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Six best practices to turn obit trends into new business

Part 2 of a two-part position paper

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View Part 1 of this article: Four trends

Here is the list of what newspapers should do to ensure continued relevance and importance for obituaries in the face of these trends:

1 . ELEVATE OBITUARY PLACEMENT AS VALUABLE LOCAL CONTENT IN PRINT AND ONLINE.

It’s time to re-examine the reader journey for obituaries at your newspaper from start to finish. No matter how great your user interface is or how efficient the software platforms are, the growth opportunity depends on readers being able to easily find the obituary section, and on these family memorials being displayed as important local content.

In the print version, do paid obituaries feel like a part of editorial? How about on your website? If your obituaries are separated and lumped in with classifieds, move them into a position that brings editorial and paid obituaries close together and with respect. Even if the accounting department considers them classifieds or the call center handles classifieds, paid obituaries are not classified ads to your readers and grieving loved ones. They are not really “ads” at all, but valuable user-generated content. Obituaries are not selling anything, and as Segal points out, obituaries are such high-value local content that whether paid or unpaid, they are top drivers of traffic. Place your paid obituaries with editorial obituaries in recognition of this value, and place all obituaries in an important place in the paper.

Next go to the homepage of the website. How many steps does it take to find the obituaries? Is it in the top navigation bar? Are paid obituaries at least prominently linked from editorial obituaries? Make sure they are. Here’s an example of how the San Diego Union-Tribune separates paid obituaries on the website, but in a way that provides easy access and makes them feel important:

Work closely with editorial to ensure the paid obituaries are easy to find. Elevating obituaries as important local content is a win/win all around — for families, funeral homes, the community and the newspaper industry overall.

2. ENSURE PRIVATE-PARTY OBITUARIES ARE EASY TO PLACE.

Follow the obituary customer’s journey by going to the homepage of the website, where private parties start. Count the clicks to find the right page. It should be no more than two. Google your city’s name and the word “obituary” together — that is, “Wichita obituary” or “Riverside Iowa obituary.” Does Google show your correct obituary placement page near the top of the search results?

Finally, call the newspaper as if you were a customer needing to place an obituary. How long does it take to find the right person? See if there is a way to shorten the path. Make sure the word “classifieds” is not creeping into the customer experience. They should not have to select “classified” from a phone tree or have someone answer the phone “classifieds.” They don’t know that obituaries are run by the classified team, and this language devalues the memorial they are writing. Reserve the “classified” term for internal use only, and train the call center to replace the use of “advertised” with “featured” or “published.”

Finally, use your print and online assets to educate new generations about the value of obituaries to memorialize and honor their loved one in their community. Remember that an increasing number of families do not use the services of a funeral director, and for them, this may be not only their first experience with the death of a loved one, but also their first experience buying anything placed in a newspaper. Here’s an example we love:

In conclusion, don’t assume what your readers understand. Explain to them that loved ones who have passed on can be featured in the newspaper and online with a few simple clicks.

3. AUTOMATE EXTENDED PLACEMENT OF OBITUARIES TO OUT-OF MARKET NEWS PAPERS.

Another easy way to serve families of transient Boomers is to allow them to place the obituary in multiple cities without retyping information, researching pricing and other repetitive tasks. After a user places an obituary with your paper and completes the transaction, the user is offered additional markets via a link on the confirmation page to Memoriams. They leave your website for Memoriams, however the data and photo entered on your site carries over to any additional newspapers the user selects, resulting in a separate transaction. It costs you nothing — you are helping fellow newspapers and they are helping you. Most importantly, you are helping your customer.

“Funeral home partners don’t always need an out-of market obit, but when they do, it can be very time consuming. In December 2022, a local funeral home with two locations told us when they get those requests, it takes up to 90 minutes with all the back and forth with the newspaper. They asked us to activate Memoriams in AdPortal to cut that time to 10 minutes or less.”

Amy Houghtling, Toledo Blade

The Memoriams network not only gives families of transient boomers who have passed away an option they may need, but also increases revenues for both the original and destination paper and saves hours of time for funeral homes and call centers.

Here’s how it works: Whether the order taker is a call center, funeral home or private party, when they place an obituary in your newspaper and pay online, they are given the option to click to the Memoriams network, which offers self-service for over 3,300 newspapers across the United States.

If they select an additional area, such as “Fort Lauderdale,” they see all the newspaper options in that area pop-up. Then they simply select a paper, and the data already entered for the first obituary prepopulates into the same fields in the second newspaper. If a photo was featured, it automatically carries over. A proof and price are provided on the spot, and the user can click to buy with the saved payment method.

