What We Learned About Online Publishing from 100 Local News Sites

November 24, 2020

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Epilocal is all about providing practical, hands-on advice and digital tools to increase revenue for small online publishers and local media.

And what better way to see the current state of online publishing than to dive in and see the nuts and bolts of a bunch of different local media websites. We recently did just that by reviewing 100 local news sites, the tools and technologies behind them, as well as how they are being used to create a sustainable digital business model.

Over the course of our online review, we saw all the great call-to-actions, the annoying pop-up modals, the compelling pitches for donations and everything in between. We put everything we learned into a short report that we are calling the 2020 Local News Digital Review.

We used the Wappalyzer Chrome extension to examine the technologies and digital tools used by the publishers and then the remainder of the review was conducted manually, including signing up for free newsletters.

The topics we focused on were:

  • Content Management Systems (CMS) – what content management systems are most popular for publishing online news sites and what managed hosting platforms are publishers using to deploy them
  • Analytics – what are the most popular analytics tools used by local media websites and small publishers
  • Email Marketing Platforms / Newsletter Strategy – what are the top tools and platforms used for email marketing automation and how are publishers using them to create and position newsletter content
  • Digital Advertising – how many small publishers are supported by digital advertising and what tools are used by those that do have digital ads
  • Memberships / Donations – how many online news websites are crafting a different experience for members, what types of digital services and exclusive content are they providing and how many are accepting online donations

You can download the full report here, but here are some of the key findings:

  • Wordpress has staying power – despite lots of new entrants in the content management space and a lot of interesting new digital publishing tools, Wordpress still dominates local media. For its core functions of creating, designing and getting content online, the familiar open-source publishing platform is a fixture at local news websites.
  • Google Analytics is a default tool – nearly every website utilized Google Analytics, which is not surprising given how powerful of a free tool it is. But there are also a wide variety of analytics tools that publishers are using to get supplemental data over and above Google Analytics in order to help their marketing and segmentation efforts.
  • Newsletters are a big opportunity for improvement – despite the growing consensus that newsletters should be a cornerstone of building audience engagement in online publishing, newsletter content and strategy still has a long way to go in practice.
  • Digital Advertising approaches essentially fall into 3 groups – these are split into Google Ads/programmatic, local ads only and ad-free. Many news sites are still publishing local ads manually in their content management systems but tools like Broadstreet and Google DFP are also very popular.
  • Most sites offer memberships or online donation options – but a smaller amount of publishers puts together a compelling value proposition that makes it clear why someone should be handing over their money to them.

Get the Full Report for Free

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