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Fairfax Media designs to please 7 million readers with adaptive experience

By Kimberley Jones

Fairfax Media

Sydney, Australia


How do you keep more than 7 million individuals happy and engaged each month on news sites? 

It’s a big number and an even bigger question. But one that I have been working on answering. 

As customer experience becomes increasingly important on digital news platforms, our readers’ insatiable appetite for a device-agnostic experience is being realised on smartphone, tablet, and desktop with a new adaptive digital solution.

We know our readers are enjoying more news, information, and entertainment on more devices and in more places than ever before. That’s why we’ve been busy creating new adaptive Web technology for our mastheads. 

New adaptive sites for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Canberra Times, Brisbane Times, and WAToday that modify how content is displayed to the reader —depending on their device — represents one of the most significant updates to our sites in the last 10 years. 

The refreshed masthead Web site design makes it easier to discover a wider range of our quality and engaging news content, and delivers a digital news platform that is ready for continual optimisation and innovation.

We utilised both qualitative and quantitative user research throughout the change process to evaluate customer experience and help direct the adaptive digital solution. Using a “research roadmap,” we engaged in regular user testing to provide qualitative insights, along with a combination of web analytics, customer feedback and a/b testing for quantitative data. 

Together, these research insights provide a powerful narrative of our users’ “pain points” and preferences, as well as highlighted what our audiences wanted more of from our products. 

The new adaptive sites (currently in beta testing) are device or screen size agnostic. This means that when a customer visits the site, it will detect their screen size and display the best of three layouts for that device. For instance, a customer’s screen size could be anything from a small smartphone, phablet or tablet device in portrait view, to a tablet in landscape view or large desktop monitor. 

Content accessed on our adaptive sites remains consistent on any screen, but the layout and formatting of content may change to provide an optimal experience for the screen’s real estate.

For example, a story read on a smartphone might only show the headline, whereas on desktop that same story will display the headline, thumbnail and brief summary text. In comparison, traditional responsive sites are predominantly fluid, but with less control over layout. So on a digital news platform, an adaptive approach provides a better user experience given the type of content being displayed.

About Kimberley Jones

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