In 2014, Expressen had low market shares digitally and no data strategy. The analytics team consisted of only four employees located far away from the editorial and technology teams, working mainly with print analytics.
As part of a digital growth strategy, Expressen set a bold objective to become the most data-driven media company in the Nordics, and the fastest growing news site in Sweden.
In a live Webinar on Wednesday presented by Klas Granström, managing editor/head of digital at Expressen, INMA members got an in-depth look at how Expressen achieved this.
The Webinar began with a short video that gave an overview of Expressen: a legacy newspaper founded in 1944, with a newsroom of 275 people. The Expressen Web site is the second largest news site in Sweden, with 2.8 million in reach per day and digital growth of 48.4% mobile market share in 2017, with a heavy focus on video and television.
Digital is now a core part of its offering, Granström said, with ad sales as its base revenue model.
“The core product is the news site and apps, where we focus mainly on the mobile platform (60-70%); but as I said we’re also a newspaper. We publish three editions — one of which is for all of Sweden, one for West Sweden, and one for the Southern part of Sweden.”
The Expressen runs a number of digital brands and verticals to be able to monetise and work with sponsorships, branded content, and native ad sales.
“For example, within health, cars, food, travel, sports, entertainment, we run different brands for all of those types of areas. The goal for Expressen is to be the No. 1 digital news outlet in the Nordics. This is a market where the competition is really, really tough,” Granström said. “To be able to do that with the resources we have today, we really need to make use of the numbers, the data, more data-driven forms of journalism, and product development.”
Expressen’s data-driven strategy
This strategy is based on three core pillars:
- Mobile content and distribution.
- Video/TV as the core news product.
- Social content and marketing.
Expressen uses these tactics to achieve its goals:
- Cross-department collaboration.
- The “Traffic Attack” operational project.
- Data-driven organisation.
“We are really focused on getting all departments — the newsroom, editorial, analytic, product, and sales — all working together,” Granström said. “We try not to launch any project without having people represented from each of these groups.”
The traffic attack is largely responsible for taking Expressen from a 15-17% local market share, to one of 47-48%.
In the last few years, the company has gone from just a couple of data analysts to a dozen, which are incorporated throughout the company: at the news desks, in product development, and in sales: “We call them our colleagues, and they are a direct part of the daily organisation,” Granström said.
“As part of becoming the most data-driven media company in the Nordics, we’ve said that the goal is to really make all of the journalists and developers ... become analysts. So our goal is to move from a dozen analysts to 300 or 350 of them. Because following the analytics and producing quality editorial has given us quite an upside, and we want to keep moving in that direction, with all of our staff really working as analysts.”
The Traffic Attack
“This is really the most important part of our tactics,” Granström said. Expressen has been running the project for about four years. “Of course the goal is to increase traffic from all sources. To do that, we work with a team of specialist editorial people, editors, and analysts together, that on a minute-to-minute basis work with the best packaging for all different platforms and get it out to the audience in the best manner at the quickest and best-suited time.”
This packaging, along with when it’s published and on which platform, is vital to the process.
With the data being such an integrated part of the Expressen newsroom, it is very visual, placed on electronic boards throughout the newsroom so that every member of the team has immediate and direct access to it.
“Everybody works with it. We have some 250-plus screens, with some department-specific data,” Granström said. “A central part of all this is a completely new newsdesk, with what we call a super screen.”
The team took inspiration from the CNN War Room to develop this visual for the most important data. The data is also available on staff phones, in both real-time and aggregated, via an app Expressen developed. This helps the team plan for stories and also track what’s performing on social media, video, and in search trends. The data also tracks what competitors are doing.
Performance-wise, the data covers KPI from yearly down to minute-by-minute. Traffic data, Granström said, is particularly important for Expressen. “There’s a lot of movement between platforms in the Nordic countries — between open Web pages into apps, moving from social into search. Those trends we really need tools to help us cover because there’s so much going on at the same time.”
