If you want to catch more readers, go online – but print will keep them reading longer

Online research commissioned by PRmoment looking at how people read newspapers and news on websites, shows that 15 per cent of those interviewed do not read print versions of newspapers at all any more. This might suggest that PROs who focus their efforts online are right to do so, but they should bear in mind how much attention people are paying to online information, compared to printed news.

Time consumers spend reading newspapers

Supplied by Opinium Research

The research indicates that people who read print newspapers tend to read all, or most of it (68 per cent). Those reading websites, on the other hand, tend to look at up to four pages (40 per cent), although 34 per cent are not sure how many pages they usually read online.

How much of the paper I read

Supplied by Opinium Research

Just because readers may spend longer reading printed newspapers does not give online journalists a good excuse to skimp on the quality of their writing. As freelance PR Consultant Claire Thompson points out, it is actually more important to engage online readers: “It's easier to skim online, but because there's so much material out there, anything that's poorly written finds itself in the trash quicker than you could reach the recycling bin.” Thompson believes that one way to get attention is to focus on one area of interest, as this may be what readers are seeking, she explains: “It is key to have a clearly defined, specialist niche. It's the generalists who'll become irrelevant and find themselves ignored.”

How many web site pages do consumers read?

Supplied by Opinium Research

Readers may be more likely to notice great prose in print, but this doesn‘t mean they will ignore slapdash writing online. Paul Sutton, head of digital PR at agency Bottle PR, says that quality of writing should always be of prime importance, no matter what the medium. He adds: “It may well be the case that online articles are skim read more than their printed counterparts, but there's no excuse for weak content, poor grammar or badly constructed articles. The idea that good web content can be generated quickly and without much thought is a myth; I follow around 50 news sites and blogs via my RSS feed and it's very obvious, very quickly if content isn't up to scratch.”

Rob Forbes, company director at agency Generator PR, agrees with Sutton and Thompson that it is vital for online papers to focus on quality and adds that PROs need to follow this rule too when communicating on websites. Forbes says: “Quality of content and factual accuracy is key – there’s no point issuing rubbish as you just end up compromising your own brand and that of your clients.”

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Opinium Research carried out 2005 online interviews in the UK. The research period was 14 May to 18 May 2010.