In the booming Internet Economy, users from all walks of life have started keeping tabs on the volatile stock market. A portfolio of financial news sites hope to deliver more than ticker information.
Financial information is perfectly suited to the Internet. It changes constantly and the target audience has an urgent need for it. And because this audience is often on the go-always working, it seems, but never stationary-Web sites that serve business and market news are in demand because they can be accessed whether the user is in an airport terminal or an office.
From a content standpoint, there's room for variety in the financial world. Some business sites go straight for the numbers-obsessed, relying heavily on charts and graphics that track the indices and stock prices. Others aim for context, putting most of their effort into covering influential stories. There are sites with the kind of personality you might not expect from an economics-driven destination-the snappy TheStreet.com is one-and ones that go so far as to include child-rearing info (FT.com, which recently posted the article "Daddy & Daddy Parenting").
Visually, none of these sites are much to look at. Beauty is not the point, after all. Speedily delivering information-both actionable and educational-is. They're also generally unchallenging when it comes to navigation. Playing the stock market is complicated enough-why make matters worse with a fussy Web site?
The audience is understandably attractive to advertisers because it is composed, for the most part, of educated people with disposable income. But that doesn't mean advertising in this category is simple. Many of these sites are equally competent. Deciding which one to go with may be as tricky as executing a successful day trade.
The Point: To provide "the story behind the numbers."
Vital Statistics: Launched October 1997. Jointly owned by CBS and Data Broadcasting Corp., based in New York.
Target Demo: The active investor, across all age groups. Audience is 68 percent female and 32 percent male, mostly between the ages of 25-54.
Traffic: 10.3 million unique users for Q1 2000.
Content: News and more news. They even call the home page the front page, as if it were a newspaper. Can find all kinds of headlines here, not just financial ones. One big list of recent headlines included a tidbit whose relevance to the market is uncertain: "Pope denounces gay pride parade as offense against Christian values." But at least the site is thorough. Commentary comes in the form of, among others, Bambi Francisco, whose name makes her sound like someone who works the poles at Scores. But in truth, Francisco has a witty writing style. She's also one of the few female columnists on any of the major financial sites, and one could argue her presence expands the appeal of the site to businesswomen as well as men. You can "Find Your News" using a news index, which offers stories du jour, or search for news by symbol/keyword. Get customized quotes with BizBuyer.com. Create your own "Hot Stock Tracker" by entering up to five ticker symbols and clicking the save button (you'll get the current stock price and daily price change for them each time you come to the site). Regular features include "Personal Finance," with subcategories such as "Clueless Investor" and "Finances of the Famous" (for example, Reggie Jackson advising that people should invest in something that they like because then they'll follow it closely).
Look and Feel: The white stuff. What isn't white is a pale shade of gray. The CBS logo is mint green. Overall, it has a consumer feel. Not as stuffy or as macho-money as, say, TheStreet.com. Can imagine men and women relating to the site equally well.
Usability: Straightforward access to the majority of the content-news. Special features, such as "Interactive Charting," will require a bit more perseverance.
Advertising Options: Front-page animated headers with sidebars; wallpaper; rich media; content sidebar with top and bottom banners; and broadband. Also has targeting capabilities. Advertisers include Ameritrade and GE Financial Network.
Bottom Line: This is a big-picture site that works. Plus, it's got CBS behind it, and it is generic enough to serve a varied audience without being too bland.
The Point: To continue a winning brand online.
Vital Statistics: Launched April 1996. Owned by Dow Jones & Co. Inc., based in New York.
Target Demo: Top executives and middle management worldwide. Average age 45. Readership 82 percent male. Average household income $100K-plus.
Traffic: 460,000 paid subscribers.
Content: You can learn a lot about financial news just by reading this site's home page. The "What's News" section, which covers business and finance and is the focal point of the page, listed 21 stories (including brief summaries) on a recent visit. (This is after you log in, of course. WSJ.com is a subscriber site. In fact, it bills itself as the Web's largest subscriber site. ) One thing you don't get right off are the indices. The Dow Jones industrial average is posted at the top of the screen, but you have to do a search to get the rest of the numbers (S&P and so forth). Other news sections include "World-Wide," "Page One" and "Washington Wire." In "Also in Today's Edition," choices range from "Marketplace" to "Politics & Policy." Even those categories have headlines and summaries, so you can get an idea of what's happening without clicking any further. The "Weekend Journal" is for fun stuff, like advice on which movies are worth seeing twice or how to find a good wine merchant.
Look and Feel: Boardroom chic. A pebbly gray color sets off the logo at the top, and there are blue title bars and a white background.
Usability: Extremely easy to use. One of the best-designed and organized financial sites. Content is compartmentalized: A band down the right side highlights "Weekend Journal"; the news is set in the center of the page in a long list; and a bar down the left side offers quick links to the site's content. This makes it easy to digest at a glance.
