We don’t know what Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal will tell us (we’re guessing there may be some Wall Street news) but we do know what Tuesday’s WSJ.com will look like: A lot like Monday’s WSJ.com, but easier to look at.
The Journal plans to relaunch its Web site after a six-month overhaul Tuesday, and they’ve given us a brief preview. We didn’t actually get to play with it ourselves: We just gazed at it while WSJ.com Executive Editor Alan Murray and WSJ Digital Network President Gordon McLeod moused their way through the site for us. But we can tell you that it seems like a pleasant enough makeover for longtime WSJ.com readers: There’s more of an effort to integrate other Dow Jones properties like MarketWatch and Barron’s, and a new “Community” feature that will let WSJ.com subs chat amongst themselves and with the paper’s staff. But nothing radically different.
In any event, WSJ.com’s overhaul isn’t really aimed at the site’s one million subs: It’s designed to capitalise on the growing number of non-subscribers who visit the site (the redesign began last winter, after new owner Rupert Murdoch decided not to drop WSJ.com’s pay wall). Non-subscribers will get a home page with an entirely different mix of stories, emphasising general news, opinion pieces, style stories, etc — the kind of stuff that non-subscribers can read for free. The more specialised stuff the Journal is known for — actual business news and proprietary coverage — will be more clearly sectioned off, and marked with a little “key” icon.
Like all redesigns, we expect to hear lots of carping from readers when they get exposed to the new look, because that’s generally what readers do when their favourite pubs get changed. Then we imagine they’ll get over it, and forget what the old design ever looked like.
The bigger question for Gordon and Alan is how non-readers — those who come in from the site’s “side doors” — respond. About 60% of WSJ.com readers never see the home page, because they’ve been referred there by some other site — most likely Yahoo or Google, Alan says. The trick is getting those readers to stick around a bit longer each time they come, by making the site easier to navigate, teasing them with other interesting stories, etc.
So far, that hasn’t been happening: While August uniques and pageviews were up 63% and 15% respectively, the number of pageviews per visitor has been steadily declining through the spring. In March, WSJ.com was getting 11 page views per monthly visitor; by last month that number had shrunk to 8.95. If you want to get a real handle on how the Journal’s overhaul has worked, pay attention to those numbers, and take another peek in a few months.
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