘average session duration.’ When trying new things out, these statistics can help publishers fine tune any new campaigns they run to increase the overall time readers spend at their site, and find out what works.” (Bryan Marovich, Newport Dispatch)

2. Deliver the unexpected. “A good user experience for a daily online community news reader isn’t scheduled content such as through a standing feature — it’s a story or tidbit of local news that is interesting in that it is unexpected. That often means the content is share-able, a talker — and I think tone of presentation is as important as story choice here.” (Michael Dinan, New Canaanite)

3. Offer more content after each article. “The easiest way to keep a visitor at the site is to offer them something else to read, look at, or listen to after a post. Basically, the key is to offer more content after each article. What I have noticed is that the best content to place after an article is not ‘related content,’ as some theme settings allow. I have found it is much better to have the ‘most recent’ content placed below all articles. The problem with related content, at least for a news site, is that it is usually dated. You want visitors to be able to scan the latest headlines every time they enter the site, at the homepage, or through a shared link to an article, and feel like they know what is going on.” (Bryan Marovich, Newport Dispatch)

4. Have an active commenting community. “The number one way we’ve found for keeping readers engaged is by having an active commenting community. Not just lots of comments, but a community of regular local commenters. As great as our news content is, what readers typically talk with me about when I meet them is their views on the comments and even on individual commenters. Love them or hate them, it seems that almost everyone reads the comments. We’ve seen a sharp uptick in our Reston traffic as of late which in part seems to correspond with an increase in commenting activity. Comments come organically over time, when you publish consistently engaging content, and there’s not really anything you can do to force it to happen. Writing ‘tell us what you think in the comments’ does nothing.” (Scott Brodbeck, ARLnow)

5. Offer more multimedia. “Since we are not printing anything, we can post as many photos as we want. Visitors will spend extra time at a site if we offer them something more to look at or listen to. I try to balance out our coverage to include some stories that are multimedia heavy. Even a couple each week will help. Video is also a good way to offer more to a story, even if it is just some clips edited together.” (Bryan Marovich, Newport Dispatch)

6. Report on the topics readers care about. “It’s all about the basics: instantaneous urgent news, utility, pictures, quality of user experience — especially on mobile — relevance, reliability, quantity of content, recirculation, e-blasts, plus a soupcon of surprise. Virtually 100% of our users live in our towns, so we must treat them all with respect. The top topics include weather, traffic, breaking news, neighbors, real estate, events, shopping, eating, health.” (Carll Tucker, Daily Voice)

7. Build a responsive site. “In terms of specific technical things we’re doing to maintain and encourage engagement, we are currently building out a mobile-responsive site. I’ve resisted it up until now because of the expense and the dubious return on investment — we’ll have fewer ad positions on mobile. But the mobile/desktop split continues to trend towards mobile and this will make it easier for readers to engage with our content on mobile, without having to do lots of pinching and zooming.” (Scott Brodbeck, ARLnow)

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.