Two of the country’s biggest news sites — msnbc.com and Yahoo News — are attracting more female readers than male readers, and it’s not by coincidence. The sites have developed strategies throughout the past year that have made their content more appealing to women and given them a greater understanding of the type of content women want.
Msnbc.com, which has a readership that’s 51.5 percent female, attracts many of its female readers through the Today Show content it features. Today.com content makes up 15 percent of msbnc.com’s overall traffic and has a target demo of women between the ages of 25 and 34.
“We program our site with our target demo in mind,” said Jen Brown, Today.com’s site director. “Every day, we’re looking for stories that people are talking about. These are the stories that personally affect us, like a proposed ban on chocolate milk in schools, and those that personally touch us, like the man who married his sweetheart of nearly 30 years on his 100th birthday. They’re the types of stories that people are talking about.”
Recently, Today.com partnered with Nielsen to better understand the online behavior of younger women. The study, “How Women Connect, Catch Up and Find Comfort with Online Video,” helped Today.com deepen its understanding of how, when and why women use online video throughout the day.
A few key themes from the study emerged:
- “Streaming among women is governed in large part by life stage and daily to-do lists, rather than age or employment status.
- “Digital mindsets change over the course of the day and vary according to time, mood, location and ‘available mindshare.’
- “The value of video as ‘social currency’ is on the rise, leading some women to largely favor links suggested by friends.
- “Emotional triggers impact viewing, specifically the types of content consumed.”
The study also revealed that most women want to quickly catch up on the news before they leave for work and/or get their kids ready for school. In response to this finding, Today.com created “TODAY in 2,” which gives readers important news headlines in two minutes.
The findings also prompted Today.com to pay more attention to the time of day that it posts stories. “In the evening, we found that almost every woman involved in the study wanted to consume something uplifting before heading off to bed,” Brown said via email. “That’s why we’ll highlight more of our viral, lighter stories in the evening.”
Offering women customized content they can identify with
Yahoo News was one of the few top news sites to grow unique visitors from March to April, climbing from 86.6 million to 88.2 million. And in the past year, the site has grown its female readership from 49 percent to 51.6 percent. It may seem like a small increase, but it’s one that underscores Yahoo News’ efforts to attract a more diverse audience by providing more original, customized content.
“We have a new personalized strategy,” said Paula McMahon, business lead, Yahoo News. “As we grow and as we build our voice and original portfolio, we’re giving users a lot more diverse content. We’re thinking about the moms who are home, and while it’s not a gender-specific approach, it’s not the one-size-fits-all approach we’ve taken in the past.”
Last year, Yahoo News introduced a blog network and video programs to help diversity its content. Previously, all of the site’s content was aggregated from other news sites. While the blogs aren’t specifically geared toward women, McMahon said she believes they’ve helped attract a larger female audience — in part because some of the bloggers who were hired are women.
Former Newsweek White House Correspondent Holly Bailey, for instance, now runs Yahoo News’ political blog. Having her as part of the site, McMahon said, gives readers a chance to identify with a female’s voice and perspective.
Along with having more bloggers, the site has also taken advantage of what it calls a “content optimization relevance engine” — a technology that packages stories and headlines for users based on what they tend to read on the site.
“We’re helping more people find the content they want, and that’s changed our audience loyalty,” McMahon said by phone. “We’re also highlighting different packages and voices to appeal to different people. What I think that’s doing is giving women more options.”
This customization has also exposed Yahoo News readers to content they may not have otherwise come across. Not surprisingly, Yahoo has found that many of its female readers gravitate toward topics that have traditionally appealed to women — entertainment, health and travel. But lately, the site has seen an increase in the number of women reading political and business-related content, McMahon said.
Sites that have larger female audiences than male audiences don’t always have related strategies in place. Examiner.com, which has a readership that’s 54 percent female, doesn’t have a set strategy. But many of its 72,000 contributors write about topics that appeal to women, which has naturally led to an increase in female readers.
“We have several strong areas that traditionally skew female — like spas, style and relationships to name a few,” Examiner.com Spokesman Justin Jimenez said in an email. “We create five times the amount of content around family and parenting than we do in a topic like automotive.”
Appealing to women with topics other than parenting, health
It makes sense that sites would feature content about parenting and health to attract women. What’s less common are the sites that try to attract women through subjects such as technology, politics and global affairs. TheMarySue.com, for instance, is a tech site featuring content that’s curated from a female geek perspective.
Some general news sites are also making efforts to serve women interested in topics that don’t traditionally generate a larger female audience. When The Daily Beast and Newsweek merged, Tina Brown said that she wanted to cultivate an audience of women. (After AOL acquired The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington and Tim Armstrong made a similar commitment to attract more female readers.)
After the Daily Beast/Newsweek merge, Brown told Forbes, “Men want to know what happened. Women want to know what really happened. It’s not about ‘women’s content;’ it’s the way you edit and assign.”
She tried to appeal to women with her first issue of Newsweek, which featured Hillary Clinton on the cover. Three of the six stories highlighted on that cover were about women, and none of those three stories were specifically about topics like health or parenting.
Daily Beast Editor Jane Spencer said the site, which has an audience that’s 56 percent male, aims to cover women’s issues that often get ignored. In recent weeks, the site has published stories about the Greg Mortenson case’s fallout for women, Egyptian women rallying behind Lara Logan and congresswomen who have electrified the Planned Parenthood debate.
“We routinely cover topics including sex trafficking, women’s role in the Mideast uprisings, renewed attacks on abortion rights — and profile extraordinary women who are reshaping politics, business and culture,” Spencer said via email.
The Op-Ed Project recently found that 31 percent of The Daily Beast’s Op-Eds were written by women, significantly more than many of its competitors. Having female contributors is important, Spencer said, because “women often view global events through a different lens than men do.”
Spencer and msnbc.com’s Brown both said women ultimately want content that’s smart and relevant.
“Our audience,” Brown said, “is looking to get a moment of information, a nugget of entertainment and a couple tips and ideas for things they can apply to their lives.”