_driving readers online: Which? magazine

Incentivising Which? readers to go online

Web Designer before > > >

Brief/ It has been proven that the more readers interact with the Which? website, the more likely they are to continue subscribing to the print magazine. In light of falling subscriptions, what can be done to drive more readers from print to online?

There are a number of reasons readers may struggle to engage with the site. These can be as simple as readers not knowing why they should visit in the first place, or as confounding as them not understanding how to get around once they get there. Some readers simply won’t be aware of the site’s existence (despite all the occasions you mention it!) while others will question why they should visit when they already buy the magazine, wondering where the magazine ends and the site begins. Still others may have tried the site but don’t have a reason to go back.

The challenge is not only to give them a reason to visit, but to give them a reason to keep visiting and that’s as much about evolving the magazine as it is the website. Done well, the site can succeed in forging an emotional connection between the reader and the brand that could never be achieved through print alone, and readers become valuable brand evangelists who do your marketing job for you.

The easy stuff
Reminding readers what they’re missing...
Solving the first problem and improving awareness of the site is fairly straightforward. To start with, the web address needs to be given more prominence. This means the www.which.co.uk address on the top left of the cover needs to be bigger and generally the magazine should do more to make the address leap off the page (rather than blend into the design). Readers need to be continually reminded, not only of the web address, but of what they are missing by not venturing online and this needs to be done in a way that will shout out as they flick through an issue.

The most effective method of achieving this is to use iconography that can become familiar to readers and lead them by the hand to supporting articles on the site. You already point readers to related articles, especially within reviews, but these links need to be more thorough and shout more. Think about adding elements into news that drive readers to the site – ‘The Top Five stories on the Web this month’ or miniature ‘Best-buy’ roundups, with fuller details at the site – and use price-related logos in the magazine to draw attention to the fact that the best price can be found at the site. Add calls to action at the end of news stories would help drive readers to the site. So a news story about a new Sony LCD TV might include a pointer to a story at www.which.co.uk about Sony’s plans for OLED screens.

Think about introducing print articles that can have a specific web element. This works particularly well with voting and campaigning stories (see below) but there are other equally-engaging options. For example, adding a video element to stories encourages readers to go online to view the video. This could be show reports, news stories (video of Sony’s OLED screen, above) or even product testing if it lends itself to video. And add in a ‘Most Talked About’ section in the mag so that Which? can chat about the most popular consumer-related stories on the web this month, making the net a more integral part of the publication.

Taking this a stage further, consider repackaging some of your web content to make it feel new. The aim is to inspire readers. This works well with How-To articles, especially if they are hung on the back of a news story or a feature in the print mag. For example, a roundup of wood flooring in the mag could point readers to online articles such as: How to lay a perfect wood floor/ 10 tips on how to make it look professional / Laminate, engineered or solid? / The top 5 of each. Or you could come up with a list of the Top 5 Things To Do every month where the top 5 act as a taster to more thorough articles on the site. The aim is to take content you already own and tie it together into something that feels new, putting ideas into the heads of readers and giving them everything they need to get started. It also makes the website an essential part of the article.

To reinforce what readers are missing out on by not visiting the site, add a sidebar to the Contents page that lists what’s new at www.which.co.uk this month (or what’s been repackaged to look new). This element could be repeated on the website, except it would list what’s in the new edition of the print mag. It helps drive readers from one to the other, tempting casual visitors to consider the magazine.

Engaging with readers
Building a relationship that lasts
To better connect readers to the Which? brand there should be more opportunity to involve readers and make them feel part of the experience via the site. As well as driving them online, this helps build loyalty and commitment and keeps Which? in the minds of readers long after a new issue has gone on sale.

To achieve this, the website needs to feed back into the magazine much more than at present. There should be a real sense that the magazine and website are connected and part of the same experience so opportunities should be developed to feed from the site to the print mag and vice versa. For example, in the Dec 08 issue (p21) there is an appeal for money-saving tips from readers. Why not use this as an opportunity to encourage readers to visit the site by putting the best of these tips online throughout the month (as well as in a roundup in a later issue)? Now readers have a reason to check the site for extra tips and anyone who sends in their own will come back to see if theirs have been included.

