WSJ.com Completes Web Site Overhaul

Newspaper is banking on personalization technology to increase online revenue

While other have companies cut back sharply on their Web site spending, The Wall Street Journal has just completed a two-year, $28 million overhaul of its WSJ.com site.

The revamped WSJ.com relies heavily on personalization technology to boost advertising revenue and expand paid reader services.

A key goal of the rebuilt site, which was launched two weeks ago, is to attract higher-value, repeat customers by letting them more easily customize their home pages with columns, stock quotes and other regular WSJ.com features.

Studies by Web-based market researcher Fulcrum Analytics (formerly Cyber Dialogue Inc.) in New York and others show that customers are more apt to frequently visit Web sites they can customize. Users who personalize such sites also more frequently subscribe to paid sites, use online bill payment services and promote products via e-mail to their friends, all of which make them an advertiser's dream.

"If every person looks at one more page - even in a bad advertising climate - the number of pages you deliver grows pretty quickly. And since you charge advertisers by ad impression, you increase your revenue pretty quickly," said Neil Budde, WSJ.com's publisher. "You don't have to move the gauge too far or change the percentages too much before getting a substantial return on investment."

Budde wouldn't disclose WSJ.com's target ROI or payback period for the Web project. Currently, the site has 626,000 subscribers; the cost is $59 per year for the service.

Neil Budde, WSJ.com's publisher
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Neil Budde, WSJ.com's publisher

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Rebuilding WSJ.com entailed switching out a patchwork of homegrown systems that had been cobbled together in the past six years. They were replaced by Austin, Texas-based Vignette Corp.'s content management and publishing software, which is powered by IBM Web servers running Big Blue's proprietary version of Apache, said Ken Ficara, director of product operations and a project manager at WSJ.com.

Simplicity was key to designing the new Web site's personalization capabilities, Ficara said.

"In focus groups, we found out that the easier we made things, the more apt people were to use them," he said. "But it's the Journal, so we had felt like we had to do things as sophisticated as possible."

Now subscribers personalize content with the click of a single button on the WSJ.com home page. Before, they had to go to a separate setup center, where Boolean search engines and other complex tools could be found.

That simplicity is the value customers receive in exchange for providing personal data to WSJ.com, said Kevin Mabley, an analyst at Fulcrum Analytics.

"From data mining and modeling work, we know that a customer who personalizes a Web site is a higher-value customer, but it works only as long as there is a value exchange. At WSJ.com, you type in stock [symbols], and you get the stock quotes you're interested in," Mabley said.

"We see a lot of companies get that wrong," he added. "They ask for a lot of wrong information, like household statistics that are not related to the user's experience. It becomes a Trojan horse for other marketing methods."

Budde said that because the Vignette publishing system is database-driven, WSJ.com can reuse and repackage content in the database to quickly and cheaply spin off additional revenue-generating products and services, such as customized newsletters.

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