Most radio stations have a website, but many fall short of the mark when it comes to enhancing the brand of the radio station. There are lots of websites that are little more than a glorified brochure. Many radio companies have poured a lot of resources and money into their websites as they try to build a presence on the World Wide Web, but see very little return on their investment. The average US station is generating about 4% of their revenue from the web based on data from the RAB, but I know of one radio group who view their website as the “13th month of the year” and they are closing in on generating the equivalent of a month’s local radio revenue annually. Jeff Haley, the outgoing President of the RAB, was always buoyant about radio’s opportunity to generate digital revenue, “Driven by Radio’s mobility, local appeal and scale, broadcasters are finding more and more ways to generate the interactive experience expected in today’s marketplace.” I recently sat down with the CEO of a company who has built hundreds of websites for radio stations to get his take on how to build and operate a successful radio station website. The company is called Envisionwise and we spoke to the company President, RD Miller.
What are the key drivers that bring people to a radio station website?
Content people cannot find anywhere else, and content that is of interest to them. We believe that radio stations should start by finding out what their listeners want on the radio station website, and then build a site that focuses on presenting this content in a logical and easy to navigate manner. There is no point in trying to compete with TMZ for celebrity gossip, or trying to beat Yahoo at what they do. Instead, if you create a great local portal that has all the local news, local sports and local community information as well as pictures, and perhaps video of things of interest in the community, you are more likely to build a constituency of people who will come to your site on a regular basis. It is also important that the radio station’s on-air personalities promote the site by encouraging listeners to go to the site for content they cannot get anywhere else. For example, running a short interview on the air and inviting people to go to the site to hear the full length interview is one example that is effective. Contests and rewards programs also work well as they keep website visitors engaged and coming back.
How should radio stations measure their success on their website?
There are lots of different ways to measure success in terms of page views, time on the site and unique visits and these should all be tracked from month to month, but we see radio stations that can attract 30% or more of the radio station’s cume to their site on a regular basis as being successful. We have a number of strategies that we employ to help this process, including our active rewards program. But another important factor for success is having content that is of interest to listeners on the site and updating that content frequently.
What else drives traffic to a radio station website?
Contesting is a critical part of any radio station website strategy, based on our analysis of traffic. We host over 300 websites on our servers so we can see what is working and what is not. If you run compelling contests that offer great prizing then you will grow traffic on your website.
How important are announcer blogs on a radio station’s website?
Frankly, it depends on the “star power” of the announcer. If you have a strong morning show or a big personality in another daypart and they create “must listen” content each and every day and then these are the personalities who can create a following on a blog. It’s a great way to extend the brand of those personalities. A station blog is also where that personality can expand on content that has been mentioned on the air, and in some cases, put content that did not make it onto the show. But the writing has to be strong and the blog needs to be updated frequently. If a listener is going to make the effort to go to your station website and navigate to a blog, only to find that the content is old or out of date, they will be less likely to ever come back.
Why are most radio stations still not generating revenue on their websites?
Selling ads on a website requires a completely different strategy than selling commercials on a radio station. Sales reps will sell what they know, which is radio, and the website is either forgotten or sold as added value. Those radio stations that are having success often have a separate web sales team who know how to conduct a proper customer needs analysis and then develop custom solutions that will meet the client’s objectives. What I find interesting is many advertisers will invest a lot of money on a static billboard in the middle of town based on the amount of traffic that passes by that site each day, but they are reluctant to invest the same money on the banner ad on the front of a station website that in many cases will get more traffic than the billboard in the middle of town. You can’t click on the billboard in the middle of town, it is expensive to change and it is static. Also there are advertisers who only want to pay based on the number of clicks the banner ad gets. But having a presence on the top of the front page of a radio station’s website can often be more impactful than that static billboard. We can do some very creative things with banner ads and I believe this form of advertising is more effective today than many of the static offerings like yellow pages, billboards or newspaper ads.
How does a standalone station in a market compete with radio stations that are part of a major chain when it comes to their website?
At Envisionwise we provide a powerful back end content management system that allows a small staff to create and update content easily and quickly. We provide the training as well as on-line help manuals and videos to make it easy for the station staff to get that time sensitive content on the site quickly. Also, being small and nimble can often be an advantage. You can see what’s happening locally and react quickly, whereas the big companies tend to centralize their web staff and task them with looking after multiple sites. In short, play to your advantage. Just as local-local-local is the key to winning on the radio, the same applies to your radio station website. Again, find out what your website visitors want and deliver it to them. Local news, community information, things to do with my free time and posting photos of people doing good things in your community will be of greater interest than filling your site with content they can get, and expect to get elsewhere. Also, remember as long as you have an easy to remember URL, you can use imaging and jock talk to give people strong reasons to visit your website. That said, the one area we think small stations need to be mindful of is the quality of the graphics they upload to their site. You either need to have someone locally who knows how to use a good graphics program and build visually pleasing ads or you need to outsource that work.
What are the most common mistakes that radio stations make when it comes to building websites?