Building reader interaction is a great way to connect readers to the brand so think about adding more opportunities for them to vote. This is a wonderfully simple way to encourage readers to express themselves (and can be helpful in tailoring editorial). The occasional votes that appear on the site at present (‘rate whether you’d recommend the brand to a friend’) are interesting but it would be great if there were more of these. By taking the results and putting them in the print magazine, readers who aren’t online get a sense of what they are missing out on and are further encouraged to join in and contribute. This can work out as a great way to extend an article online – for example, alongside your Christmas tree roundup: ‘Vote for your favourite tree at www.which.co.uk - and see which is the nation’s favourite’.

Building on this, the magazine could invite more reader opinions into its stories (which can then filter back into the print magazine). Like news stories on The Guardian site (and many others), why not follow reviews and news articles with space for readers to add their own views? This helps make Which? a friendlier, warmer place to be and selected comments can again feed back into the magazine.

Think about doing more to extend campaigns onto the internet and give readers a way to participate by adding their own views to the discussion. For example, what do readers think about bank charges or supermarket special offers? At the end of the print article invite their comments on the site – give them a reason to get online and engage, and feed some of these back into a future issue.

The magazine could also include long-term reader tests where readers have the opportunity to add their opinions of products via the site. In the print article, use the odd reader quote, making readers feel important and involved. Readers love to offer their opinions and this is the easiest way to engage them and build that valuable emotional connection with the brand.

Many of these suggestions involve using the print magazine to drive readers to the site where they contribute their views, whether through voting or adding their opinions to articles. Selections from this reader feedback should then appear in the magazine, either through new sections or as sidebars within existing sections. Thus, the news pages could include a sidebar of reader quotes – ‘What you’ve been talking about this month’, or a roundup of mobiles might include a sidebar – ‘What you look for in a mobile’, with reader quotes on their expectations and demands from mobiles (this is also great for making sure the magazine is reviewing products from the right perspective).

Another way to build reader loyalty, make readers feel connected to the brand and drive them to the website is to establish regular email contact with them and the more personal, the better. A regular email can give readers insight into what’s going on behind the scenes, making them feel privileged and trusted, but it can also include pointers to the website and links that ensure a visit is just a mouse-click away.

Finally, to give readers a reason to keep returning to the site, make it feel as if it’s changing all the time – rotate news stories on the home page, add more hierarchy to direct readers to different features and change the stories you lead with. Add a panel listing the top five most-viewed stories of the day. Aspire to ensure that each visit offers a new experience and make sure that readers are instantly aware that which.co.uk is more than just a reviews comparison site.

Back to basics
Making the environment more familiar
Depending how radically you want to approach the problem, you could consider redesigning the website and magazine to do a better job of linking the two. The aim should be to make the magazine feel like an integral part of the web offering so readers get a sense that if they don’t interact with the site then they’re not getting the full experience. But the two also need to work together, to feel like they’re connected entities and part of the same shared experience.

To make this work, the design and structure of the magazine and website could be more co-ordinated. The magazine and site could feature similar sections, colour-coded to improve familiarity. For example, the magazine’s current Contents page could be revamped to have more hierarchy, helping guide readers to the most relevant articles, and pulling out some of this month’s new web content. At the same time, this basic layout structure could be mimicked on the Which? home page - readers can instantly and easily find their way around because they are already familiar with this structure. Colour-coded sections on the site could repeat the colour themes used in the magazine: for example, a red theme for audio, a blue theme for kitchen appliances (or you could theme on the basis of sections – News, Reviews, How-To and Advice... or Health, Money, Leisure, Life). And sections on the site could follow those of the magazine. These techniques all help make the site easier to navigate and more familiar to readers, removing barriers to exploration.

These thoughts hinge on integrating the magazine and website to offer a more interactive experience. This approach engages readers and gives them a voice, building a connection between themselves and the brand that will endure long into the future. It also adds value and direction to the website and sets the brand on a bold and confident path.

-MARK HIGHAM