Why Your Web/Digital Strategy Doesn’t Work

I just got around to reading the Nieman Lab piece about the leaked innovation report by New York Times digital staff. As a web editor, this report is fascinating. If you are a journalist, editor or work on any web site, it’s really an important read.

The report outlines areas where the newspaper has failed in its digital strategy. Not too surprising that I found that many of the lessons are applicable to most organizations’ websites as well.

Here are a few things that I found relevant:

“We have a tendency to pour resources into big one-time projects…We greatly undervalue replicability.” Instead of creating tools that would save time and elevate the paper’s work as a whole, the team spends time fixing one-time problems on big projects like Snow Fall.

  • Takeaway: stop thinking about big projects and start thinking big picture. Ask your organization: what is the most common problem we have doing x on the web or social media. Pour resources into solving that problem.

The value of the homepage is decreasing. “Only a third of our readers ever visit it. And those who do visit are spending less time.” 

  • Takeaway: how much time do you spend planning your front page content and battling internal fights over homepage real estate? When was the last time you really examined your homepage analytics? Do it now. If your visitors aren’t arriving via the homepage, you are probably wasting resources on an antiquated idea of how people use your website.

“We floundered about for 15 years trying to figure out how to create a useful recipe database [because we never tagged recipes with ingredients and cooking time]…[We spent] a huge sum to retroactively structure the data.”

  • Takeaway: Every piece of content that you upload to your website is only valuable if it is find-able. The longer you delay the project of tagging and structuring your content, the more retroactive work you will have to do later. This chart can help jump start that conversation.

There are about 14.7 million articles in the Times’ archives dating back to 1851. The Times needs to do a better job of resurfacing archival content.

  • Takeaway: Just like my takeaway above, your content is only valuable if people can find it. An article posted 5 years ago could still be relevant today, but no one is going to search through your archives to find it. Create a strategy on identifying evergreen content and AGGREGATING related content.

One percent of NY Times readers write comments. Three percent read comments. 

  • Takeaway: This can mean one of two things: 1) no one cares about your articles enough to comment on them. 2) [and much more likely] people are commenting about your content but not on your website. Do you know where those conversations are happening? Are you reading those comments? Do you respond to them?

“We’ve abdicated completely the role of strategy…We just don’t do strategy.” The report also claims no one has time for big picture thinking let alone strategy.

  • Takeaway: How familiar does this sound? The answer to this one isn’t easy but a few ideas: 1) don’t overload your staff who are good at strategy with daily deadline-based work; 2) get out of the office and spend time talking strategy (but don’t forget to also develop an implementation plan) and 3) encourage staff to participate in professional development outside of your office.

Back to the subject line of the post: why does your web and digital strategy not work? It’s because you don’t have one. Use my takeaways, read the Nieman excerpts, or read the full report and start thinking (and implementing) strategy. Your website will thank you.

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About Stephanie Y.

I'm a professional news writer in Frederick, Maryland. I blog at S.Y. Ciphers.

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