The most common mistake we see is radio stations using a local web company or a friend or relative to build their website. While these companies and people may be good at building websites, most do not understand radio and they do not know the most important things a good radio station website must have. Oftentimes the back end management tools are so complex and unfriendly to use that the radio station must rely on that web company or a third party to make changes to the site. Normally this is expensive and slow. We have also seen stations trade this work out in return for radio ads and that seldom works because once the radio ads run the web company gets busy and becomes less responsive to the non-paying client – the radio station. The other mistake that many radio stations make is not having a clear strategy for their website. Lastly, perhaps the biggest mistake we see is radio stations paying way too much money to have a site built, hosted and supported. We build a typical radio station site for about $1,000 but no more than $2,000, and then we then host and support each site for a small monthly fee. While also offer referrals to great streaming solution companies which is an additional and separate cost.
How important is it for a radio station to stream their audio signal on the website?
This is growing, but at least in the USA the challenge is that the more successful a radio station is in terms of their streaming numbers the more they have to pay which is a business model that is flawed in my opinion. Also, the royalty fees and other regulations make it impossible for radio stations to play their radio commercials on the audio stream so they are forced to insert PSA’s and other content that is not subject to these regulations. This is often technically challenging, and the repeat factor is high because the station staff is focused on the on-air product and often ignore what is playing on the audio stream. In Canada you appear to be better off in this regard as stations are able to stream all their content and do not have to deal with ad insertions at this point. Being able to listen to the radio station via the website on a computer, tablet or smart-phone is clearly a benefit and can assist in the building of strong at work listening via audio streaming.
How does your company make it easy for a radio station to get a great website?
We have been doing this for a really long time, and we have a streamlined process that allows us to get the information from the radio station and then build the site very quickly. While we start out with a template that has all the tools any radio station would require, we then set about building a customized site based on the requirements of the radio station. This process normally takes three to four weeks, providing the radio station is responsive and has a clear strategy.
Why are the back end management tools so important?
These tools allow the radio station to add, move, and delete content on any part of the site quickly and easily. We understand that the station staff is busy, and often juggling a number of jobs, so we developed a set of management tools especially for radio stations. Also, we are constantly adding more tools based on comments and suggestions from our huge radio station user base. For example, we have recently improved our social integration tools. Our blogs and photo galleries are deeply integrated with social networking features. Update your website and watch it automatically update your Facebook and Twitter, saving your staff loads of time. The same applies the other way, so adding content to Facebook will automatically update your station website based on rules in the configuration settings. We would be happy to demonstrate these tools and show stations who are looking to upgrade their current site or are struggling with their current system how easy all this can be.
What other features are popular these days?
Micro sites for advertisers are becoming very popular. We have the tools built into our sites to allow a radio station to quickly build a micro site for as many advertisers as they want. This is great for a small business that may not have the budget to build a full scale website. The radio station not only sells an advertising campaign to the client, but they also build the site for the client and either charge an additional fee or include it as part of the sale. It can be a linked off the station website and can have its own URL if that is required. We are about to offer e-commerce for the micro sites. So with just a few clicks and filling out a short form, the station will be able to set up an on-line store within the micro site for a client, and allow that client to manage the content of that store.
What else are you working on?
We are about to offer a mobile app for each client radio station which will enable the station to take photos on their smart phones and those photos will be sent directly to a folder on the website. So if you are at a remote and you have the correct access you can take the pictures on your smart-phone and have them automatically upload to the correct folder on your website and be instantly available. We have been looking at the Groupon and coupon model and we already offer this on our sites. Stations can post coupons and special offers from your station and local businesses. Stations can manage items, orders, and payments with an easy to use certificate store. We intend to enhance these tools and soon we will offer a verifiable coupon on our mobile app, to make it easier for the customer, the client, and the radio station to make that transaction. And that transaction will be totally secure and seamless.
Any other suggestions regarding radio station websites?
Make sure you conduct a regular audit on your website and get rid of the clutter. Too many radio station websites, in our opinion, tend to be crowded and busy and, frankly, scare some people away because of all the action that is going on when they come to the site. A clean looking site that offers local content that cannot be found anywhere else is more likely to be successful. If you think about why most radio stations are successful it is because they are local, they are plugged into the community and they create unique content. And yet many of those same radio stations clutter their websites with imported content that can be found in lots of other places.
Can you give us some examples of successful websites?
We have lots of successful radio station websites, but three examples you might want to check out are http://wild1077.com in Bend, Oregon, http://wmay.com, an AM station in Springfield, Illinois and in Lansing, Michigan, http://power965fm.com. All these sites look different, but they use our linkedupradio platform and back end management tools. You can also check out all the features and other examples of our work at http://www.linkedupradio.com.
It is not possible to cover all the aspects of what makes a great radio station website in this brief article. But my hope in writing this is to encourage broadcasters to look at their websites to ensure they are enhancing their brand and providing content that is relevant to their audience. If you are not happy with your current site, or you find that staff is spending too much time managing the content then you might want to look around as there are several companies who build and support websites for media.