It’s not only about clicks and audience development, however. “It’s also about quality content — how far into our articles are audience reading? Are we losing video viewers, and at what time in the clip or live broadcast? Are the articles long enough, good enough, are the headlines well-balanced?” Granström said these are the types of questions they ask, in addition to reader exits, scroll depth, and time spent.
“To keep balanced coverage on all levels, we also crawl all of our news sites in real time to see gender representation, in pictures and text.”
Each editorial department has screens covering its particular topic, whether that is entertainment, health, or sports — all with their own KPIs and RSS feeds.
“At the Expressen News, we publish around 500 stories every day, and it’s really hard for a news desk of 15 people to keep track of all those stories,” Granström said. “So we need the tools to help us to see if there is an article we published that is a short one that is getting a lot of audience right now, we should make the article better, we should add pictures and video, make it longer text.”
Data and editorial quality
While the numbers are extremely important in driving what Expressen publishes, they are not the only thing. Strong editorial is also top in mind, and the company uses tools that help it evaluate the quality of its journalism.
“When the publishing is done, we need tools to help us see if we have added all the components that we, as the Expressen newsroom, have decided we should really have,” Granström said. These include text that is long enough, pictures, TV and video on the article page, deep links, as well as headline SEO optimisation and meta data.
“These are tools to really help us know if we’re doing what we have told the audience that we are doing.”
All of these tools are developed in-house.
The tools are easy to use, Granström said, and it’s really the combination of all of them that works. “When you use that type of KPI in combination with time spent or total page views or whatever, it’s at that point that you get the really fine-tuned tools that helps you not only create the bigger audience, but also to create better content.”
Print and data
Print is still a big part of Expressen’s business, and print can also be a data-driven business, Granström said.
“For example, we combine panel data with e-paper tracking data to see what articles are getting the most time spent. We see which headlines are working. We have done eye tracking to see what kinds of designs on front pages and posters work. It’s also really important for editors doing the printed paper to know how far into the paper the readers are reading.”
The core question, Granström said, is if it’s working. And the short answer is, yes.
“We are not the biggest news outlet in the Nordics yet, but we are the biggest on social. So I would say that it is working really well.”
INMA: What happens to an article that doesn’t meet all the requirements as seen in your tool? Is it sent back to the journalist or what? And how do you handle journalists who don’t follow your guidelines?
Granström: I wouldn’t say we are having that problem. All the way down to the more traditional reporters are following the tools and using them the way we want to. On the other question, yes if an article comes through that is lacking in one of those areas, we send it back to the journalist if the editor can’t handle it themselves.
INMA: What did the reader see different in 2014 from the data-driven Expressen they see today?
Granström: I am really sure of the audience seeing a better product. I think the best feedback that you’re doing something good is that the audience is growing, they are spending more time reading your articles, they are watching your TV broadcasts more than they did four years ago. Even if we are a 75-year old newspaper, we are seeing the biggest numbers so far.
INMA: Do you separate the traffic sources when presenting the article score?
Granström: Yes, absolutely. We have the different KPIs that tell the article score, and we have various tools tracking the traffic. We combine those with the data that flows out of Facebook. It’s really a combination of data sources.
INMA: How big a part of your total content is breaking news?
Granström: Expressen is the news outlet in the Nordics that the audience should turn to for what’s happening — that’s our goal. It’s hard to say the percentages, but when there’s a breaking news situation, we create about 80% of our traffic on that coverage. The Expressen is really a breaking news-focused newspaper.
INMA: Are you using any third-party tools to collect your initial data?
Granström: Yes, the raw data comes from sources such as Linkpulse, Google, Facebook, Parsley, and Crowd Tangle. We have quite a lot of different data sources and have created most of the dashboards and tools ourselves.
INMA: Do you make any data-driven engagement decisions in print?
Granström: With all of the knowledge that we’re getting from how the different content is tracking on digital and print, we are really target-group focused, including the group that is really buying the newspaper. Print is in no way left out of the data-driven strategy.