Instead of “swinging for the fences”, Sweden’s VK Media took a measured approach to improving reader engagement.
Managing editor Stefan Åberg says that while VK’s front page was working well, recommendations on the article pages were not generating much engagement. A/B testing and a comparison of clicks helped evaluation and a 130 per cent increase in CTR.
“With more visits coming from search and social media, the situation had been concerning,” he says in an INMA Ideas blog.
“Initially, our thought was: Let’s build a continuous scroll function. Looking around, many other news outlets used this, so why not?
“But when we started to investigate the technical implementation, it was clear that this would be a major development project that would take up a lot of time for other stuff that we really wanted to do. And we didn’t really know that building this continuous scroll would give us good results.”
Åberg says a couple of years earlier, they would have gone for it, built it, and hoped for the best. “But in the last few years we’ve taken big steps to become a data-driven organisation.
“So instead of ‘swinging for the fences’, we took a step back, analysed the situation, and chose a truly data-driven and iterative approach. We focussed on small improvements and constant testing without knowing where the data would take us.
The first step was to clean up the article footer to minimise the “dead space” between the article and the recommendations, leading to a 35 per cent uptick in CTR.
Next was to build a system to easily manage the recommendations instead of the “hard-coded” solution used earlier. “Within our CMS, we made it possible to quickly set up different lists of recommendations based on the metadata from the article. Through constant A/B testing, we could tweak what recommendations worked best.
“Over a period of two months, we ran 15 A/B tests to see what was working and what could be improved.”
VK Media, based in Umeå, Västerbotten, found recommendations that were subject-wise close to the main article performed much better. “By being able to show articles that were closely related, we also completed another main objective of the project: to minimise the risk that our readers didn’t get ‘the full picture’ of a story containing multiple articles.
“We also tested whether an article list, an article teaser, or the start of a complete article worked best. We found the teaser version came out on top in most cases.”
Choosing the iterative approach, VK kept constant momentum in the project and achieved excellent results, increasing the CTR of the article recommendations on the article pages by 130 per cent from the baseline.
“Moreover, we started showing native ads among the recommendations, creating a new ad space that has performed equally with the native ad spots on the front page in terms of clicks.
“From bad to really good, we increased the engagement of our readers by using a data-driven, iterative approach that kept the project moving forward. We achieved excellent results, at the same time saving a lot of time spent on development compared to a big ‘continuous-scroll’ project.”