Advertising Options: Demo targeting; editorial adjacencies; IP-based targeting; frequency control; hour & day control; and ad sequencing. Also, tombstone advertising with a searchable database of recent tombstones and one-click access to more detailed info on major financial transactions and company data.
Bottom Line: The New Economy and all its attendant publications and sites may be getting all the hype, but WSJ.com-that spinoff of old-timer The Wall Street Journal-is a serious contender.
Rating: ** 1/2
The Point: "CNBC.com, profit from it."
Vital Statistics: Launched July 1999. Owned by NBC, based in New York.
Target Demo: Heavy users of financial sites with a household income of $100K-plus, ages 25-35 and 50-plus.
Traffic: Averaged 46.5 million unique page views per visitor in March. Has 1.5 million registered users as of June.
Content: Purportedly, users are meant to profit from this site, but it looks more like CNBC is thinking of itself-so much of this site is about trumpeting CNBC and its corporate siblings. The headline news is courtesy of MSNBC. There are CNBC TV exclusives, such as the "Internet Investor." There's "CNBC.com Analysis." And the "Portfolio" feature will alert users when the CEO of a company they're invested in is due to appear on-what else?-CNBC. There is nothing wrong with cross-platform promotion, but subtlety is also a worthwhile art form. Elsewhere, there's a tax center and, of course, lots of info on stocks. There's a live ticker across the bottom that users can activate at will. They can also personalize a ticker. There's a new feature in the "Personal Resources" section: a golf center. What financial site, where green is discussed, would be complete without coverage of greens? This resources section also offers centers for career, mortgage and auto loans, among others. For business travelers, there's a weather center. Users can also check out video highlights from CNBC.
Look and Feel: Like casual Friday: beige and navy, as in khakis and a blazer. Also, there's no art, just tint boxes. Despite the sparseness of the graphics, the design's a bit busy, what with fitting in all the content and all the logos celebrating this or that as an exclusive.
Usability: Not hard to use, but some might find the crowded home page daunting.
Advertising Options: Banners; buttons; sponsorships; and e-mails to registered users. Advertisers/partners include Lending Tree, MyDiscountBroker, ChipShot.com, Fidelity and Dow Jones.
Bottom Line: It's got a good pedigree, but the site is so crowded that making an ad stand out could be a challenge.
The Point: To be the individual's guide to Wall Street.
Vital Statistics: Launched in 1996 but relaunched in June as a free hub site with subscription-based satellite sites. Owned by TheStreet.com, based in New York.
Target Demo: Affluent, educated and anywhere from 25 years of age on up.
Traffic: 41 million page views in Q1 2000.
Content: This is a site with an opinion. There's a slew of commentators featured prominently on the home page (recent topics include "Gary B. on the Annoying Subject of Stops"). Markets, headlines, news and analysis and personal finance are all highlighted on the home page, and there are links down the left side for categories such as "Investing Basics" and "Sports Scores." Elsewhere, tabs across the top tout the hub's sister sites: realmoney.com (for active investors and market enthusiasts); thestreetpros.com (for market pros, providing actionable market news and commentary); and ipoPros.com (for individual investors and pros, covering the world of IPOs and secondary issues). There's also a prominent link to partner The New York Times. The splash page includes a box of sponsored links ("Free trials to America's top performing investment newsletters!", "Play to win a golf outing with Justin Leonard!" and so on).
Look and Feel: It's the color of money-green. But obvious as the color is, it actually sets off the content very nicely. Makes the site look beefy and robust.
Usability: Don't have to be Street-smart to use this site because it's well-organized, with a home page whose content is presented in a user-friendly, four-column format.
Advertising Options: Banners; buttons; tiles; and e-mails. Also, sponsorships that include co-branded areas of the site (such as the "Mortgage Center," which is part of a HomeAdvisor.com sponsorship). Advertisers include American Express, Datek, Microsoft, Jaguar and Rolex.
Bottom Line: With its emphasis on commentary and its personality-infused writing, this site stands out.
The Point: To be "your partner in business."
Vital Statistics: Launched February 2000. Owned by Pearson Group, based in London.
Target Demo: New Economy executives, ages 26-45.
Traffic: 30 million page impressions per month and 1.4 million registered users.
