Thousands of people every day visit transportation department web sites. Ever wonder how much those eyeballs are worth?
Transit agencies have dabbled in advertising to customers for years, but transportation departments rarely try to generate revenue from their online properties. In a time of declining revenue, what is the chance that states are sitting on a gold mine in the form of dedicated, regular web site visitors? One state DOT has been exploring that question over the last few years.
The Washington State Department of Transportation is among those state agencies that spend energy tracking a variety of web site metrics that show how popular its web site is, primarily with people wanting the latest information on travel conditions and options. According to a February 2013 report, the WSDOT web site averages 410 million page views a year.
Full disclosure, I worked at WSDOT for nearly nine years and during that time the web site was among the more heavily used communication tools available to staff.
The Washington State Legislature set the WSDOT on a path to determine how much those 410 million page views were to advertisers, especially since so many of those page views were in specific areas of the site – traffic, traveler information and the Washington State Ferries route information.
The pilot project is winding down but you can read about the WSDOT experiment. In two years WSDOT netted $4,000 on just less than $80,000 revenue.
While the dollars are not huge, it seems as if there is some interest from advertisers to continue the pilot project, which is up to the Legislature to decide.
The real message to the story, though, might be the same as that found in the ongoing story of the value of information in our increasingly digital society. According to the 2013 State of the News Media Report, “Two new areas of digital advertising that seemed to bring promise even a year ago now appear to be moving outside the reach of news: mobile devices and local digital advertising. Over all, mobile advertising grew 80% in 2012 to $2.6 billion.”
So, despite WSDOT’s 410 million page views, the long-term focus for advertisers is probably not on static web pages — even if those web pages have the latest traffic information.
What does that mean for transportation communicators? Two things really.
First, maintain a healthy skepticism that huge numbers alone are enough to establish the value of a web site to advertisers. I am not an advertising sales expert, but if selling ads was so easy I am sure the newspaper industry would have figured it out years ago – and much more successfully.
Second, when your audience is mobile it “sees” your information differently. The screen size, the fonts, the colors. All of those things work together to make for a different user experience.
There is value in transportation information. Perhaps that value has never been higher than it is today, when people have so many ways of accessing it. But extracting that information and presenting in its most usable and accessible form will continue to be the spiritual foundation of this information gold rush for at least the foreseeable future.