FT: 'Unique users are not the only mark of web success'

The number of unique monthly visitors to news websites, the standard industry method of measuring online readership, is not always a true marker of success according to one news executive.

Ien Cheng, the publisher and managing editor of the FT.com, told the Guardian’s Changing Media Summit that the number of registered users – and the time they spend online – was more attractive to his paper’s advertisers than simple page views and monthly unique users.

“A lot of newspaper brands look at something unique users per month. But that’s a general reach number – our advertising model is about being able to offer clear growth of engagement.”

Cheng said the paper could prove that 80 to 90 per cent of viewers watched FT.com’s online videos their entirety, including any advertising.

FT.com’s most recent ABCe certificate showed it had 6.3 million unique users last September.

Cheng said the paper had misjudged its audience’s needs in making the site part paid-for. Last October the paper saw a 75 per cent rise in web traffic after allowing users to read up to 30 stories per month free of charge, with registration necessary after the first five. For any more FT.com content, the annual subscription fee is between £99 and £199.

He said: “What we had done in the past was try to split the difference and say maybe news is free or comment and analysis is free. But we were presupposing what was going to be engaging for any particular user. If you are stock market trader you might not be interested in a column and find news much more relevant; if you are a CEO of a multi-national company you might find Martin Wolf’s column more valuable.”

Gordon McLeod, president of Wall Street Journal Digital Network, which includes WSJ.com speaking on the same panel.

He said: “For us content is still the source – it’s what’s best, what’s unique about the business. But it has evolved so far from a single paid site, to where the users are and how they access information.”

McLeod said WSJ.com had launched mobile platforms across the US and was working on European versions, and had further developed its RSS feeds, as well as producing 100 videos each week.

McLeod admitted that WSJ’s stock-in-trade financial journalism did not always make for the most engaging video material, but said that following its purchase by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation last year, the paper was looking to expand its coverage into politics, sports and the arts.

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