Nine’s publications get new home page layouts, contextualising top stories

By Sophia Phan

The Sydney Morning Herald

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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Last November, Nine’s four metro Web sites — The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Brisbane Times, and WAtoday — launched new home page layouts. They were designed to ensure a more dynamic reading and editing experience, to contextualise the day’s biggest stories, and to more effectively highlight our award-winning photojournalism.

The Web sites have undergone a number of redesigns through the years. We’ve revisited page templates and story layouts to ensure we adapt to changing reader expectations, consumption patterns, and company strategy.

As the business shifted its focus from reach to a subscriber-based model, so too did our top referral source: the home page.

The previous home page had a limited layout, allowing for only 10 stories at the top of the page — all slotted into a static layout. If news broke, it didn’t allow home page editors to best highlight a story’s significance or group accompanying analysis, opinion, or explainer pieces.

The former configuration also didn’t allow us to showcase the depth of our coverage, from local news and sport to lifestyle and culture. Subscriber data shows us those who regularly consume a broad range of topics on our Web site are less likely to churn.

The mix of image sizes throughout the top stories allows us to better diversify content and balance our site with soft and hard news.

Digital editors collaborated with product and technology teams to design story templates allowing for this agility. They workshopped a number of units and ran a two-week experiment to determine audience interest and engagement. We had an internal Slack channel for digital teams to flag any bugs and provide user experience issues and suggestions.

These content units vary from one-story layouts to four-story layouts. Image prominence, placement, and size are all adaptable. We also have designs allowing us to place related and unrelated stories side-by-side within the one module.

We have had a number of meetings with the product and design teams to improve existing configurations and draw up new ones as we recognise the strengths and limitations of the new designs. The latest home page iteration focussed on redesigning lead templates to better highlight story hierarchy and presentation. It took a week or so after identifying weaknesses and optimising new designs for them to appear live on our site.

Designs also empowered home page editors with the ability to include titles on each unit at the top of the home page to better contextualise content and emphasise breaking news.

This was well-utilised on the day of the Capitol riots in the United States. We were able to turn on that title in our defcon layout — something that was not possible in the earlier design.

The home page was reconfigured to emphasise and add weight to editors’ picks, which has gained prominence when moved higher up the home page. It provided another place for us to showcase our premium selection of newsletters and podcasts. Home page editors are responsible for dynamically editing all of these content units to ensure a seamless experience for the reader.

As there are many templates to choose from, editors’ decisions are subjective and dependent on a number of factors, such as the type of imagery on offer and the overall balance of the Web site.

The data team is hoping to rectify this by designing a dashboard to better inform editors and provide deeper insight around performance beyond article level. The dashboard will ultimately track frequency of content unit use, click-through rate based on both unit position and story position within a unit, as well as engagement time and completion rate for each template.

There’s no doubt the site will undergo further redesign once we’ve analysed the data on readership patterns. And to think this iteration of the site has only been live for three months!

About Sophia Phan

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