Content: This is a business site that really covers the world, with global, U.K., and U.S. editions. But it's not so much for those with that killer instinct who want their data fast and to the point. The site, in fact, is a bit languid. Recently, a jumbo window promoting a sweepstakes competition popped up just as the home page finished loading. Some people would call this clever advertising; others-say, those trying to get information from the site-might call it annoying. Once you've fought your way in, there's not much to greet you. A few headline stories and links to world and business news. But there are markets stories with a world indices chart. And there's a global archive where you can search 8.5 million articles from the world's top 3,000 news and info sources. At the bottom of the home page are links to the Web's best business sites, grouped by category: "Data & Statistics," "Strategy & Management," industries and so on. The "Personal Office" offers a task list, calendar and address book that you can access from anywhere in the world. And you can get your daily news by e-mail and manage your portfolio. Along the right side of the page, there's an amusing choice of topics, including a "Going Out" link, where a recent article was titled, "Ballet: Daring but Bankable." And in "Shop": "Exclusive Luxury Hampers." So, the site gets points for variety and a nice dry sense of humor-if you've got the patience and the time to indulge.
Look and Feel: It's all maroon and peach, giving it a chummy feel.
Usability: Nicely organized. All the news is in one column, so it's easy to simply scan downward and choose the headlines you want to read more about.
Advertising Options: Offers advertising partnerships that are flexible. Open to unique sponsorships. Advertisers include Motorola, IBM, J.P. Morgan, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and British Airways.
Bottom Line: It's a pleasant enough experience but not exactly the must-see business site on the Web.
The Point: To cross-promote Bloomberg Service, Bloomberg Radio, Bloomberg Television, Bloomberg Press...
Vital Statistics: Launched December 1995. Owned by Bloomberg L.P., based in New York.
Traffic: 225.2 million page views in June. Number of unique users for same month was 7.4 million.
Target Demo: Upscale and financially savvy users. Audience is 75 percent male, 25 percent female. Mean age is 43.
Content: It's more about the numbers than the news, at least at first glance. There are just a handful of headlines on the homepage. But you can click on topics such as Business, World, Economy, Tech and Sports for more info. There's a clear and purposeful chart down the right side with market snapshot figures: the Dow, leading movers, etc. If you're willing to explore, you'll find a decent range of information. Within "Markets," for example, there's "World Indices," "Currency Calculator," etc. There's also "Money" (covering retirement, banking and loans, and so on), "Magazines & Books" (personal finance, Bloomberg Press), "Entrepreneur Network" (including tip of the week, among others) and "Life" (art & collectibles, sports, wine, cigars, Bloomberg shopper). The "Bloomberg Personal Shopper" area ventures into territory such as gourmet, gift ideas/flowers, beauty and other categories. This section also has a featured merchant and highlights deals from companies like Canali men's clothing.
Usability: It's not hard to use, but it is a little time consuming because you have to click to get anything. Then again, it's all well organized. The "Stocks" section, for instance, is broken down by tech stocks, stocks on the move, chart builder and so forth. And once you decide on your choices, the content is a cinch to take in because it's presented in the center of the screen, in white; charts/graphics are on the right; and the left side lists content categories.
Look and Feel: Bloomberg also produces The Bloomberg, a computer-like machine that offers company info, charts and all the numbers you could want, and this site replicates the look of that machine. It's very tidy, in discreet burgundy, black and gray, and has icons that resemble buttons.
Advertising Options: Banners; sponsorships; e-mail; buttons; text links; integration; and Superstitial. Advertisers include Ameritrade, Moneyzone, Insurance.com, Merrill Lynch, Salomon Smith Barney and Deloitte.
Bottom Line: Those in the know (as opposed to the masses) will know to use this site. For those interested in targeting a sophisticated businessperson versus the amateur day trader.
Rating: *** 1/2
The Point: To be "the financial network" and to cross-promote with CNN and CNNfn as well as various Time Warner properties.
Vital Statistics: Launched in December 1995 and based in New York. Owned by CNN America.
Target Demo: An upscale and educated "at work" audience ages 25-64.
Traffic: 487.8 million page views for Q2. There were 1.5 million unique users per month for January through May.
Content: Everything to do with finances as seen through the prism of CNNfn and its affiliates. A bar on the right provides CNN headlines, CNN.com top stories, CNN/Sports Illustrated headlines and weather. On the left, there's a blue bar with news, markets, retirement, consumer, small business, services and "CNNfn on TV." The site breaks stories down nicely, with hot text, graphics, art and periodic subheads for those who can't stomach reading a long story online. "Financial News in Brief" is excellent, providing a list of stories, with the first paragraph of each and a link for the full story, plus links for a different day's stories. The site also plans to partner with Money.net to offer free, unlimited real-time stock quotes and portfolios. Also in the works is an expanded broker center where users will be able to search profiles of CNNfn.com's broker partners.
Look and Feel: This site is pretty jam-packed, but it makes good use of art, which is unusual among this category of Web sites.
Usability: There's good and bad here: the charts are hard to absorb, but the text is handled well.
Advertising Options: Sponsorships; banners; e-mail; AvantGo (Palm Pilot); and streaming video. Also, opportunities for integrated (on-air and online) sponsorship of popular business features.
Bottom Line: It's thorough and there's plenty here to merit an extended stay.