By the start of 2020, the New Zealand Herald’s Web site provided readers with an intuitive, modern interaction. The problem was, its mobile app didn’t match the same quality experience. So it decided to bring the development in-house and create an app that would live up to readers’ expectations.
In February, it rolled out the first phase of the upgraded app, giving users a more elegant layout and providing greater flexibility within the app experience. Three months later, NZ Herald rolled out the second phase, which allowed users to subscribe and pay for premium content through the app.
“We worked with prototypes to assess the viability of certain features and technical approaches,” said Sarah Pritchett, head of digital product, NZME.
“The first phase was very much about stripping things back and getting back to a simple but engaging UX — resetting the customer’s expectation and building back trust in the stability of the application.”
From there, the team built on what it had created, introducing features that “went beyond that simple and safe UX to more deeply engage users with the application and the brand.” This included trying out new ideas like customised navigation, saving for later, and offline reading and commenting. This allowed the team to discover which features resonated most with customers; then, those components were prioritised as part of the app’s feature set.
Letting feedback guide the process
Throughout the process, Pritchett said, user research played a key role in informing the next steps. Initially, decisions were made based on customer feedback from comments and ratings in the App Store and feedback provided to customer support teams and through social media channels. NZ Herald also conducted desktop and UX best practice research to see what other best-in-class news apps were doing.
“Throughout the design process, various user research was conducted — with NZ Herald and non-NZ Herald app users — asking for feedback on designs and user experience,” Pritchett said. “Then, as we built out the app, we convened a group of Beta testers who, in the month before the launch, used the app in real-time and provided feedback on user experience.”
Their findings were built into the final product as well as some of the immediate post-launch updates. When the app launched, NZ Herald monitored all the feedback channels (App Store, customer support, social) to see what issues users were having and took immediate steps to correct them.
“These channels continue to provide great feedback about the app function and inform our customer-centric design and build approach,” Pritchett said.
New app, new content
Upgrading from the old app was automatic for some operating systems, but the NZ Herald also had a small group of customers who weren’t able to upgrade because they were using older devices that were unable to support it. Customers using the old app were able to access it for seven months after the initial launch, but after that, the new content no longer updated to the old app.
The launch of the new app called for a greater selection of content for users, and the newsroom delivered. When in-app subscriptions were activated on May 27, the NZ Herald offered a suite of curated premium content that couldn’t be found anywhere else, including an inside look at the government’s COVID-19 response and a look at some of the country’s biggest crime stories. Hundreds of new subscribers signed on.
The app has been embraced by users, earning a rating of 4.3 stars in the Apple App store and 3.6 stars on Google Play. It has been regularly featured by the App Store has the App of the Day, New & Noteworthy, and as a “must-have” app. Since launching, in-app subscriptions have made up 27% of subscriptions, and paid premium subscriptions have exceeded 50,000 — which is beyond the original target goals.
“The App Store ratings and maintaining those is a key indicator of the job we are doing to keep customers happy,” Pritchett said. They also look at engagement metrics including pages consumed per session and time on the app overall from all customers.
“We also break that down into key customer segments – registered customers, logged-in customers, and subscribers,” she said. “Growing both the number of customers in these segments and keeping them highly engaged are critical success factors.”