Website Review: Sydney Morning Herald www.smh.com.au

"Sydney Morning Herald tackles media online", by Greg Tingle

The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia’s most respected newspaper, boasts a most impressive website.

Established in 1995, due to demand from Fairfax readers, the website is still the number one ranked news site in Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and Hitwise Australia, attracting over 2 million viewers and delivering over 30 million pages of news and information each month.

Far from being the only news related website in Australia, what sets it apart is the quality, scope and freshness of the information, according to the Sydney Morning Herald’s Online Editor, Richard Woolridge. “The appeal and popularity of our website is obvious”, Richard says.

According to the online staffers at the Sydney Morning Herald, the website attracts an audience consisting of 70% in the 25 to 45 year old bracket, with males making up 80% of all visitors.

The website noticed a steep increase in popularity since the September 11 tragedy, with people hungry for information, and wanting an Australasian perspective on the attack.

Moya Dodd, f2’s Content Director, (Commercial), says “the website attracts a vast array of visitors. It adds layers beyond what you see in the paper – for example, interactive news polls; and multimedia resources. Events as varied as natural disasters and terrorist attacks to nude surfing at Bondi, whale sightings in the harbour, and the approaching Oscar’s, make a very measurable impact on traffic”.

Lifestyle choices are paramount in the online experience, and SMH has picked up on this. Moya Dodd explains, “sections such as Travel are strongly linked to purchasing decisions. That’s why we’ve integrated opportunities to get more information and follow through online – for example, booking a flight or hiring a car”.

It’s hard to argue with the user friendliness, also known as usability of the website. The quality and range of information is second to none, and the site complements Fairfax’s flagship newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald.

The front-page contains segments such as Breaking News, National, World, Opinion, Business, Technology, Sport, Entertainment and Multimedia.

Internet users who like to be more selective in their news can subscribe to both the free and premium news feeds, including the “f2 Network Members” area, where personalised information and updates can be selected and fine-tuned to cater for even the most eccentric tastes. The news archives span back over a decade, which allows for otherwise near-extinct articles to be purchased for as little as $1.65”.

The classifieds section also ranks amongst the most popular portions of the site, with sub-sites for Motoring (Drive.com.au), Real Estate (Domain.com.au) and Employment (MyCareer.com.au). As one may imagine, these are particularly hard-hit (in internet speak), on the weekends. It is even possible to place advertisements on the website, without having to speak to anyone or waiting on hold; as long as you are prepared to reveal your credit card details to Mr. Fairfax and friends.

For news media enthusiasts, the site contains a fully functional “News Store” where items such as detailed articles, photos, CD-ROMs and print editions of the Sydney Morning Herald and other Fairfax newspapers and magazines, can be easily purchased in a secure environment using the “f2 Wallet” feature.

Unlike many websites, there are few annoying pop-up advertisements to be found. Preferred advertising is carefully and strategically matched up to complement its surrounding content, to add value to the website, rather than to detract from it – for example, downloading IT Whitepapers from the Technology section.

Moya Dodd says, “it’s about adding to the online user experience, and we consistently achieve this”.

The Sydney Morning Herald has certainly raised the bar as far as news media websites go – if only the rest of the web developers could learn from this. Now that would be newsworthy.

At a glance:

www.smh.com.au

KEY STATISTICS:
Source: Red Sheriff, November 2001

Readership of smh.com.au
Readership: 1,502,772 unique visitors per month

Growth rate: 5% per month

Web Pages Read: 30,321,034 pages per month

User visits: 5,506,835 visits per month

Average time spent on the site: 9:10 minutes

Ave # of times each user visits: 3.66 visits/month/user

Reach: 19.79% of total Internet population

Ranking: #1 news website in Australia

References:

f2 / Sydney Morning Herald: Richard Woolridge, Online Editor and Moya Dodd, Content Director (telephone interview 25th February 2003)

Smh.com.au: online information *

Hitwise.com.au: online information (visited on 24th, 25th and 26th February 2003)

RedSheriff.com.au: (visited on 24th, 25th and 26th February 2003)

Australian Bureau of Statistics – John Struak, General Manager (interviewed on 25th February 2003)

Google.com *

*numerous days and searches performed

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