Outlets Shift from News to Niche Online Verticals

CNN has created a new vertical website, CNN Travel, to provide travel advice ranging from city guides to restaurant recommendations to best hotels.  This destination-based content will be launched with vertical web design, a single-subject site that encourages increased advertiser participation.

Other major media outlets have started to break up content into verticals, including NBC News, The New York Times and The Huffington Post. The common thread between the outlets is specification: subjects like health, technology, food, fashion, travel and science now have new branding that is connected to the media outlet but is not directly under the outlet’s umbrella.

“Over the last 10 years or more, digital publishers of every stripe, CNN or little upstarts like Buzzfeed or Refinery 29, have all been in this race to get as big as humanly possible by covering everything under the sun,” Max Willens, a reporter with  Digiday, said in an interview with MediaFile. “Today, that strategy has started to fall out of fashion. Publishers are now trying to build smaller, more discrete properties and create deeper relationships with advertisers.”

Willens said that CNN creating the travel site isn’t exactly on brand, but the outlet can step into this space because of the advertising opportunities vertical website design creates. Travel, Willens added, is a great category to do this in because it’s popular with advertisers who can use many different ways to monetize the site, such as booking reservations, sponsored content and display advertising.

Neil Vogel, the CEO of About.com, said in an interview with Digiday that people want specialization when they’re searching for news and information so that all the details and expertise on a specific topic are neatly available in one place. He also added that vertical sites help give stories a longer shelf life because they’re so focused on lifestyle-natured topics.

Willens said that specification doesn’t only benefit readers, but advertisers as well.

“On the one hand, the point of verticals is to create an environment that’s better for advertisers. It enables publishers to work with them more directly, commit more money to the website, and devote more time to smaller in niche interest,” Willens said. “But because of that, you get a much smaller audience per vertical. The balance between getting a big audience and serving them with specific content is one that every publisher struggles with.”

Willens noted that the future of vertical web design is on social media – and that’s why it’s becoming so popular.

“These platforms are great for vertical publishers because it’s easy to target specific audiences on Facebook,” Willens said. “It doesn’t matter that no one’s heard of you if your content is what people are looking for, like Cooking Panda.”

According to Willens, social media will be the testing ground for more publishers to build vertical media brands against those audiences. Recent examples of vertical web design have been solely focused on lifestyle products. However, lifestyle may only be just the beginning as media outlets look for more ways to increase advertising.

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