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Live blogging enhancements increase engagement for Sydney Morning Herald, Age

By Sophia Phan

The Sydney Morning Herald

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have published more than 1,000 live blogs since the beginning of 2020, averaging two per day over that period. They have covered many topics, including the coronavirus pandemic, bushfires, the U.S. election, sporting matches, and the stock market.

Our data showed the live blog experience was extremely valuable to our subscribers. It is often the top story of the day for that audience segment, as well as a key conversion driver for our best prospect and casual readers.

We ensured crucial information regarding bushfires and the coronavirus pandemic was in front of the paywall so readers could access it free of charge. Despite this, blogs in front of the paywall contributed to conversion reads, appearing frequently in the conversion journey. In fact, live blogs have made up 24% of our conversion reads since January 1, 2020.

Several changes to the live-blogging format have helped readers find and engage with content more efficiently and effectively.
Several changes to the live-blogging format have helped readers find and engage with content more efficiently and effectively.

To adapt to the nature of breaking news and the evolving number of stories requiring live coverage, our home page redesign included multiple components championing the live blog asset. We prioritised the development of live article push notifications to ensure subscribers have the latest available information. Previously, we only had the capability to alert readers to standard articles. This change allowed us to alert when news breaks or if an announcement is imminent.

Our newsroom worked closely with the product team to enable multiple bloggers and producers the ability to edit live articles concurrently as well as pin posts and video content to the top of the live article asset. By November 2020, with all of these changes in place, our U.S. election live blog broke internal records, becoming our most-read piece of content ever.

But our work won’t stop there. There are always ways we can improve our product.

Though the blog was already a key method for our newsrooms to set the agenda and deliver timely updates to our audience, there were some problems we wanted to address. These included:

  • Getting readers up-to-date quickly: One of the common pieces of feedback we received was that it was hard to find posts covering the most important developments of the day. We had the functionality to pin posts, but they often changed throughout the day and impacted all four metro Web sites. The “Summary” at the top of a live article seemed like a synopsis of the blog, rather than the day’s events, and it hyperlinked to separate articles, rather than blog posts.
  • Making readers dig through posts to find relevant information: When readers clicked on a push notification, they often couldn’t find the post related to that alert. We needed to make push notifications relevant even if readers weren’t opening them immediately. This issue also impacted social media editors who were resharing the same asset multiple times a day.

As a result, we built a new live article template that allowed for in-page navigation, the pinning of key posts, and the anchoring of blog entries. Posts then appear in reverse chronological order based on publish time, and they are clickable. Now it is easier to navigate to the corresponding post. It allows readers to more easily digest our rolling coverage and provides an option to jump to the post for additional context.

Readers can now share individual post URLs if they want to highlight a particular issue. This functionality allows us to pin alerts to individual posts within a blog. This means that when a notification is clicked hours later, it will take readers to the corresponding post, rather than the top of the live article.

Pagination was also introduced to enhance the reader experience, allowing users to more easily navigate through the live blog. There is an option to click both the “latest” and “oldest” page in the blog article, as well as search by page number.

We’re currently monitoring data and audience feedback to inform further development of our product. However, early signs point to increased reader satisfaction and a definitive link between subscriber engagement, total audience engagement, and an uptick in subscriptions.

About Sophia Phan

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