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Tencent adopts new look in pitch for users and ads
TENCENT, China's largest Internet company by market capitalization, launched a new version of its portal website QQ.com this month, introducing personalized front pages that take advantage of both the particular interests of users and the targeted intentions of advertisers.
The new layout of the web page provide viewers with a selection of stories and video content tailored to their individual tastes instead of bombarding them with loads of links and news stories. The profiles of individual users are gleaned from tracking their online trail of hits.
The move is a ploy to hang on to netizens as their focus shifts from portal websites to social networking platforms, such as Sina's Weibo site and Kaixin001, and to smart phone applications.
Social networking sites accounted for 16.6 percent of the time web users stayed online at the end of 2011, according to web traffic tracker ComScore, and those sites may surpass portals as the most engaging online activity this year.
Tencent wants to combine online video and content from individual users' microblog posts to create for them front pages that capture their personalities and interests.
According to web traffic tracker Alexa, Sina's Weibo is catching up with leaders Baidu and QQ.com in the league of the Top 10 most visited Chinese websites.
"Challenged by social networking sites, Tencent hopes to help readers screen the news content that appeals to them," said Dong Xu, a researcher with Beijing-based consultancy Analysys International.
The strategy shift offers greater potential for advertisers who hope to target their pitches to select market audiences, Dong said.
Chen Juhong, chief editor of Tencent.com, said the new version of the portal will keep tracking users' interests after they are logged into their QQ accounts and will also keep records when users are logging in from mobile devices and open applications on tablet computers.
"We have to break the barrier between traditional portal sites and video sites as well as other rich media content to offer viewers one-stop news content," she added.
Tencent is the first among China's four leading portal sites to revamp its front page in the face of competition from social networking sites. The other three major sites are Sina, Sohu and NetEase.
There is limited space for the front page of a portal. The new personalized front pages aim to maximize the space by focusing ads to specific audiences.
For example, a web viewer who follows Hong Kong pop singer Karen Mok might be more receptive to a video clip of her endorsing Canon's IXUS digital camera.
The integration of news stories and video content on Tencent's portal links may steer more visitors to its online video sites, said iResearch analyst Xu Hao. The number of monthly visitors to Tencent's microblogging site, its social network Qzone and its video website still lags behind its news portal, according to data tracked by iResearch in the first half of this year.
Tapping user data to create more tailored opportunities to advertisers is a global trend, as Internet sites try to parlay large user bases into revenue streams. QQ has 700 million active online messaging users, and most of Tencent's income comes from user-paid, value-added services such as Internet game tools. Advertising income, meanwhile, accounted for less than 30 percent of its revenue the past two years.
Most Internet firms in China aren't taking full advantage of their user bases, said Alan Yan, chief executive officer of Shanghai-based digital advertising network AdChina, which managed about 2 billion yuan of advertising on portals, video and other websites last year.
To move more squarely into that realm, Tencent needs to coordinate two separate arms of its operations.
The online behavior of users logged into the chatting tool QQ, Tencent's music streaming service and its smart phone voice messenger Weixin is tracked by a business unit separate from the news portal.
Tencent's Chen said her department is working closely with other business groups to better integrate user data and sell opportunities to advertisers.