As Online Advertising Grows, Reader Demographics Become Crucial

Advertising on the Web is growing at a very quick pace. According to a Nov. 2005 survey of 1,200 advertisers done by ad-research firm Outsell, online advertising is used by 80 percent of advertisers, and this is expected to grow to 90 percent by 2008. Outsell also found that total online marketing spending will increase 19 percent in 2006.

To accommodate this growing advertising sector, papers need to differentiate their print and Web products. Simply knowing the number of page views or unique visitors won’t be enough in the near future, if it even is now.

“It’s very important to demonstrate the quality of your audience,” says Melinda Gipson, the Newspaper Association of America’s electronic media director. Online news consumers are “better educated, have shopped the Web more and spend more online. These qualities are important to advertisers.”

Newspapers must obtain more detailed information on their online readers, which is why many are turning to demographic surveys as their online advertising grows. And some papers are undertaking these surveys on their own.

“DIY surveys are great because they can be done quickly on the fly and customized to meet a particular local advertiser’s needs,” according to Roxanne Cooper, director of sales and marketing at AAN.

Surveys done for advertisers can also be a win-win. City Pages has done two online demographic surveys, one for Scion and one for Mall of America. But the information they got didn’t just benefit the advertisers, “it was also helpful to us,” notes Anna Kruse, City Pages’ marketing director.

Other papers have taken demographic surveys into their own hands, not waiting for advertisers. The Austin Chronicle ran a simple intercept survey on its Web site about a year and a half ago “to get a general read and pulse on the online readership,” and found it helpful in many ways, says Carol Flagg, advertising director at the Chronicle.

The survey was mandatory for everyone visiting any page on the site, and it was simple: the Chronicle wanted to know the age, sex and ZIP code of its Web readers, and whether they also picked up the physical newspaper. The survey was up for 24 hours during a high-traffic period (Thursday/Friday), and about 6500 readers responded.

Best of all, the paper received no complaints or resistance. As Flagg explains, not only did the survey take only about 15 seconds to complete, but the Chronicle was forthcoming, explaining the survey’s purpose and assuring readers that their information would not be shared.

Flagg says that the Chronicle is planning a more in-depth survey for the fall, but without asking “so many questions that it’s a burden.” The Chronicle is also looking into an audited, third-party Web survey as its online advertising continues to grow. According to AAN’s Cooper, “many media buyers require recognized third-party research in order for a paper to be considered for a national buy.”

Whether done in-house or contracted out, one thing seems clear: obtaining demographic information about who is visiting your Web site is a good idea. And it’s not just for the business side. As the Poynter Institute’s Howard Fineberg explains, writers and editors “need to know their community. Understanding who reads your efforts, and who doesn’t, is vital.”

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