What Publishers Can Learn From 'NY Times' Site Redesign

Question: When was the last time you actually typed in a URL in your quest to find online content? Can’t remember? That’s because how we source, discover and navigate to online content has changed dramatically in the last five to seven years. Our social streams, newsfeeds, +1s, Liked articles, related content widgets and more offer us an endless stream of recommended content and “other articles you may like.”

More often than not, this activity is done from the palm of our hands, and with pretty incredible contextual relevance. We don’t type URLs any more because we don’t need to. We click on links or tap on the thumbnail imagery these social streams serve to us, and we are instantly transported right to the meaty content we crave: the article page. Videos, slideshows and text articles – we consume it all the moment we land without even considering who the publisher might be. And chances are, that article page will serve us up yet another pathway to even more content that we’ll be happy to follow. 
The fact that readers are bypassing a publisher’s homepage in their search for content is nothing new, but how publishers are responding is. Garrett Goodman recently discussed this phenomenon for the Huffington Post by looking at how publishers like the New York Times and Mashable are redesigning their article pages to be “article gateways” in order to better capitalize on reader behavior and offer deeper engagement opportunities. As Goodman points out, the New York Times recognizes how readers are reaching their site and is acting on it. The company is  currently working to redesign its article pages  as a more suitable landing or “first experience” page for those entering the site after being directed there from a tweet, Facebook post, shared LinkedIn story or recommendation.  
While not everyone has the design resources to match the New York Times, everyone – whether a brand, a small publisher or a media giant – should be taking a cue from the paper's recent actions. Start thinking about how you can design every page on your site to act like a homepage. By focusing on a few key elements, you can ensure your site visitors are going to stay longer, dive deeper –  and, in the end, yield more for you.
1) Think organic. A top priority for any publisher or brand is to greet users with strong in-text links that lead to other contextually related articles. Simply put: an article page with no links (or not the right ration of them) is like a solid wall with no doorway for readers to open and explore. Links are organic to the page, trusted by readers – and are the foundation of the Internet itself. Publishers, driven by both editorial quality and business needs, should ensure readers continue flowing to other articles to satisfy pages per visit business goals. To accomplish this, they must institute policies and measures to create, analyze and optimize the effectiveness the links placed in articles achieve (e.g., A/B testing what keywords are engaged with by readers to determine which pathways work and which fail to yield any increased pages per visit). Publishers should also think beyond the strength of the keywords themselves, considering the  style, format and ratio/frequency of links within the content.
2) Think beyond your site. For publishers who monetize their business through the impressions and click-throughs of ads, the “pages per visit” metric is the gold standard. The more a reader engages with content, the more chances a publisher or brand (actually, the advertiser) has for the reader to view and perhaps click through an ad.

But this brings up a question. Other than the readers who click on an ad and egress to the brand’s destination, when is it OK to “let” a reader leave the site, from the business’s perspective? The answer is simple: It’s OK when the potential revenue loss of letting someone go too early and not triggering cost per mille (CPM) revenue is recouped or exceeded by letting the reader go but collecting some some other form of revenue. One way to generate more revenue is to put an audience development platform and practice in place. These sell-side opportunities involve adding sidebars or below-the-fold widgets into article pages that use thumbnails and/or strongly titled article links to improve the impulsivity of the click-through (instituted by the buy-side customer desiring the reader). Each click away will yield recouped revenue.
3) Think with your data. A recent piece by Wetpaint's Ben Elowitz in AllThingsD  succinctly summarizes the current pain publishers are feeling in their pocketbooks. In the article, he discusses how “Google’s universe-changing innovation was to realize that a simple search keyword… is actually incredibly valuable for targeting.”

I agree, but that was when search and SEO worked. Programmatic display advertising and the demise of SEO have both contributed to reduced financial gain for publishers. Yet publishers can still be creative about their data and how it can be used. While the Google keyword breakthrough in search was effective for targeting ads to an inbound reader landing on a site for the first time, in-content keywords can yield a treasure trove of information to the publisher. As an example, readers clicking on a link in an article after they’ve landed could be signaling intent change during the session. Publishers must get creative and analyze those signals to learn how they could be turned into more effective targeting as readers dive deeper into articles.
The bottom line? A business is only as successful as its customers are satisfied. In other words, everything mentioned above should be implemented or considered through the eyes of satisfying the reader. Better relevance, better contextually, better chances for readers to discover more great content keeps them engaged and sharing. The New York Times has this squarely in its cross-hairs in its article page rethink. No brand could survive for 162 years if its focus was anywhere else but on its customer, and it’s a great example of the progressive thinking in how change must happen architecturally now.



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