10 content marketing takeaways from The New York Times

The Gray Lady’s leaked ‘Innovation Report’ gives some insights about how it’s attempting to modernize and offers ideas about how marketers can do the same.

Like most newspapers over the last few years, The New York Times has suffered from readers’ switching from print to digital. How much so wasn’t totally clear until last month, when one of their team leaked a huge, internal “Innovation Report” document.

Every journalist should read it—it’s a revelatory document that shows great awareness about how the news media are changing and what publications are going through. It’s also of great interest to people working in content marketing and strategy.

If you haven’t got the time to get through a 97-page document, here are some key takeaways from the report, particularly if you’re working in digital marketing:

1. The value of the home page is decreasing.

The report describes how only one-third of Times readers visit the home page, and that those who do are spending less and less time on it. This is something digital marketers should understand: The first page a visitor on a company website sees may not be the home page, unless they’re searching specifically for the brand or had it bookmarked. They could easily hit a landing page such as a blog article through channels such as search, social media, or email marketing.

2. Make content evergreen.

The Times has a huge amount of archival content dating to 1851, but because it focuses so much on creating timely news and features, the editorial staff has not mined these archives to repurpose it.

Content marketers can keep pumping out new content, but what about the good stuff we created that maybe didn’t drive much traffic the first time? This is why evergreen content is great, because it’s material we can republish through different digital marketing channels, perhaps adapted to suit what’s happening in the present, such as a late-breaking news topic or important anniversary.

3. Repackage content.

The Times wants to do more with repackaging the content it has to make it more useful, relevant, and sharable for readers. It has experimented with creating content on third-party platforms, as well as republishing articles in a different format.

Content marketers know that companies want value from the time and effort they spend on creating content. This is why in customer marketing the case study is often not enough.

4. Personalize the website.

The Times has a content personalization engine in a “Recommended for You” tab, but is potentially looking to create a “follow” button that would offer ways for readers to curate their own news feeds. One can also receive alerts about new stories via text or email.

For most company websites, the social media engine wouldn’t be necessary as there isn’t generally enough content to make it worthwhile. However, marketers would certainly consider using email to inform visitors about new content.

5. Make sure content is tagged and structured.

The Times admits that it hasn’t tagged its structured data properly. That’s necessary for searching and sorting information useful for analysis and innovation. Two competitors—The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal—already use tagging to find out how readers use their websites.

Digital marketers also should think about how company blog content is being tagged. It could help your SEO.

6. Increase the reach of content.

The Times recognizes that competitors such as BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post are doing a better job of promoting content. They’ve built best practices for search and social. For example, at The Huffington Post, an article can’t be published unless it has a photo, search headline, tweet, and Facebook post. They also manage to reach 6.5 million readers by email.

7. Find social influencers.

To promote a sex trafficking article, the Times pulled together a list of relevant, influential people it felt could spread the word about it on social media. It felt that this process could be automated and turned into an internal tool, which could be used to promote stories. That can pay off. Once shared on Twitter by one of the listed influencers, it was then retweeted by Ashton Kutcher, who has 15.9 million followers.

This process is familiar to those working in PR—building relationships with journalists, bloggers, consultants, and industry analysts. Content marketers could adapt some of these techniques to get influencers to provide content, build the company brand and expand reach through their own followers.

8. Embrace user content.

The Times said user-generated content was a difficult challenge to get right. Websites such as The Huffington Post and Medium have actually become platforms, experiencing huge growth thanks to articles provided by an audience itching to get their work read. The Times said it had serious questions about the quality of such articles, which held it back from going down this road, but it then revealed there were plenty of good quality op-ed submissions sent in every day which had the potential to be published but were not, due to the restrictions of print.

Content marketers will be more concerned with using these platforms for syndication and guest blogging. Getting content up on your website with the proper promotion is all well and good, but from a PR point of view, getting exposure to potentially thousands of eyeballs with platforms such as LinkedIn and Forbes could be great for your brand.

9. Get the analytics right.

Unlike some of its competitors, the Times doesn’t regularly use data to inform decisions it makes. It says that it is missing out on an opportunity to better understand the behavior of readers, set goals, and assess progress.

A good content marketer realizes that the strategies, plans, and tactics created are only as good as the results produced. You could create the most beautiful readable content in the world, but without goals and business targets to reach, it’s not worth a dime.

10. Don’t forget about offline events.

The Times said it had an improving events operation, but it wasn’t of the standard required to meet the standing of the newspaper. It also said it had to think urgently about its event strategy, as it could be a lucrative revenue stream. Events were moving away from a total dependence on advertising and toward readers who are willing to pay.

This is basically event marketing (other names include experiential marketing and live marketing). It’s a powerful strategy that certain brands could use to encourage face-to-face contact between companies and their customers using special events such as concerts, fairs, and sporting events.

Asavin Wattanajantra is a part of the content and social media team at global digital marketing agency Metia. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn. A version of this story originally appeared on the company’s blog.

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