Matthew Burton

New York Times: Please make your Travel section a travel web site

The New York Times has one of the most valuable domain names in the world and owns some of the most valuable content on the web. Unfortunately, they haven’t been taking advantage of it, and their new redesign doesn’t fix any of this.

We’re talking about the Travel section. Its content is among the very best travel content in production today: every week, it publishes original, well-written stories across the entire subject: quick tips (how to find deals on rental cars) and long stories; solo adventures and family vacations; local getaways and far-away expeditions. It might be the most extensive, highest quality archive of travel reporting in the world.

And guess what? 1) Travel advertising is a huge source of online ad revenues (it’s the #3 source for revenue for Google); and 2) travel content is the best way to attract loyal readers:

This chart says that travel content is more likely than any other type of content to earn multiple page views on your site. The same study determined that “(t)he more consumers engaged with content, the likelier they were to convert.”

Given that:

  • Travel content brings in ad dollars;
  • Travel content makes users browse your site; and
  •’s subscription model hinges on multiple page-views (you’re allowed to view 10 pages per month until a paywall kicks in),

you would think they’d be making the most of their 90+ years of travel coverage, allowing readers–potential subscribers–to easily search the archive, find content about specific destinations, see professional photos, and discover new places that match their travel habits. But the Times isn’t doing this. Not even close. Its online incarnation is simply the print version on a screen, without any advanced search tools or user-specific content:


It is simply a list of the articles from the most recent Travel issues. You cannot find travel content by topic or even browse previous weeks’ content. Such a presentation is suitable only for readers with an academic interest in travel, and have no particular motive for consulting the Travel section other than to become informed about whatever topics NYT’s editors thought interesting that week. This is a reasonable scenario for print readers, but not for online readers, and especially not for the people the Times wants to convert into new subscribers. We don’t have any evidence to back this up, but we bet the vast majority of online travel content–especially the travel content that makes readers stick around–is fetched for the purpose of making travel plans. Online readers aren’t interested in travel content in its own right; they’re interested in Bali and Chicago and Alaska, and in how to get a good deal on a flight. If the Times covered those topics this week, you’re in luck: finding the content is relatively easy. Otherwise, you can search:


Note the hard-to-find filter in the left column for the Travel section; without it, we’d be searching the entire New York Times archive. Among the results on this page, only one is an article about Chicago. Here it is:


The ads are not related to Chicago, or even to travel. Same goes for the recommended articles: You are viewing’s most valuable content–the content most likely to get you to pay to see more–and they are encouraging you to leave the article for a story about God-knows-what:


The page never directs you to any of its many articles about visiting Chicago. (All of those articles are less than seven months old.)

We love traveling, and we really wish the Times would make its travel content more discoverable. Here’s a suggestion for a new home page that is more than just a new look; it gives readers more power:


Some of the basic features you see:

* Definitive placename search (eg, “Show me all of your content about Spain.”)
* Search by activity (eg, “I don’t know where I want to go, but I know I want to ice climb.”)
* Filter by affinity group (eg, “I am traveling with kids.”) or by distance from home.

The “We Think You’ll Love” box is populated from travel preferences you set via tag selection in a profile. This profile is accessible to non-subscribers. If you want, you can receive email notifications whenever the Times posts new content that matches your preferences.

We know the New York Times has the necessary metadata to do this. Why? Because hidden on their site, they have these handy Travel Guides! Neither the Travel home page nor Travel articles link to these guides. We only found the guides through a full archive search for “Chicago.” (Applying the Travel section filter makes this result disappear.)

We think such a model would serve readers well and win the Times new subscribers. This model could also be applied to the Times‘ Dining & Wine, Home & Garden, and Health sections.

* Dustin Curtis’s Dear American Airlines was an inspiration for this post.

Categories: Ideas & Thoughts

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