Toronto Star’s new site aims for deeper reader engagement

The Toronto Star has revamped its website, TheStar.com, in an attempt to drive further reader and marketer engagement with the site. It is the first major update to the site in three years. Ali Rahmena, vice-president of digital media for Star Media Group, said the new look is designed to increase content discovery, consumption and […]

The Toronto Star has revamped its website, TheStar.com, in an attempt to drive further reader and marketer engagement with the site. It is the first major update to the site in three years.

Ali Rahmena, vice-president of digital media for Star Media Group, said the new look is designed to increase content discovery, consumption and engagement.

About half of TheStar.com’s user base – approximately 3.3 million unique visitors per month – comes to the site directly via a bookmark or by typing in the URL, while the other half arrives via search or a social media recommendation.

Rahmena said that revamp is designed to make every page on the site serve as a “mini homepage” in an attempt to drive people further into the site and possibly get them to engage further by leaving a comment or sharing a link with their social media network.

“Every user that comes should be able to see more content that they can nagivate through or engage with,” said Rahmena.

TheStar.com has reorganized its content, while several new sections including Your Toronto, Homes, Health & Wellness and Personal Finance have been added. The site has also introduced a new feature called “myStar” that enables users to save articles to read later, follow favourite writers and teams, and customize both weather forecasts and horoscopes.

While revamped site uses IAB-approved ad units, Rahmena said its new modular design is designed to provide greater advertiser flexibility in terms of adjacencies and even custom content.

“It gives us enormous flexibility without the need for development to create what in the old world we called special sections,” he said. “It’s less about specific ad units and more about our ability to experiment a lot more aggressively…with new formats that go beyond a banner or big box and are more about creating a whole environment.”

There is no current manifestation of that strategy on the site; Rahmena said the near-term emphasis is on ensuring the stability and functionality of the redesigned site. The Star is currently developing templates for its sales team to present to marketers, he said.

Advertising on the revamped site will run the gamut from basic ad placements and adjacency to more integrated programs, said Rahmena. “We’re quite eager to start to play with our advertising partners,” he said.

The myStar feature, for example, provides an opportunity for advertisers to deliver targeted ads to receptive readers. A person choosing to follow the site’s sports writers would likely be receptive to ads promoting game tickets or TV sports packages, while a person opting to receive weather conditions for a specific region would be an ideal target for travel advertisers.

The Star announced last year that it plans to introduce a metered paywall system for TheStar.com in 2013. There are no immediate plans for that system to be implemented, said Rahmena. “It will be sooner rather than later, but there are lots of details to work through before we have a firm date,” he said.

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