What charities can learn from MailOnline

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that the MailOnline website has been an extraordinary success.

Its now-legendary “sidebar of shame” and focus on the minutiae of celebrities’ lives may not be to everyone’s taste, but it is now the most read English language newspaper website in the world.

Martin Clarke
Martin Clarke: audience-driven insights

And it’s achieved this success by being audience-focused in a way that I think the charity sector can learn from.

At the moment I’m reading Mail Men by Adrian Addison, a history of the Daily Mail that contains some fascinating insights from Mail Online publisher Martin Clarke that I thoguth would be worth sharing.

Audience-driven websites

He says:

“You have to kinda let go a bit and empower the readers and let them define your product rather than you saying ‘Right, this is what I – as an editor – think the product needs to be and these are the stories I’m gonna print’ and, you know, you can kinda like it or lump it’.

“We let the readers decide what they’re interested in, that’s why MailOnline is so sticky and why it’s addictive and why people love it so much.”

Lesson for charities:

We in the sector shouldn’t be chasing clicks like the Mail. But we absolutely should have constructed and be constantly refining a view of the sort of content our audiences are interested in, based on web analytics. And we should be using this to inform all our new content.

So it’s not about unthinkingly creating the website that your audience most wants to see. But, equally, if you can’t easily identify changes you’ve made to your online approach as a direct result of website analytics, then you’re not using them enough.

Data-driven story placing

He says:

“When you land on that page, the stories that you see are the ones that we think you’re gonna read – and we know you’re gonna read them because we’re looking at what everyone in the last five minutes has read.

“And it’s a good bet that if everyone else has read stories one, two and three – then you’re probably gonna read stories one, two and three.”

Lesson for charities

Whether or not it’s news-style content, it’s worth keeping a close eye on what’s doing well and what’s not.

Make sure the content that, unless there’s a really good reason not to, the content you’re giving prominence to is the content that your data tells you is the most engaging.

Data-informed editing

He says:

“If there’s a big important story there that you think people should be reading and they’re not reading – I then I always tell my people then, that’s our fault. If they’re not reading that story that they should be reading, it’s because you’ve sold it wrong – you’ve got the wrong headline, you’ve got the wrong picture. Or whatever.”

Lesson for charities:

When charity website content doesn’t do well, it’s tempting to dismiss it as being something that’s important but that was never going to have mass appeal. And sometimes that’s true.

But it’s always worth trying to change it and seeing if that makes a difference. Experimenting with content and see if it makes a difference in real time – sticking with what works and scrapping what doesn’t – will both improve individual pieces of content and also lead to a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

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