The New York Times Co. is redesigning its registration form for NYTimes.com as part of a major overhaul of one of the most popular news sites on the Internet.
Taking a cue from direct marketers, the newspaper publisher hopes that getting to know its online readers better will also pay off for advertisers seeking a more targeted audience.
“It's much more traditional direct response,” said Martin A. Nisenholtz, CEO of New York Times Digital. “We see this, in a very large part, as a database-driven medium and always have, and so we're capturing more and more data.”
The data-capture process on NYTimes.com has remained relatively unchanged since the site went live in January 1996. Registrants furnish name, age, income, ZIP code, gender and e-mail address.
But starting next month, first-time users of NYTimes.com also will have to complete fields asking what industry they are in and whether they are responsible for buying technology or other products.
At a later date, the user may be asked whether he is a frequent traveler, the number of trips taken, whether for business or leisure and whether he is a homeowner.
Nisenholtz said the collected data will be used only on an aggregate basis.
“We're not going to develop a situation where we're selling data about individual users,” he said. “We're very attuned to privacy, and we have all of the privacy policies that we need to have in place. But, in aggregate, advertisers must know.”
The Times claims its business model, from the outset, has been based on a customer contact or a registration contact, not just on undifferentiated eyeballs to a Web site.
“The way we use it today is to use that data in some general way to differentiate our advertiser proposition, that's step one,” Nisenholtz said.
“Step two, now that we've gotten to a sufficient scale, it's really beginning to incorporate better, more reliable data types into the registration forms,” he said. “And perhaps more interesting is the notion of using our registration database as a way to begin to upsell our customers on additional products.”
To date, NYTimes.com has attracted 17 million registered users, 10 million of whom are frequent visitors. More than 2 million of those registered users are in the New York metropolitan area.
NYTimes.com recorded 6.76 million unique visitors in May, up 135.8 percent from the same period last year. Its e-mail newsletter containing advertiser news itself is attracting 50,000 registrants a month, the company claims.
Since its launch, NYTimes.com has gone from a complete dependency on display or banner advertising to one where 25 percent of revenue is from classifieds, 7 percent to 8 percent from e-mail ads, another chunk from syndication of content and around 50 percent from banner ads.
“Which is not too far off the mark from where we want to be over time,” Nisenholtz said. “The fact is that display advertising is still a very good business, and as the metrics come into place, it'll get much better.”
Gathering more comprehensive registration data for targeted advertising and upsells, though key to the Times' efforts to prod its Web site toward profitability, is one of many changes afoot at NYTimes.com.
Last week the real estate section on the site was improved. The section now offers easy-to-use listings, floor maps of properties up for sale, links to brokers' Web sites and a more powerful search function.
In September, the site will boast an enhanced search facility that makes better use of NYTimes.com. This beefed-up search ability also will allow the publisher to fashion products for sale from its online database.
Also in development is a member center that allows registered users to post their resumes and manipulate their profiles on the site. Users will be able to subscribe to various products.
To build closer ties with readers, the Times plans to allow new registrants to post their resumes while they are registering to gain access to NYTimes.com.
The latest tweaks follow the introduction of new, more in-your-face pop-up ads and a first-quarter overhaul of the navigation on the home page.
For instance, the classified tabs for jobs, personals and real estate were brought to the top of the left-hand navigation panel, even above the news departments. The panel will appear consistently on every page.
Moreover, the look of the home page was changed. News department tabs on the navigation panel were made smaller, while the departments and headlines were made larger and more visible just below the first screen scroll.
“It gives greater ability to go from one area to the next, more so than they had previously,” said Jason Krebs, vice president of sales at NYTimes.com. “Naturally it helps in advertising and serving our clients better because you can track and really see how people are using the Web site best.
“Then we'll tie all that in with the registration information, because we'll know the types of people, what they do offline in their traditional lines of business and what areas of the site are they looking at,” Krebs said.