New Arkansasbusiness.com benefits from experience.
"The Arkansasbusiness.com that we introduced in December 2000 has won a number of national awards and continued to grow in popularity all along, but we were really just guessing when we designed it," Hankins said. "The new design was done with the benefit of five years of data and feedback. It is designed for the way we now know that Internet readers really use our products."
Arkansasbusiness.com averages 130,000 visits and 300,000 page views per month, and those users have been overwhelmingly positive in their reaction to the new design, said Brent Birch, chief information officer for ABPG and head of its Flex360 Web development division.
"That's most of the feedback we're getting--how much easier it is to read and how much easier it is to find the stuff readers want," he said.
AB.com 2.0, as the new design has been called internally, also benefits from four years of experience in designing Internet sites for other business publications across the country. Flex360 has designed sites for Los Angeles Business Journal, San Diego Business Journal, Springfield (Mo.) Business Journal, NJBiz of New Brunswick, N.J., and Central Penn Business Journal in Harrisburg, Pa., and is working on sites for Northern Colorado Business Report in Fort Collins and the weekly business journals in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
Arkansasbusiness.com continues to "push" free daily and weekly e-newsletters to registered users. Almost 12,000 receive the Daily Report, which is delivered about noon on weekdays. Almost 39,000 registered users receive daily or industry-specific weekly e-newsletters.
The new site continues to offer the 22 industry-specific newsletters that were available previously, and a new e-newsletter on the architecture industry is being offered for the first time.
Other new features include downloadable "podcasts" and RSS feeds. Podcasts are short audio programs, similar to radio programs, that can be listened to on a computer or portable digital-music player. Arkansasbusiness.com is producing a six-minute weekly podcast summarizing stories in the latest print edition of Arkansas Business. RSS--Really Simple Syndication--allows users to aggregate headlines from Arkansasbusiness.com and other sites into a single digest.
The new site also includes interactive Web logs by Hankins and Internet Editor Lance Turner. The inventory of available advertising space has also been expanded, and there are more photos.
But some of the changes are merely organizational. For instance, more daily news headlines are visible on the opening page, and the e-newsletters are no longer limited to five headlines. Links for submitting information--press releases, "Whispers" tips, calendar items and the like--are displayed more prominently.
Conversely, links to content in the current issues of Arkansas Business and Northwest Arkansas Business Journal have been moved to a lower, less prominent spot on the home page.
"That's because our usage data clearly shows that very few--only about 3 percent--of Arkansasbusiness.com users are using it essentially as a replacement for our weekly print product," Hankins said. "That was a surprise to us, and it's very important for both the publishing industry and the advertising industry to understand that."
Back in 2000, ABPG's decision to make the current issues of Arkansas Business and the Business Journal available online at no charge was controversial inside and outside the company.
"The question was always the same: 'Aren't you afraid you'll cannibalize your subscriber base?'" Hankins said. "At the time, we really felt that offering the current stories for free would encourage more people to subscribe, but we had no way of knowing whether we were right."
The decision turned out to be a good one, but the reasoning behind it was wrong.
"Paid subscriptions to Arkansas Business are at an all-time high, and we have had to spend less on direct marketing to get those new readers," Hankins said. "So, clearly, free online access didn't cannibalize our subscriber base, as so many people predicted.
"But the idea that people would read the current issue online and decide to subscribe wasn't right. What hooked the new readers was the daily e-newsletter with timely news. Suddenly our brand and exclusive content were reaching people we had never reached before."
Like most other publication sites, Arkansasbusiness.com charges for past articles retrieved from the archives. The price is $2 per article, although a year of unlimited archive use is also available for $50. Birch said a "premium" subscription that combines unlimited archive searches with a print subscription will be introduced in the near future.
Articles in the current issues of Arkansas Business and the Business Journal are always available at no charge, as are the 10 most recent articles in a specific industry, no matter how old they are.