The Covid pandemic has come as a shot in the arm for digital news websites. While vernacular content gained traction in print, it has gradually pervaded the digital realm as well. Several vernacular language news websites have tightened their seat belts and are gearing up for phenomenal growth. Some websites have begun witnessing an increase in their numbers and they stand out with a high engagement rate and a low bounce rate.
Though Manorama Online, Kerala’s Malayala Manorama’s news website, has a user base of only 36 million Monthly Unique Visitors (MUVs), it is seen to have a high engagement rate of five minutes. According to data on Similarweb.com, a user, on average, visits at least 3.61 pages and has a bounce rate as low as 38.17%.
Speaking to BestMediaInfo.com, Mariam Mathew, CEO, Manorama Online, said, “We started digital 23 years ago and from that time, our vision was that digital is going to be a very important aspect of Malayala Manorama. We had decided that we are a regional player and we don’t want to get into the English market. We knew hyperlocal is our strength and it was our strategy from the beginning, even before it became a buzzword.”
Sharing insights on their strategy that has helped them record these significant figures, she said, “The entire digital strategy is customer-centric so we try to give them the format that they want as opposed to our form-fitting them. We know and understand our market and our readers. Our strategy was to be where our readers are and as they are moving to different products and technologies, we are the forerunners for these. Being a first-mover also gives us a chance to experiment. Also, it behooves us to teach the market as opposed to coming from behind and doing what others are doing,” said Mathew.
She says Manorama has witnessed a doubling of growth in the last few years and is now looking at increasing engagement. “There are only that many Malayalam readers. Now we are looking more at increasing engagement and there has been significant growth there as well,” said Mathew.
If we are to look at Hindustan Times’ Hindi website Live Hindustan, their average visit duration is more than double of their English counterpart at 2 minutes 30 seconds. The pages per visit are at 2.87, while the bounce rate is also at 48.58%.
Speaking about the strategy behind driving these numbers, Saurabh Sharma, Marketing Head, Hindustan, said, “With Covid, the news consumption went up and we ended up breaking a lot of sound barriers. We have witnessed growth every month and we have broken our own records to become the No. 1 Hindi news site in April-June last year. Our strategy is only to deliver exactly what readers want in the best way possible and that is a timely, accurate, and credible content delivery,” said Sharma.
According to Sharma, Hindustan proposes to increase their number of unique visitors to over 100 million this year from their current 70 million visitors. At least 98% of their entire traffic comes from mobile, making them a mobile-first organisation.
“As marketers, we will follow the consumers and to our advertisers, we offer a 360-degree solution to reaching out to the consumer. We don't look at the print consumer and the digital consumer differently. We would like to provide a solution wherein an advertiser is getting a credible environment using the print product, which is amplified digitally. We are the only few ones to offer a consolidated cohesive offering that straddles across mediums,” Sharma said.
Dailythanthi.com, a Tamil News website, also records a high engagement rate of three minutes, despite a total visitor base of only 4.66 million. Similarweb.com data shows that on an average, readers visit 2.97 pages per visit and it has a bounce rate of 49.50%.
"In terms of digital, our district pages are the most highly read. We have 100s of stringers across Tamil Nadu and Puducherry and so we do not just format the print stories into digital. We ensure that in digital there’s more focus on each district because people are well connected with their districts. Wherever we are, we like to know what is happening in our districts. Since our district news is high, we have good readership there. Our digital readers also spend a lot of time on our site and thus the high engagement,” said Krishna Shetty Skandraaj, Chief Operating Officer, Daily Thanthi.
Skandraaj says that as per Comscore data, they are the number one digital website in Tamil Nadu and their revenue is growing at around 32% month-on-month. “We intend to grow at the same rate this year as well,” he said.
According to Similarweb.com, Mathrubhumi.com has a total number of visits of 18.52 million, but they also have a high engagement rate of three minutes 47 seconds. A reader on an average reads 3.37 pages per visit. It also records a low bounce rate of 37. 39%.
Speaking about their strategy, Mayura Shreyams Kumar, Director, Digital Business, Mathrubhumi Group, said, “Our strategy, firstly, is to provide stories in multimedia formats. For example, telling the story in a video format, audio format and even providing infographics to make it easier for people. Currently, we plan on shifting our focus to video stories and make them in that format as well, as it is the most consumed format of storytelling. Secondly, we offer the most authentic and credible news in the regional space. Lastly, we are striving to increase consumer engagement and loyalty.”
Currently, Mathrubhumi is in the process of change and is working on providing subscription-based content. They are changing their user interface to make it more user-friendly and will also be moving to a more video-dominant format from text dominance.
“We are planning on providing premium content. The latest news would be available, but you’ll need to subscribe if you want to know more. When we have corporate giants eating up most of our revenue we also need to have our own sources of revenue,” said Kumar.
Mathrubhumi gets 79% of users from mobile devices and is a mobile-first website. However, Kumar says it is challenging to advertise on such a platform as space is restricted. While the upgrade will open more possibilities for advertisers, Kumar stresses the need to focus on content marketing.
“Especially at a time where your space is absolutely challenging, if I have a banner on mobile, I have abandoned the readability of the article. Your entire way of advertising has actually changed. People have moved on from seeing banners or pop-ups and other things that disturb your UI. It may look great on a desktop, but as we are moving into smaller devices, I think content marketing is the way to go. It is challenging to convince people to get into content marketing,” said Kumar.
While Kumar targets to grow the user base from 10 to 12 million MUVs to at least around 15 to 20 million, she speaks of the challenge of a lack of clear content copyright. “Original content from our website is instantly picked up by other websites and we do not even get the due credit for it. This also diverts our traffic,” she said.
Manorama Online is also plagued by the same issue. The competitors tend to copy good stories from Manorama’s website, sometimes without giving them due credit and even passing it off as their original content.
“At the end of the day, we see that someone who has copied our content is above our search. Our content becomes viral but people don't even realise that it is Malayala Manorama content. We hope that there will be better legal provisions to help us hold onto our copyright,” Mathew said.
Another pain point for these digital news platforms is to get people to pay for their content. Though Manorama was one of the first few news organisations to monetise their e-editions, they are yet to monetise their website.
“Right now we have an advertising-based philosophy. But to get people to pay for the content, we need to convince them that our product is good enough. People feel that news is a service and so it should be free. They don't realise that to get a credible story, there are so many journalists working behind that. We are looking at monetising options and will be doing it soon,” Mathew said.
Speaking about Hindustan’s challenge, Sharma said, “Operating in 144 districts across the country, we are a large network. Ensuring that all our assets, resources, and network is geared towards a common objective and goal has been the single biggest challenge thrown at us and I think that we overcame it better than anyone else.”