Last year, the Financial Times reached a milestone — 900,000 paying subscriptions. The company has used a paywall on its website FT.com since 2002, long before it became a must-have for news outlets outside financial media.
As a media business reliant on reader revenue, it’s been important that we track usage behavior. Those metrics help our product and news teams to understand what readers are doing and the different outcomes of those journeys.
Over the past few years, we’ve relied on user feedback as part of our toolkit to provide context and further understanding on readers habits and what they value. Users can provide feedback to our team in multiple ways — an annual customer survey, qualitative interviews, customer services, on-site feedback form.
Using user feedback to enhance the overall FT.com user experience has led us to create new products and shut down efforts that weren’t working — and in the end to build a better news experience that earns the loyalty of our users.
Shutting down a feature when qualitative and qualitative metrics say to
In October 2016, during the relaunch of FT.com, we released over 50 updates and new features. During this roll out, we wanted to understand the impact those developments had on how users used the site. We monitored engagement metrics for grouped users based on their reading habits and analyzed thousands of customers’ feedback via various channels including an on site feedback form, qualitative interviews and our annual customer survey to understand the impact those developments had on how they used the site. Those learnings helped us prepare support for different kinds of customer reactions in the post-launch period.
One feature in particular, Compact View, was created to meet the needs of a newly identified reader group. This new persona of engaged readers, the majority in the finance industry, shared the preference for consuming news in a list or “feed-reading format.” Thus, Compact View was created to provide the same FT homepage news without any images for an easy and cleancut way to scan the news daily. The feature allowed users to easily transition to the new website design, with a service customized for their specific reading habits.
Following its launch, we monitored the impact Compact View had on our users, both in terms of customer satisfaction and user behavior, and found that while there was initial praise and engagement with 15 percent of users on the old site opting in, only a small number of users were happily using it regularly. The resulting drop off rate caused our customer research team to evaluate how useful the tool was for readers.
In October 2017, after research and observations of feedback from numerous users, our product team decided that Compact View would no longer be available. It had become clear that the first iteration of this new feature needed improvement and was not valuable in its then-current format.
Test and measure to customize user experiences
At FT, we have a vision to move away from a “one size fits all” news experience, which is why we are keen to test out products that users request, such as the new FT.com. Even when products fail, we learn from the data we collect and are able to make the next product better as a result.
In fact, we are able to see when our products are not serving our readership and can easily pivot to something more helpful.
One piece of the 2016 redesign of FT.com that has turned out to be extraordinarily successful was a tool called myFT, a personalized news feed catered to each reader’s specific preferences. Users can find the myFT icon in the top right section of the homepage banner on FT.com, clicking this will take users to a dashboard which provides an overview of the topics they have selected to ‘follow’ and receive stories about.
User growth for the myFT feature exploded from 20,000 users in June 2016 to 241,000 in June 2017. The myFT feature allows users to receive the FT perspective on what is relevant on a global scale whilst simultaneously receiving updates about their own industry and preferred news topics. These tools have resulted in great feedback and high user rates, proving that user input is a fundamental component that we will continue using in the future to grow and adapt to meet our readers needs.
In 2018, the FT’s product team will continue to focus on the personalization of news and ways to enrich journalism. We will be using metadata to increase tagging and give more prominence to relevant articles. The team are trialing data based approaches to show the correct recommendations based on individual user preferences indicated using myFT.
Monica Todd is head of customer research at the Financial Times and Moshe Raphaely is a Financial Times group product manager.