The site is kind of divided into two main components: the front page news component, and then a larger sort of message board component, where it’s 100 percent open-ended for people to start conversations, post topics, post events, and ask questions. So I think, not only keeping that open and encouraging people to do that, but starting some conversations ourselves over the years would kind of lead into engaging that audience—asking their opinions, asking what they want—has helped them to feel valued, and to bring them back over and over, and to make them know that there’s something there for them to do on a daily basis.

We also align our editorial content in a way that’s somewhat engaging with our audience. For example if we interview a local politician or someone who’s making decisions about a topic that’s of interest to our audience, we’ll do a lot of crowdsourcing of questions from our audience in advance. And then we take that, conduct the interview, get information, and get that back-and-forth started—many times encouraging the interviewee to then come on and answer further questions and get involved in the community. So a lot of things like that—trying to shape our editorial calendar around what works best for engaging our audience.

What are the most popular parts of your site, either for your regular readers or for fly-by readers who might come to you while looking for something else? Or, do you not mentally divide your audience into categories like that?

There’s definitely an audience who log in multiple times a day to take part in ongoing discussions, there’s an audience who log in in the morning to read the news and then are gone, there are other people who check it once a week before the weekend because they’re looking for something to do. There’s definitely different people who use the site for different reasons. I would say topically, the things that seem to get the most traction are any sort of food-related topics, whether it’s a restaurant review or a discussion about a particular type of cuisine, or anything going on in the realm of urban development within Columbus. Over the past ten years we’ve had a pretty aggressive plan from our mayor’s organization of rebuilding the downtown, revitalizing some of the housing downtown, and that’s a topic that I think really resonates with a lot of the twenty-four- to forty-year-old, young, creative demographic—people looking for those sort of urban opportunities in cities across the country. So I don’t find that that surprising.

So then when you’re looking to turn that audience into ad revenue, what kinds of information do your advertisers want to get from you about that audience? What have you learned about that process?

We use Google Analytics, and that information is always really valuable, because advertisers always want to know where the audience is coming from, how long they’re spending on the site, how many pages they’re clicking on, what areas they are spending the most time in. We also do an annual demographics survey that asks sort of the traditional demographic information about age, education, marital status, children, sort of the whole nine yards. We also ask a few things that are region-specific, as well: we ask where people work, where they like to hang out, where they like to eat, what type of local stores and shops they spend the most money in, things like that.

That’s been really valuable for not only helping us to define who our audience is, but letting advertisers know that if you have a boutique shop in the hip neighborhood, that this is the audience that is looking for you, and they’re going to want to know about your sale. Our business model is aimed at working with the smaller businesses and medium-sized businesses in central Ohio on the advertising end, so it’s been a very good fit.

How do you do that? What can advertisers do to market to your regular readers, your loyal audience, and how do you help them do that?

Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner