The Financial Times is one of the world’s leading news organisations, with more than 846,000 paid for subscribers, 647,000 of which are digital.
We launched the new FT.com in October 2016. Our product vision was to bring clarity to the news and help our audiences make better decisions. A key part of this was to save users’ time by providing relevant information via a consistent, seamless experience across devices. To do this, we broadly focused on three areas: simplicity, speed, and personalisation.
We quickly realised the new Web site needed to be meaner and leaner and free from too many “artificial” ingredients. Our overarching goal for speed enabled our quest for simplicity. We wanted to keep page-load time to an absolute minimum; our target was to become the fastest site in the publishing industry.
To emphasise the importance of a faster Web site to key internal stakeholders, we had to understand the true impact site speed had on user engagement. Fortunately, our analytics team had developed a sophisticated internal engagement metric that accurately predicts the likelihood of renewing a subscription.
Through a rough a series of A/B tests, we slowed the site down to see how site speed correlates to loss of engagement and revenue. Test results showed that for every one second increase in speed, our engagement score increased by 5%. In subscription and ads inventory, this translates into millions in revenue. Speed therefore became a principal element of the site.
FT readers value the FT view, such as how we display stories on the homepage. They also follow specific and niche areas of interest, which are usually highly important for their professional lives. Many of these topics would never make it to the homepage, but when we write about them, our readers want to know .
We rolled out a new feature called myFT to give readers daily e-mail digests or instant alerts about any topics they follow. If they don’t want to receive an e-mail, they request a live feed page. In addition, we provided numerous personalised recommendations to further enrich their myFT experience. We’re now phasing out around 50 automated headline newsletters and, instead, encouraging users to sign up to myFT.
We moved the whole Web site to http/2, a faster, more secure protocol than http1.x. We also built various services to optimise the front-end code. For example, we reduced our use of custom fonts and employed predictive feature loading to avoid loading page elements (such as comments) where they were not required. Above all, we were ruthless about the number of third-party scripts we allowed on our site.
So with all this effort going into these three key areas, was it worth it? I’d say so:
- The site is the fastest in the industry, with a median page load time of 1.3 seconds on a desktop and 2 seconds on mobile.
- Site users are 20-25% more engaged, thus more likely to renew their subscription.
- Ad inventory has increased by 15-20%.
- Site viewability, due to faster loading, has increased to 72%.
- 44% of our digital subscribers are now using myFT, which is the most praised feature on the new Web site. The user base is growing weekly.
It’s been an exciting year in the development of the new FT.com. With these foundations in place, we’re now focused on enriching the presentation of our journalism and further enhancing our approach to personalisation.