Beating the Summer 'Net Doldrums

By: Steve Outing I'll admit it. I'd rather be out playing golf on this beautiful July day in Colorado than sitting at this computer. Even though I enjoy my column-writing duties, summer weather just isn't conducive to work -- or spending time using the Internet.

A lot of folks feel that way, which is why Web news sites typically experience a leveling off or drop in traffic during the summer months. Not that the Internet is so different in this regard than other media; there's a good reason the television industry invented "summer re-runs."

Even new media news professionals -- who make their livings by devising online content that will keep people at their computers and off the golf courses -- admit to summer fatique. Kathy Keith, new media director of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers' Association, wrote me a note recently saying, "I have, at times, wished someone would pull the plug so that I could enjoy a summer day or spend more time reading." Amen to that. I'll bet most new media pioneers have fretted at one time or another over the demands and information overload that the Internet presents us. (Of course, we all come back to our senses quickly; we are, after all, "evangelists" imploring consumers to jump on board the online bandwagon.)

If even we industry professionals occasionally get burned out on spending time online, think how often that's going to occur with everyday consumers. (There's an interesting discussion about this topic taking place currently on the Online-News Internet list.)

With the warmth of summer in mind, here are some suggestions for attracting users to your Web site when they might be thinking more about sitting on the beach than in the office chair in front of their computer.

Summer guide fun had the right idea. Last week, it launched a content-rich Visitors' Guide to the Washington, D.C., region. News sites need to offer this kind of local information about things to do in the summer. Not to do so is to cede meeting this clear consumer need to competing city guide sites like Microsoft Sidewalk.

For instance, I was interested recently in finding mountain golf courses in the Colorado Rockies. I easily found the information that I needed on Denver Sidewalk, yet I couldn't find as complete information (such as greens fees) at either of Denver's major newspapers' Web sites. The lesson: Offer content appropriate to the season. If you don't do it, a competitor will.

E-mail it

Call it a pet peeve of mine, but I believe news Web sites need to offer more e-mail content services. Denver Sidewalk, for instance, offers e-mail "newsletters" about various summer activities, sent weekly. News sites should offer similar e-mail services alerting users to summer activities. Consider an e-mail newsletter about upcoming concerts; featured hiking or biking trails; summer festivals; weekly summer gardening tips; etc.

E-mail is always an important Web site traffic booster, but especially so in the summer when people are less inclined to dial up the Internet. Even if you're less likely to surf the Web when the weather's sunny, you very likely will check your e-mail once a day or once a week if you can sign up for an e-mail service that delivers information that's important to you. E-mail is the lowest common denominator of Internet usage; during the lazy days of summer, it well might be the only link you have to some online users.

Affinity groups

While visits to Web sites to read news are likely to drop off during nice weather, participation in affinity groups that are important to people tend to continue. That's why hosting discussion forums about narrow topics and allowing members of community groups to converse online within the framework of your Web site is an important component. When an online group is important to people -- say, a new parents discussion forum -- they'll continue to check in on the conversation even when other online activities fall away because of more appealing off-line summer activities.


Summer is a great time to crank up online contests. They're an additional enticement to check out a news Web site when a consumer otherwise might forego it. To hark back to the e-mail advice above, consider creating a "newsletter" that alerts people to a new contest starting and instructs them how to enter on the Web. Contests can be done in concert with summer-appropriate advertisers, like outdoor amusement parks or summer tourist attractions.

Give in to the heat

While there are some things you can do to entice people to the Web, there's also something of an argument for giving in to the lower summer traffic. In my recent reporting, I've periodically heard about newly developed news site projects that are ready to go but being held off for formal launch till September. Summer is actually a good time to "soft launch" a new service, letting those still online try out a preview or beta version of the service; working out the kinks; then launching a full-fledged promotional campaign when more people are cranking up their online activity again in the fall.

Summer also is a good time to create and stockpile new online content that you plan to roll out when the weather turns cooler. Keep your staff working hard on creating new content, but don't debut it till you know your audience is back from vacation.


Here's a wild idea. Borrow from your TV friends and promote content that you've run in the past. A special feature that was launched last winter, if still timely, can be re-launched with a new round of promotion. I wouldn't go crazy with this idea, but for certains types of content a second round of Web promotion isn't a bad thing.

Get off-line and party

Feeling like you're part of a group is the reason many people are frequent online users. During the summer months, consider hosting in-person social gatherings for your Web users. And print up t-shirts with the Web site logo to give out free or sell at a low cost. It will get people feeling like they "belong," and thus they'll be more likely to get online with you.

Summer also is a great time to co-sponsor events to get your Web site's name out there and remind people about it. If you're not doing it already, get your Web site banner up at summer festivals, concerts, baseball games, etc. This is the time of year when you most need to remind people to take some time away from the golf course and the pool and get online.

As for me, I could use a short break from this online stuff. Now, where did I put those golf clubs?

NAA newslinks page live

The Newspaper Association of America on Monday will officially launch its Web site, which is a consumer service designed to direct online users to newspaper Web services. What's online now is the first iteration of the site, which will be expanded to include search capabilities and more aggregated links (such as newspaper city guide sites), according to NAA vice president of new media Randy Bennett.

The site covers only U.S. newspapers' Web sites, which can be found by clicking on a U.S. map or typing in a city name and state. It also includes a weekly feature that highlights important online newspaper content. (This feature is a scaled-way-back version of what New Century Network's old Newsworks newspaper Web site article aggregation and search service did.) There's also a link to NAA's RealFind classifieds service, which provides links directly to newspaper sites' Web classifieds sections. Bennett says RealFind is undergoing a revamping which should debut in a couple weeks. has already gotten some good visibility by being featured prominently on USA Today Online's States page. The NAA is encouraging newspaper sites to link to or to co-brand it on their own sites.

Contact: Randy Bennett,


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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