While funeral service has changed in many ways over the years, the newspaper obituary is still the best way to reach your community. If you are trying to reach people over 55 years old, it’s time to take a second look at the time-honored tradition of print obituaries. Newspapers dominate in the older age ranges, reaching a third of all people over age 45: 29 percent of people ages 45-54 and 37 percent of people 55 years and older. In addition, the obituary section is the most-read section of the newspaper.

Graph of Print Newspaper Reach by Age

Source: Dr. Hsiang Iris Chyi and Ori Tenenboim from the University of Texas at Austin

The ability of a newspaper obituary placement to reach your community doesn’t stop with the print edition. The benefits continue online, where the newspaper’s wide reach and strong reputation translate to higher rankings in search, leading to more people seeing the obits you place. According to Quantcast, our newspaper partner sites reach over 22 percent of all people ages 55+, more than twice the Internet average. No other site or network of sites comes close. And similar to the print edition, the obituary section of newspaper websites is where people spend most of their time, according to a study by research firm Millward Brown Digital.

So let’s say that placing a newspaper obituary with print and online components reaches close to 60% of all people in that core 55+ age range. How does that line up with the exact families you want to reach? The short answer: awesomely.

The Original Social Post

In many ways, the obituary was the original social post. By “posting” it in the local newspaper, funeral home professionals ensured that the news of a death was shared specifically to the geographic community that was most likely to care about this person. In today’s social media world, this approach is called “geo-targeting”– businesses can target the limited geographic area most important to them, for a price. Another benefit of posting obits in local newspapers was that the people reading any individual obituary were likely to have a connection with the deceased. This meant the funeral home was reaching friends or family of the specific families they’d already served–their best potential future customers. Today, the fancy name for this is “social targeting” or “psychographic targeting,” which just means targeting the people who most closely resemble current customers.

One of our funeral director friends illustrated this point well when he shared his negative experience with paid search. Even though he was geo-targeting and reaching many people that lived in his area, the leads generated were awful, because they just didn’t match the types of families he typically served.

We hear from funeral home professionals that in their perfect world, every person within the communities that they serve would wake up and check their funeral home website as the only obituary source. I can fully understand that wish, but humans are creatures of habit, and for most of us, our habit is checking the newspaper obituary section either in print or online.

The Best Option for All Involved

The newspaper obituary is the best option for the family because it reaches the most people and is what they want. In a recent survey of over 1000 people, we found that 88% of respondents wanted to place a newspaper obituary. This was true for young people and strong across all age ranges.

Responses to the question: “If someone you loved passed away, would you place an obituary?” by age.

Responses to the question: “If someone you loved passed away, would you place an obituary?” (Source: Cint Nationally Representative Survey)

It’s the best for funeral homes, too, as it allows them to reach the most people who are most likely to want their services in the future. And who doesn’t like to see their funeral home’s name and logo in the newspaper? Placing obituaries in the local paper is the best way to tell your community that you are helping another family.

It’s the best for the newspaper, clearly. The obituary section continues to be a bedrock of the local newspaper business model and allows them to continue to operate and be champions of the community. The obituary section, after all, is where they see the most reader engagement both in print and online.

Why Doesn’t Everyone Place a Newspaper Obituary?

The simple answer is cost. After we surveyed people to understand what they would pay for a newspaper obituary, we worked with Adpay to identify actual in-market prices. We found that the gap between what people expected to pay and the actual price for the obituary was large in larger cities and major metropolitan markets. On a positive note, the cost of placing an obit in a smaller market was within reach of what consumers expected.

Chart comparison of the expected cost vs actual cost of an obituary.

(Source: AdPay and Cint Nationally Representative Survey)

So what’s the takeaway? If you are serving a local community with a small to mid-size newspaper, take full advantage of this opportunity. If you are in a larger community and your families can afford the newspaper obituary placement, there is no better spend for them or you to get the word out about their loved one. If the family can’t afford to place a print obituary today, work with your newspaper to explore online-only options or perhaps a simple memoriam that can allow a family to share a life story in the future when it makes sense for them financially. You’re in the business of helping families share with others that someone they loved has died. Using the gold standard, you can help ensure the largest possible celebration of life.

Steve Parrott

Steve Parrott has more than 20 years of experience providing strategic leadership and vision for Internet companies and online properties. During his time at Legacy, he served as President and CEO.

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