The Omaha World-Herald builds its digital audience with targeted sites
By Sean O'Leary
People don’t seem to use the front door anymore.
The way readers consume news online has changed dramatically the past few years, due in large part to the increased influence of social media. Readers are now less likely to type in a newspaper’s homepage and scroll, instead searching out for articles via Twitter or Google on specific topics, such as sports or food.
Recently, newspaper sites have taken advantage of this new approach by creating niche sites and blogs devoted to special interests, such as the Elkhart Truth’s Flavor 574 or the new beer blog at The Dallas Morning News.
At the Omaha World-Herald, bringing in readers to these targeted sites is nothing new. According to Jeff Carney, corporate director/digital content development, BH Media Group, the newspaper has operated sites devoted to areas like high school sports, the outdoors and parenting for more than three years.
“There’s no doubt that Omaha.com is still the flagship in Nebraska,” Carney explained. “But we saw an opportunity to make an impact in other verticals across the state. Web traffic has grown in the last three years and we expect it to continue.”
Arguably the media group’s biggest success has come from its site devoted to high school sports, NE Prep Zone. The content on the site is provided by five of BH Media Group’s Nebraska newspapers as well as Norfolk Daily News.
“It’s not a surprise that here in Nebraska, people really like their football,” Carney said, punctuated with a laugh. “And they really like their high school football. So we’ve rolled all of our resources from across the state in terms of prep coverage and consolidated it all in one place.”
The exhaustive coverage currently includes team previews for high school football teams and will feature results, game stories and recruiting coverage throughout the season. The site has been so successful that Carney shared the company is investigating implementing something similar elsewhere.
“Right now, we’re asking ourselves, ‘Would this work in Virginia?’” he said. “We see the success we’ve had here in Nebraska, thanks to Big Red and the Cornhuskers, but there are certainly big-time college teams and high school sports in Virginia. Is this something we can recreate for our properties there?”
As Carney discussed the potential for Virginia, he explained one of the biggest challenges associated with getting a special interest site off the ground and turning it into a success.
“You really need to figure out what the audience is interested in before you get started,” he said. “If there’s a market for it, then the next step is to ensure everyone is on board. These are collaborative sites that require a lot of effort.”
At BH Media Group, the initial development of these sites came after extensive research into traffic patterns on Omaha.com. To find an interest that could potentially be viable, the company would have to find a vertical that was delivering a strong audience as well as featured the ability to draw in advertisers.
“We launched GoOutdoorsNE.com, which is a private/public partnership between the Omaha World-Herald and Nebraska Game and Parks, which is the state outdoor agency,” said Carney. “We’re able to take that bigger audience from the partnership and match it with the great content we produce, and it’s turned into a real strong presence for us.”
In a similar vein, the company’s wellness portal, LiveWellNebraska.com, is sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska.
“These partnerships can be delicate but we established clear rules of engagement for how we present content on the site,” shared Careny. “We provide quality journalism on these sites and our sponsors received added exposure.”
The back-end maintenance of these sites were enhanced in June when the Omaha World-Herald sites launched on TownNews.com’s content management solutions. The updated CMS allowed for easier navigation, improved content sharing between sites and increase SEO credit for the original publishers of content.
The BH Media Group, which is comprised of 70 newspapers in 10 states, currently operates four targeted sites in Nebraska, but there is always room for more.
“We are always looking at opportunities to enhance what we’re doing,” said Carney. “There are plenty of verticals out there that could fit into our strategy. That’s the key with digital properties, is to remain looking forward. Especially with the increase of mobile readership, we could open up a whole new range of opportunities.”
First Published: August 13, 2014