Algorithms, automated content optimisation are key to publisher competitiveness

By Chuck Blevins

Cox Media Group Newspapers

Atlanta, Georgia, USA


Media sites often seem designed in the same manner that a newspaper 1A is – various boxes and teases highlighting other content available. Since we’re not sure what will stick, we provide a smorgasbord of content, hoping most readers will see something of interest. Obviously the goal is to get readers to read more.

Yet, according to Nielsen, “The average visitor spends only three minutes, four seconds per session on the typical news site.” How are we measuring the effectiveness of these designs and widgets, versus just how the content itself performs?

Tools like Chartbeat help publishers take a deep dive into reader behaviour.
Tools like Chartbeat help publishers take a deep dive into reader behaviour.

How many of us use tools like Google or Adobe Omniture’s Click Map, or Chartbeat’s Dashboard or Taboola Newsroom? These are tools that help improve engagement by showing you what elements on your pages are currently working. How far are most readers driving down the page, allowing for testing?

How many of us track how the different widgets on our home page draw traffic and click-throughs?

How many of us know that the various items threaded in those boxes are actually the content folks are seeking (versus what you want them to see)?

How are we determining what is placed where on the home page, and, importantly, why in that position?

How are we reacting to any of that information?

Facebook, Google, and Yahoo (!) are good at delivering the right content at the right time to the right reader because they have no vested interest in what content the reader reads – only that it’s something the reader will click on. They base their delivery around the reader’s own behaviour and deliver based on that.

I’ve harped on this before, and it’s still true.

UX professionals and designers have known for years that they aren’t the user. They rely on user feedback to drive their decisions. It’s time that digital producers accepted it; the data proves this (as if watching Google, Apple, Facebook, and others’ investments weren’t sign enough). As a result, I’ll trust a good algorithm and consumers to judge their interests better than myself or any editor.

Interestingly, Pew says that when readers come directly to our sites, instead of search or social, they’re apt to consume more pages per visit. Readers do value the media as trusted sources. So, while big social is driving more views, it’s not producing more views per visit. This says we still need effective entry pages and discovery tools.

The problem with most media sites I see provide either a Las Vegas-like landscape that showcases a range of various content available – or they provide what’s effectively a news page with limited “curated” content. Yet metrics indicate the media still misses on drawing the reader in. The gap is not the design, but the connecting of content to the reader.

Publishers must rely more on data from companies like Taboola to move forward.
Publishers must rely more on data from companies like Taboola to move forward.

So what I’m advocating is that we, the trusted sources, spend less effort on manual story placement and display optimisation and focus on our key value – our content. That’s where the tools I mention above, and others, come in.

Publishers must invest in consumer data tools/services and tracking if they hope to continue to compete in the long term. The space is rapidly moving from trailing metrics to real-time updates.

Personalisation and content optimisation tools range from real-time trending data based on overall readership data, to individual reader preference data, automated reaction, and optimisation that updates story placement and stories presented.

Integrating automated content optimisation tools helps you better allocate your production resources to be focused on building the best content packages with robust threading. They also help ensure content elements have the necessary meta-data to allow the personalisation and optimisation tools (and SEO) to leverage them.

Optimally, the personalisation tools’ impact flows down through performance improvement, design simplification, and improved mobile optimisation.

While “there is no mobile,” there are devices with smaller screens that make up more and more of your monthly traffic. To repeat myself: These small-screen experiences and capabilities need to be considered from a design standpoint, and also the context in which the reader is likely to use them.

Those users not only require simpler, fast-loading, and scanable page designs, but they expect to find what they’re interested in quickly.

We simply have less time and space in which to get things right. Investing in user data metrics and tools that provide personalised, real-time content optimisation to our readers can better enable us to compete.

About Chuck Blevins

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