In my conversations about home page automation and personalisation, I have learnt a lot. There is still much to learn, but I think I now have enough of an understanding to articulate some of the main considerations for crafting a home page with automation.
Here are a points I encourage you to think about if you are (even remotely) starting to think about automation and personalisation on a home page:
Manual intervention is important. I haven't yet seen a quality news site that fully automates a home page (please do correct this if you have one or have seen one). For the large majority of publishers, you will want to define which areas of the site are populated manually and which automatically. Editors are far and beyond best placed to decide which are the major news stories around the world that need paying attention to. Or to put it another way, if a news site does not have something about a major story (such as COVID or Ukraine), it may not be taken seriously. As an organisation, you may want to give some stories more air, such as large investigative pieces that have taken months to put together.
Think in buckets/bundles/packages of content. If you automate everything, you may just get the equivalent of cute cat videos across the site. Users will still want to see the range and breadth that you offer, such as news, opinion, sports, finance, leisure. When you plan your automated home page, think in sections and how each of those stitch together for the overall feel of your brand.
Your CMS is essential. If you decide to automate, you can only work within the parameters of how content is tagged and managed. We’ve seen this before when tagging articles by user need. There needs to be the right, consistent tagging of content so you can programme how it is weighed and valued for each of the above mentioned brackets. If your content is not in order, you will not be successful at automation.
Consider your “easy wins.” What are things you know are an issue for certain readers? For example location, interest segmentation, or removing articles that have already been read.
Remember to keep looking at what you are optimising for. For a subscription site, it’s likely conversions for non-subscribers and engagement for subscribers. For audiences that are unlikely to subscribe, it’s likely maximising ad yield. Or getting users to register. Or sign up for a newsletter. Think about the content you want to show that will meet those goals.
Automation of content can only work if it is a joint mission between the newsroom and product. Look at why you are doing it. Look at how you are doing it. And agree on goals and metrics. Spend time testing and getting comfortable with it. If you are testing different variants, make sure people know internally and are monitoring each. There will be errors — especially in the early days — so work together to monitor and correct during experimentation before you go live to a whole audience.
Think about how you communicate to users. Some readers may assume you are already doing it (like Netflix, Spotify, or the plethora of online content platforms). Some may be surprised. Some may rally against it. The last thing you want to do is being caught off guard. If you are doing this for the user, consider how you tell them and what their reactions may be.
I hope this was helpful. If you are already automating your home page, I’d love to hear from you. What’s going well? What surprised you? What unexpected roadblocks have you hit? And how is it going? Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule time to speak with me directly at www.calendly.com/jodiehop.
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