There is no work for your paper to do and no cost to your newspaper to participate — other than informing your funeral homes that they no longer need to spend 90 minutes on each out-of-market obit placements. Ninety seconds should do the trick with this amazing new feature. Think about the time saved researching which newspapers serve a different city and their pricing plans, plus duplication of text, images and payment methods. The new process is single-sign-on, write-once, publish-anywhere.

Funeral homes love this feature! And it is good news for baby boomers, the first transient generation, and their families. Click here to download the Memoriams in AdPortal brochure.

4. OFFER TARGETED OBITUARIES ON FACEBOOK

Remember that the digital-centric generation placing ads for Boomers probably have already made their first announcement on Facebook. So they are interested in sharing the news on social media. However, their posts, according to Facebook’s own statistics, only reach about 10% of friends. Targeted Obituaries on Facebook, available as an add-on from iPublish Media Solutions, is appealing because it allows an obituary customer to utilize social media to reach additional, highly defined audiences at a minimal cost.

Here is how it works: Once the obituary is placed in the newspaper, the funeral director or family selects from a dropdown of target audiences optimized for obituaries: location, schools attended, hobbies/clubs, affiliations such as religious or civic organizations, military service and places of employment. The obituary automatically prepopulates a paid Facebook ad and delivers it to the selected audiences. This is not an organic post, but a tasteful ad delivered in-feed, proven to reach hundreds of the “larger ring” of acquaintances the original organic Facebook post could not reach.

The cost is minimal for families and click-through rates are outstanding, running an average between 20% to 40%. Yes, you read that correctly. The newspaper and the funeral home can provide an amazing amount of comfort and support to families from these Facebook contacts with very little work for the order-takers or cost to the customer. It also generates excellent incremental revenue for your newspaper — another win/win all around.

For a more detailed recap of this program, along with case studies, a short video and success stories, please click here.

5 . IF YOU AREN’T USING LEGACY. COM, YOU SHOULD!

iPublish Media Solutions is a Legacy.com company, and although there is no requirement to work with Legacy (or vice-versa) it simply makes sense to partner with Legacy for the digital distribution of obituaries.

Legacy.com is the global leader in end-of-life media and has been for years. The SEO benefits alone make partnership a great choice, but the newest release is packed with new features that get your newspaper ready for “The Boomer Boom.”

The landing pages have been continually improved for super-clean design, fast load times and fewer ads.

Legacy.com’s new “community pages” pull keywords from obituaries like “high school attended” and group them together so people can find even more obits they’re interested in from your newspaper, both past and present. Moderated guest books, pro tools for funeral homes, partnerships with local florists and charities — all this adds up to reinforcing community.

Partnership with Legacy also provides fast and easy ways to direct a reader to your newspaper to place an obituary, helping serve the growing market of private parties placing these ads. Easy connections to local charities, florists and more are part of the evolving Legacy.com program, creating revenue and content for you in a tasteful environment with global reach. And you get all the credit for audience traffic (page views/uniques) as well as dedicated ad positions at the top of the page in desktop and mobile.

Legacy.com simply creates the best reader experience possible, while increasing traffic to your pages, in ways that are light years ahead of other companies that simply “post obits” on your website.

Lastly, Legacy.com offers a wealth of professionally written end-of life content available for partners to use at no charge. Want to sell more end of life display ads? Give great content for readers to connect with alongside those ads. For a more complete overview on new Legacy.com programs to build tools for your community, please visit Legacy.com partners page.

6. MEET WITH AND SUPPORT CREMATORIUMS.

There are a variety of ways to reach out to crematoriums in your area. Advance Local Newspapers is working on trial programs to better reach crematorium owners and to educate their customers, who may place a private party obituary, about the important role obituaries play in honoring a loved one.

Meeting the needs of crematorium relationships and families who choose cremation means creating brochures, electronic communications and referral programs. Remember the importance of providing easy-to-find self-serve obituary ordering to private parties? That is part of this outreach, as are cost-friendly obituary options and continued reader education about the role obituaries have in the community. There will not always be a funeral director to help the family think it through.

Summary:

The massive increase in the number of deaths over the next decade can drive a healthy obituary franchise, but that does not mean that real gains are a foregone conclusion. Today newspapers face a “make or break’’ decision point, as the growing number of transient Boomers at the end stage of life is accompanied by the new expectations of a digital-centric generation who will place their memorial notices. This generation increasingly prefers cremation and will place more obituaries self-service online. It will be the first time many of them have ever interacted with a newspaper, so this experience can cement profound new bonds with the local newspaper or drive them away. Newspapers that rise to the challenge have everything to gain, so we encourage the industry to make a commitment to their community and their own future by creating the right reader journey and offering the right tools to funeral homes and families.

Download the full position paper as a PDF

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