Slate's Double X Aims for Growing Women's Online Market

Women's Sites Attract More than 53% of Web Audience

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- It's a woman's world out there -- at least it is online.

Women's-content websites, such as those in the Glam Media, iVillage and Sugar networks, attract more than 53% of the total U.S. online audience, according to December 2008 data from ComScore. That's a dramatic increase from December 2007, when women's-content websites drew 38% of the total audience. The growth has been driven, in part, by the soaring number of new sites with a distinctly feminine focus. But these sites share one other important and distinguishing trait: an emphasis on community.

The XX Factor, Slate's blog that provides a provocative and broad conversation among a group of savvy and intellectual women, has exceeded expectations.
The XX Factor, Slate's blog that provides a provocative and broad conversation among a group of savvy and intellectual women, has exceeded expectations.
"Women go online more for communication," said Amy Auerbach, senior VP-director of digital at Initiative. "Men go on for information."

What it means
What this Venus/Mars difference means to marketers: Women's sites, particularly those that are blog-based, present a unique opportunity to converse with a highly engaged demographic in real time.

"Women sell what they buy," said Peter Naylor, senior VP-digital media sales at NBC Universal, which owns the mother of all women's sites, iVillage. "If [they] have a good experience or bad experience, women are more likely than men to share with their friends, family and online community about their ideas and interactions with any marketer or advertiser," he said.

As the number of women's sites has expanded, the sites have also become more narrowly focused and, in many ways, more attractive to marketers looking to reach targeted audiences.

"People want as close as possible to a one-on-one conversation," said Andrea Kerr Redniss, senior VP-head of digital for Optimedia International U.S.

For celebrity gossip, fashion-mag analysis and grrrrl power, there's Jezebel; for parenting, Dooce. If you want to read up to 2,200 other blogs, go to BlogHer. Later this year, the Slate Group will add one more niche, blog-based product: Double X, a spinoff site of Slate's successful political women's blog, The XX Factor.

Exceeded expectations
Slate launched The XX Factor in October 2007, and the venture -- a provocative and broad conversation among a group of savvy and intellectual women -- has exceeded expectations. Publisher John Alderman said the site is one of the most popular sections on slate.com, which, according to ComScore, attracted 3.2 million unique visitors in December 2008. "It's become one of the most successful things we've ever launched on Slate," he said.

To transform The XX Factor into Double X, Slate will build content around the blog including information on current events, relationships and shopping. Mr. Alderman said he expects to launch the full site in late spring or early summer 2009.

"We are doing what hasn't been done, which is focusing on the top of the women's market," he said, adding that women who read The XX Factor are "very smart, affluent, technically savvy, and also interested in fashion and shopping -- but not limited to that."

Mr. Alderman declined to share more specific data, citing that Slate is published by the Slate Group, a subsidiary of the publicly held Washington Post Co.

To grab women's attention, "it's important to have a point of view," Mr. Naylor said, noting that iVillage has built its brand for and around mothers, caregivers and heads of households. It has seen 29 straight months of year-over-year growth since it joined NBC.

"Whenever advertisers get up close and personal with these communities, they'll get real women, honest dialogue, honest feedback and a chance to engage in conversation," he said.

The drawbacks
Still, for some marketers, going niche can have its disadvantages. The focus can be too narrow, for one. And it can also open Pandora's box for consumer complaints. "Anytime you have user-generated response, then it becomes potentially more dangerous, because you never know what the consumer is going to say," Initiative's Ms. Auerbach said.

But Mr. Naylor minimized the risk. "It is a dialogue; it is a conversation. You've got to be ready to listen and pay attention to what consumers are telling you."

IVillage has continued to grow by creating partnerships with sister companies, Mr. Naylor said, but it will also look at targeting women more specifically. "We're working on targeting the right person at the right time that enhances everything that we do," he said.

Optimedia's Ms. Redniss stressed the need to reach consumers across many platforms. "There is always going to be a need for both. I do think we're moving to more and more niche media ... but we're always going to need the mass broadcast places as well," she said.

The good news for Double X is that the space shows no sign of slowing down.

"We'll be spending a lot more money in that space," said Christine Peterson, VP-digital media director at Carat. "It's just a smart way of approaching advertising for the right client."

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