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8 Ways to Create a Vibrant website

Is your website a little tired? Does your team still treat it as an afterthought, only to be updated during downtime between print production schedules? If so, you shouldn’t be too surprised when your readers struggle to find you, and when having found you, they don’t hang around too long. But it needn’t be this way! Sophia Dempsey has some advice on how to perk up your online offering.

By Sophia Dempsey

It is a familiar scenario. You work on a successful magazine, which is maintaining its circulation and advertising revenue, but you recognise the need to evolve with market conditions and your readers by extending your brand onto the web. More than half of UK households (Source: Ofcom) are now using broadband to access the web and this means that a high proportion of your current and prospective readers are currently surfing online looking to research, learn, get entertainment and purchase products.

The financial prize is high. The advertising market in 2006 was worth £8.75 billion, of which over 10% was online, with growth of 45% year-on-year (Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers, Jan–June 2006). And this of course does not include the growing revenue coming in from these other channels, such as magazine subscription sales and affiliate deals.

However, all this is probably familiar to you. It is likely that you have already launched a website to get your business online. The question is, are you effectively communicating your message and reaping the financial rewards? Today, the internet hosts over 100 million websites and just launching a basic website reflecting your magazine is not enough. Online users are more demanding and want to get involved.

Here at IPC Media, I have managed the planning, launch and ongoing development of a new shooting portal, (launched last July), which brought together two existing websites and launched two others within an umbrella portal. One of our key aims was to make the sites interactive and vibrant: in this article I’d like to suggest some ways to help you achieve the same on your sites.

1. Start with a plan

Like any good magazine, a vibrant website will only be created if a clear strategy has been followed. Knowing why you are building the website is key to making it cost effective for your business and useful to the user. As for any new product; research the audience, identify the reason you want users to visit your site and make a forecast of how many visitors you hope to get and how you are going to keep them coming back. Once you have identified why you are building the site and how you believe it will drive revenue, then work closely with your teams to reflect your plan as you build your site.

It is always very important to get your editorial team on board with the new website for their product. Only by tapping into their knowledge and enthusiasm can you build a useful, fresh and alluring website and make sure it is regularly updated.

2. Your website as an extension of your brand

When you are developing your website, don’t think of it in terms of "the website". Your site is your brand’s ambassador on the web and needs soul! Start thinking of your magazine in terms of a brand and your website as a brand extension in the same way as events or one-shots. By making sure that you keep a link to the design and editorial ethos of your magazine, you will bring your brand to life and allow visitors to experience their favourite magazine in a vibrant new environment, especially key if they do not currently buy your magazine or live in the UK. Promote this way of thinking within your brand team to encourage people to think in terms of multi-platform coverage. For example, a breaking news story can be put online immediately followed by an in depth feature in the print magazine and further discussion in blogs or forums.

3. Usability and design

The most important way to get your visitors using and moving around your site is to make it as user friendly as possible. In fact, websites which have been designed badly with no site map or clear navigation are penalised by Google in their search rankings, so there is an additional reason to focus on the usability of your site. Clear layout and navigation will allow you to engage with your visitor, and give them a positive rather than frustrating experience. Must-haves for improving navigation include integrating search functionality and tagging, including a site map and creating highly visible navigation bars and simple icons to smoothly guide the visitor from page to page. Search engines will lead people to your site in ways you don’t expect, so treat every page as a home page - use clearly highlighted sections and markers to point visitors around your site. A couple of sites that excel in this are and

4. Always keep your site fresh

In order to keep your visitors returning to your site, it is important to keep content fresh. The internet is viewed as the place to go for up-to-date information. Look at the USPs for your brand to see what you could mould to the faster moving pace of the web. On Sporting Gun magazine, for example, the editorial team receives news and press releases which do not match their longer deadlines and these have now been reported on the web between issue dates (see

It does require more commitment to keep updating your site with new content from news, features or marketing. Make sure you have a content strategy forecasting how much content you will be putting up on your site, how regularly and who will be doing it. Aim to involve your editorial team in the planning stages, and try to make the updating procedure as easy as possible.

Another easy way to keep the site fresh is to rotate current content on the home page and throughout your site, giving you an opportunity to share current information on what’s going on in your brands.

5. Reader involvement – User Generated Content (UGC)

This term is probably the most used phrase in web meetings at the moment and it is worth getting your site on the bandwagon! Time magazine provided a great example of the importance of the user in today’s media environment. Its 2006 Person of the Year was "you", meaning all of the people who contribute to user generated media such as YouTube and Wikipedia. To create a vibrant website (and another way to keep it fresh), tap into UGC. It is a fantastic (and often cheap) way of bringing your brand to life by actively involving your readers in producing and commenting on editorial and enabling them to reach each other. Across the IPC websites, we have found that forums and picture galleries have produced considerable uplifts in page impressions and reader involvement. What else can you do? UGC can mean anything from setting up a simple opinion poll to blogs, providing comment facilities on articles, picture and video galleries and, of course, forums. One important element to note though is the need for some sort of monitoring and moderation of posts.

6. The virtuous circle – tap into your resources

As mentioned above, launching a website incorporating user generated content is a great way to keep the content fresh on your site and create a vibrant community. To reiterate though, it often makes sense to package your website and magazine(s) together for mutual benefit. It is a common strategy for magazines with established websites to bring web content, such as discussion boards and poll results, into the magazine and equally to signpost web hosted interviews, instruction films and forums to push readers onto the website to view extra content.

Another idea already used online is to make your magazine interviews into richer media by creating podcasts or even films of the interview. Some extra media training for journalists might be needed, but you will be paid back in terms of page impressions.

This circle of movement allows for a new type of content in print and brings new readers to the magazine as well as the website.

You could also think about bringing connected brands together under one portal. Building a website which acts as a content aggregator, pulling from several titles, quickly builds up a lot of fresh content for your site and makes it a one-stop-shop for your user. This could even create a new brand for your business and a new channel of revenue; for example or

7. The web is a different animal

People read content online in a very different way to reading a magazine. While readers of print material are passive, web users are active readers. They like to engage with copy and if they don't instantly find the information they need, they'll look for it elsewhere. To avoid losing traffic this way, it's essential to cater to the distinct needs of the web user. To summarise, in extensive research by Dr Jakob Nielsen, it was found that users only scan the web, prefer to read only short copy, respond well to clear succinct signposting and are very impatient (of slow downloading images etc). With this in mind, the editorial on your site should focus on shorter functional copy, eye-catching and meaningful headlines plus a greater emphasis on ease of use and navigation.

8. Market your website

You can create the best website in the world following all the current guidelines, but unless you have visitors your website may as well not exist. The more visitors and movement around your site, the more vibrant your website will become.

It is not possible to cover this subject extensively here, but there are some general tips which are worth highlighting. Firstly, if you focus on optimising your site for search engines (SEO), you can attract visitors through natural search without having to pay for costly paid search (PPC) campaigns. This might involve more planning investment initially but it will be worth it in the long term. Secondly, it is worth noting that online marketing is much more accountable than traditional media and, as such, PPC and email campaigns can be done on a tightly controlled budget with results which can be fully analysed and acted upon. Finally, don’t forget to use your successful print brands to market your site through house advertisements and also plugs throughout the magazine, following articles to push people online.

There is so much to take in and I have really only touched the tip of the iceberg, but to summarise: spend time planning your website, design it to reflect your brand, get your teams enthused early in the process and give your readers lots of opportunity to interact. All this should result in a vibrant website to be proud of.