Shawnee Mission Post’s State of the Site 2020: Subscription success leads to growing staff, coming site improvements

Jay Senter - January 14, 2020 11:55 am
The Shawnee Mission Post helped moderate a forum on legislative issues put on by the city of Prairie Village last week. In 2020, we plan to hold more in person events focused on community issues.

Folks: It’s hard to believe, but June will mark a full decade in operation for this plucky little community news site we call the Shawnee Mission Post. And as we head in to this milestone year, we wanted to give our readers an update on some of the highlights from the past 12 months, and a preview of what you can expect from us in 2020.

Prepare yourself…for our 2020 State of the Site post.

Subscription revenue growth has allowed expanded coverage, more reporters

SM North and KU graduate Juliana Garcia joined our reporting staff full time this month. Growth in subscriptions has allowed us to expand our reporting resources. We plan to add additional staff in 2020.

The biggest development for the health and sustainability of the organization was the continued growth in subscribers. We started 2019 with a little more than 2,000 subscribers. As of Dec. 31, we had 2,758 on the rolls. With that growth, subscriptions accounted for 53% of our total revenue in 2019, marking the first time in site history reader revenue surpassed advertising. In recent months Harvard’s Nieman Lab and NPR’s Morning Edition have featured our business model in part because the growth in subscription revenue has allowed us to add reporting resources — most recently Juliana Garcia, who started with us full time on Jan. 1.

Garcia is a northeast Johnson County native who graduated from SM North before heading to Lawrence to study journalism at KU. She was an intern at the Kansas City Business Journal before joining us at the Post, where she is covering northeast Johnson County city government, business and school news. If you’ve got a tip or story idea related to Merriam, Mission, Roeland Park, Fairway, Westwood, Westwood Hills or Mission Woods, hit her up at [email protected].

With the continued growth in subscribers, we’re planning to hire additional staff later this year to provide even fuller coverage of Johnson County. Stay tuned for job announcements in the coming months.

Growth in traffic leads to reduction in ads, shift in design

Traffic growth saw us hit 1,000,000 users for the first time in site history in 2019.

We continued to see healthy growth in traffic and expanded reach in the Shawnee Mission area in 2019. In fact, we recorded more than 1 million users for the first time in site history, and set new records for total sessions and page views.

With the expanded reach, we were able to reconfigure our advertising packages on the site for 2020. We’ve reduced the number of display ads that appear on a given page by more than 50 percent, and are instead featuring a handful of advertisers who have more prominent placement across the site.

In February, we’ll be relaunching the site with an updated design. You won’t notice a ton of changes, but it should be slightly cleaner and load faster than the present version.

The goal with this shift was two-fold: 1.) to improve reader experience by reducing clutter on the page; 2.) to provide our advertisers with more prominence. (So, if you appreciate the decluttered look, thank the good people at the Taylor Made Team, AdventHealth Shawnee Mission, Lenexa Parks and Rec, Johnson County Park and Recreation District and First National Bank).

The reduction in ad slots has also prompted us to rebuild the site from the ground up, taking advantage of the reduction in assets that have to load on each page. In February, we’ll be relaunching the site with a new framework that should improve load times, particularly on mobile devices. Although you won’t notice a whole lot of difference on the design front — though there will be some minor changes — we’re hoping the rebuilt site delivers a slightly cleaner and faster experience.

Coming change in subscription system will allow social sign-in, better newsletter management

Later this month, we’ll be moving our subscription system over to a provider called Pico. One of the primary motivators for the move is the way that Pico recognizes users as they visit the site from different devices, and allows them to log in to their Shawnee Mission Post account using a Google or Facebook ID (though you can still use a Shawnee Mission Post account ID if you prefer not to use the other options). We’re hoping this reduces the frustration some users have had with being asked to log in to their account when visiting from a new device or browser. The new system will also make it easier for subscribers to manage which of our email newsletters they receive. Subscribers, you’ll be getting more information about the transition in the coming days — but please note that the move won’t require any action on your part. (However, since Pico only handles full-dollar transactions, our monthly subscription price will increase $.05 from $5.95 a month to $6 a month. Annual subscriptions will move from $64.95 a year to $65 a year. Sorry).

If you’d like to get a sense of how the new system will look and feel, you can check out the Colorado Sun, which uses it for its membership program.

Looking to strengthen channels for community input, engagement

In 2019, the Shawnee Mission Post hosted more a dozen candidate forums ahead of the local elections. We’ll continue that trend in 2020, hosting forums for the statehouse and county commission candidates running in this year’s cycle.

You’ll hear more about our approach on this front in the coming weeks, but suffice it to say you can expect to see us hosting more in person events, and collaborating with other news outlets and community organizations in 2020. The goal is to strengthen the channels we have in place to get input and feedback from the community — both on topics we should be covering, and on how we’re doing our job.

Have thoughts on topics we should be covering more? Site issues you’d like to see tweaked? Unadulterated praise? Spiteful criticism? We want to hear it all. Email us at [email protected].

We’ll also be sending out our second annual subscriber satisfaction survey in February to get a sense of how the people who make our work possible perceive the value they’re getting from the site.

THANK YOU for reading and keeping local news strong in Shawnee Mission!

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