Good media coverage is still a key objective for most communicators. One way to maximize the odds of better coverage is to make it easier for reporters to find the information they want in your website.
Most reporters these days use the web as their most important search tool. Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen conducted a series of studies on media use of the web to access corporate information. He found that most journalists start their research by using Google and other Web-based services such as Dow-Jones Interactive and Lexis-Nexis. Having done the external checking, they come inside to your organization’s website.
Media page in websites
Image below: the “Media and insights” web page of mining giant BHP. Notice how simple and clear the layout is.
Reporters are always under deadline pressure and don’t have time to get bogged down on your home page. They need a clearly identified “Media” or “Press” or “Newsroom” section. (Sometimes it’s an “Investor relations” page. Post copies of White Papers and CEO speeches as well as media announcements by your organization.
But don’t think reporters will take your information at face value. Most in the Nielsen study said they only refer to media releases and other media-related information to find out how the organization is trying to position itself. Then they will go to third parties. If the media are interested in more depth of information about your corporation they will then want to go to external sources to see how the outside world refers to your organization and its products, including chatroom and blog comments.
In view of this, it is important for you to link to external sources from your website. Link to recent media coverage of your organization. Potential retail and business customers also tend to do this, so the effort is well worthwhile.
The five top reasons reporters gave for visiting organizational websites are to:
- Locate a PR contact (name and telephone number – they don’t want to waste time waiting for you to reply to their emails)
- Find basic facts about the organization (such as spelling of a senior manager’s name, headquarters location, staff numbers and annual revenue). Also many organizations are commonly known by their trading name, which means reporters need to verify the proper name of the organization as notified to the stock exchange etc.
- Perceive the organization’s stance on issues
- Check financial information
- Download images to accompany their stories (Notice how BHP have included a helpful “Image gallery” in their above web page.)
Notice that seeking your media releases isn’t one of their top five stated reasons for visiting your website!
“Contact us” page
BHP’s “Contact us” page, below. The company just shows its single Global Headquarters telephone number and requires callers to click on the reason for their contact and to fill in an online form to give details about the nature of the contact as well as their own contact information.
Nielsen conducted some eye tracking of reporters viewing corporate pages and found, predictably, that the user’s eyes went to the headings, subheads and bullet points. Their gaze skipped over introductory text and lengthy paragraphs.
The lesson from this is to write headings and subheads so that readers can understand the message at first glance. Try to get the keywords into the first half of each heading and subhead because quite often the reader’s eyes will only glance at the beginning of the line. Their eyes will tend to follow an ‘F’ shape as they start top left on the page and read the headline before moving left to read subheadings.
Red and yellow areas show where eyes of readers focus most in eyetracking studies.
Overall, reporters look for key facts, so don’t indulge in marketing hype and eye-glazing filler; it just gets in the way. Journalists can sniff out that sort of thing at 40 paces and will just ignore it.
Finally, ensure you have media contacts available 24 hours a day, especially in international operations that cross time zones. If reporters find it difficult to get hold of a contact person, their frustration will color their whole perception of your organization.
Nielsen said that four trends have become apparent over time:
- Websites are generally better designed than in the past, especially the improvement in being able to find a contact person.
- Increasing search dominance. In the past, reporters started as much at the corporate website as search engines. These days they usually go first to a search engine.
- Journalists’ computers are improving. Their technology is more reliable, although Nielsen still recommends avoiding the use of pdf’s for releases.
- Greater use of multimedia. However, journalists complain that multimedia content tends to be more difficult to use and contains too much superficial information.
Rather than focusing your resources on sending messages outwards, focus more on improving your website accessibility for inward traffic from media.
Source: www.useit.com: “Press area usability”