Midlands News Association (MNA) relaunched the Express & Star website last week with an adaptive framework, meaning it can now provide a unified experience across all platforms.
The move will also simplify the advertising proposition for brands as they will be able to buy a single campaign across all devices (nma.co.uk 19 September 2012).
Following the launch, new media age spoke to Will Beavis, head of digital at MNA, about the strategy behind the move, the importance of mobile and increasing revenue.
Why did you decide to relaunch the website using a responsive framework?
Most publishers have built apps when it comes to delivering content across mobile devices, but that can prove quite expensive. Firstly, you’ve got the development costs attached to building that app for a specific platform, but beyond that there is the maintenance and upkeep of it. So we felt that it wasn’t a route we wanted to go down.
We got on board with the idea of having a mobile-first strategy and looking at how we could build our website to respond to users’ screen size, no matter what device they were on.
We took a look at what other websites were doing and took a lot of inspiration from BostonGlobe.com. It does a very good job of responsive, albeit slightly different to us because it doesn’t have so many commercial elements.
We’ve spent the last eight month designing, building and getting the site ready. We now have one site with a single content management system, so no matter what we put on the main site it is reflected across every platform.
What are the benefits for the reader?
The biggest benefit is that they get a uniform experience. The challenge previously, and for publishers who aren’t going down this route, is that they might have a newspaper website in desktop form and an iPhone app, but the way the content is presented and the way the user engages with that content is very different.
With the responsive design you do away with that. The continuity is there and the experience is a familiar one to the user because it is similar to what they get on desktop.
What percentage of users access the site via mobile at the moment?
It’s about 30% so it’s quite high and has grown significantly since last year. I remember looking at our stats at the end of Q1 last year and it was about 15-16%, so this is definitely the right move for us as we can engage better with that audience.
Previously, that 15-16% would have been looking at the site on an iPhone or Android and it would effectively shrink the existing site so the experience was poor.
You can’t click on links properly, and if you do you were likely to click two or three at the same time. The experience from an imagery perspective is quite poor too, and more importantly, commercially it shrinks down ad sizes, unless you are serving mobile specific ads.
Changing to responsive means we give the user a much better experience.
From an advertiser’s point of view what impact will it have?
We’re now in a position to be able to structure campaigns to advertisers and sell to them across all platforms, or if they want to just reach people on tablet or mobile phone devices we can do that too. We’re able to offer more packages.
As one of the first regional publishers to go down this route what do you think the advantages are for local advertisers?
It makes it easier for a local advertiser because traditionally they will have dealt with desktop and mobile on a separate basis. Now if we’re talking to the restaurant around the corner and they want to promote theme nights on a Friday evening they can buy a campaign from us and we’ll do the creative so it goes across all platforms in one go, so they doesn’t need to worry about it.
We can then report back to them and tell them what level of response the campaign delivered, whether that’s based on click through or some other type of engagement. That’s certainly attractive to local advertisers.
Do you expect to see any additional revenue?
That’s a difficult one to answer. At this stage, no. I think at the moment what we’ll see is an increase in response to advertisers’ creative and once we’ve got that it will give us greater leverage to go the market and say we’re getting an increased response from our ads because we’re able to serve them in a more user-friendly way on all platforms, and therefore you Mr Advertiser who hasn’t advertisied with us for the past six months might find us more attractive now. We’ll wait to see the responses we get first though.
Why do you think adaptive websites aren’t widely used by publishers at this stage?
I don’t think it’s a question of why aren’t they, but more when will they? I think most publishers will move to an adaptive platform over the next 12-18 months.
There is a lot of people out there who are developing things on a responsive basis. I was just looking at the BBC, which is trialling a beta version of responsive. There are a number of big organisations out there looking at responsive, but it is a big project to put into place. It’s not quite the same as the normal template-driven websites of old.
There’s more to it than that so there is a greater amount of work involved and the lead time is significantly longer. I think other publishers will do responsive sites in due course.
Would you ever look to launch any additional apps?
Absolutely. We’ve got an electronic page turning app at the moment that we deliver an electronic version of the paper through and that’s extremely popular. That’s available on iPad, iPhone and desktop and we’ll be launching a version on Android. From time to time there will be other apps too, particularly for commercial channels where we might have property and motor dealer listings or recruitment.
Will you be using what you have learnt in developing the responsive design for any other titles?
We now have responsive designs on the Express & Star and [sister title] the Shropshire Star. In the early part of next year we will be delivering the same responsive designs to our other titles in the Channel Islands, This is Guernsey and This is Jersey.