Irish Times creates analytics team to drive reader-first strategy

By Jeremy C. Fox

Editor’s note: This is one of 17 case studies featured in INMA’s strategic report “Making Big Data Smarter For Media Companies,” released in December. 

The Irish Times was among the world’s first newspapers to go online, launching its first Web site in 1994. Today it continues its efforts to adapt to the changing digital environment for news, having established a new business analytics team in 2014. 

The key to growing audience and revenue is understanding more about readers, says Managing Director Liam Kavanagh.

“Our primary focus is on content and audience analysis — our content being our core product for readers to consume,” Kavanagh says. The company is analysing its content to determine the kinds of material that remain of interest to readers for more than a day or a week, enabling it to develop products around existing content, Kavanagh says.

Its analysis further demonstrates how different articles compare in generating pageviews and driving user engagement, helping The Irish Times identify which promotional channels — whether search or social — work for specific content channels and where the audience wants to find that content. 

All this new data benefits advertisers as well. 

“Providing our advertisers and agencies with more detailed information about our audience enhances our offering for clients,” Kavanagh says. “We are developing the capability for advertising to identify premium content and its associated audience properties in order to more effectively bundle our offering to advertisers.”

The Irish Times’ analysis extends to customer data on such products as its digital edition, showing churn rates as well as how it can change its processes to improve the customer experience and drive higher retention rates. 

As The Irish Times prepares to move to a paid content model, the reader data gathered through behaviour and content analysis has informed its decisions and will help it refine strategies, Kavanagh says. 

The Times is tracking behaviour of readers in three categories it has identified: 

  1. Occasional. 

  2. Frequent.

  3. Heavy. 

Then it identifies the articles that appeal to each category. 

Data analysis is helping The Irish Times drive deeper reader engagement and demonstrating the impact of changes as they are implemented. And the data analysis will continue throughout the implementation of the new model. 

“As we swiftly move towards a reader-first and therefore digital-first strategy, our goal is to increase reader engagement,” Kavanagh says.  “And our simple message on this within the business is to encourage readers to read one more article every time they visit the site.”

Much of the data gathered is anonymous, allowing The Irish Times to avoid privacy issues while still gathering broad insights on: 

  • Content performance. 

  • How best to time the release of certain types of content.

  • Which channels best drive users to its site.

For both anonymous data and that associated with individual users, The Irish Times strives to be “up front and transparent with our readers” so that they have the “best possible experience,” Kavanagh says. 

As The Irish Times has expanded its data analysis, its priority has been to match its technology to its needs, often using open-source tools, with an eye toward scalability so its systems can meet future needs. Each new data point it has analysed has helped it find promising new ways of looking at its data, which then lead to more fresh approaches.

“One key learning for us has been on the importance of cleanliness of data going into our systems. And as we move along this process, we are, as a business, prioritising data accuracy at input to give us a better quality of data output to analyse,” Kavanagh says.

Looking toward the future, Kavanagh sees an expanding array of options for using data: 

  • Personalised content and services targeted to readers based on behavioural analysis. 

  • Improved service based on modeling of customer interactions, leading to reduced churn.

  • Geo-tagged and catalogued content that is more relevant to readers, easier for them to find, and can be bundled.

  • More “identification and cataloging of evergreen content.”

  • Developing techniques for surfacing content to drive reader engagement. 

At its essence, Kavanagh says, the issue is to understand what users truly want. 

“Knowing the behaviours and preferences of our readers allows us to serve them with the content they want, when they want it, thus encouraging them to visit more frequently, consume more content, and to become a more engaged audience,” Kavanagh says.

“Knowing more about our existing readers also helps us to build profiles of new reader segments for our marketing team to target, thereby growing our audience.” 

About Jeremy C. Fox

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