USAToday.com on Thursday began requiring users to answer three demographic questions to access some stories, joining competitors like NYTimes.com and WashingtonPost.com in requiring information for access.
In a cautious foray into registration, USAToday.com now asks users for their gender, zip code and year of birth to access certain articles. The test encompasses about 10 percent of the site’s 200,000 pages, according to USAToday.com spokesman Steve Anderson.
“We want an opportunity to review it on a smaller scale before we make a decision whether to spread it across the entire site,” he said.
The site said the registration information would be used to target advertising. The move follows those of a number of news sites that have introduced some form of registration requirement, with most reporting higher ad sales and negligible loss of visitors.
“This information collection will help USAToday.com continue to develop new products and services relevant to users while enhancing advertisers’ interaction with our audience,” said Jeff Webber, USAToday.com’s senior vice president and publisher.
With 6 million unique visitors in January, according to Nielsen//NetRatings, USAToday.com is the Internet’s 10th most visited news site and the No 3 newspaper site. Of the top three newspaper sites, USAToday.com is the only one not to require registration.
USAToday.com decided followed the lead of WashingtonPost.com with a short three-question format, instead of the more cumbersome registration requirement at sites such as NYTimes.com and LATimes.com. WashingtonPost.com put in place its registration requirement in August, requiring users to give the same information as USAToday.com. The site reported that it saw an increase in site traffic in the following months.
NYTimes.com was an early proponent of registration, requiring users to fill out a four-question form when it launched in January 1996. In December 2001, the site deepened the registration form to nine questions. NYTimes.com currently boasts 10.8 million active registered users.
The news comes as another online site, ESPN.com, has dipped its toes into the registration waters. On Monday, the site began offering visitors video highlights in exchange for filling out a six-question registration form that includes salary and occupation data. The site reportedly signed up 548,000 users in the first two days.
Despite early fears that sites would lose a large chunk of traffic once registration was required, most have suffered only short-term declines. WashingtonPost.com, for example, saw site traffic increase in the months after it began requiring registration in August.
In part, the ability to demographically target ads has helped turn newspaper publishers’ Web sites into a bright spot for their companies. In their recent financial reports, news publishers mostly reported growing revenues from robust ad sales, as a number of online operations, including The New York Times Digital and Knight-Ridder Digital, turned profits.
Gannett, USAToday.com’s parent company, does not break out its online revenues.
News publishers have sought to capitalize on their momentum by trumpeting their high readership during at-work hours, with the Newspaper Association of America claiming the Internet is five times more effective than television for reaching consumers during the day. Of all types of sites visited at work, news and information comes out on top.