Monthly update: Googlebot, the Royal Wedding, interactive investigations and more

What The Times and The Sunday Times Digital team have been working on this month

Welcome to the first post in a new monthly series highlighting the best initiatives, innovations, and experiments from the Digital team at The Times and The Sunday Times.

The SEO team — flexible sampling six months on

Taneth Evans, our SEO editor, published a post earlier this month discussing Google’s recent switch to from ‘First Click Free’ to ‘Flexible Sampling’, changing the way the platform crawls and indexes our articles. She reveals that, since enabling flexible sampling, traffic from search has been higher every day compared to the same period last year – except for just one day: the day Donald Trump won the US election.

The Audience team — Royal Wedding special email newsletter

The Sunday Times did extensive coverage of the Royal Wedding between Price Harry and Meghan Markle, and worked in partnership with the Audience team and the Marketing department, took the opportunity to showcase our best editorial content to our Registered Access readers through a special email newsletter. This is the first of a series of trials aimed at building bespoke email experiences around special topics and events. We believe email is an important part of our offering as we look to engage with our readers beyond the website.

The Interactive team — investigating child trafficking in Britain

An investigation by the Interactive team found that children are being trafficked to Britain by criminal gangs, with many tempted by the promise of playing football for Premier League teams, modelling for high-end fashion labels and the hope of a better life.

Instead these vulnerable minors, trafficked from places such as West Africa, Asia and eastern Europe, are being enslaved and forced to work in cannabis farms, nail bars, illegal casinos and brothels across the country.

The investigation gave us the opportunity to build a new interactive slider which asked readers to guess how many slaves there were in Britain today. The idea was that it would force readers to think about their expectations versus the reality — and the experience is something much more memorable than just the flat numbers. Thousands of our readers used it, revealing a histogram comparing their guess to every reader result.

The Development team — a fresh take on data

INCA — democratising data in the newsroom

In partnership with our Data Technology team, we relaunched the first of our suite of analytics tools — the INCA browser extension.

This extension loads up alongside articles on The Times and The Sunday Times website, giving editors and journalists the data they need, when they need it. With INCA, we are keen to develop tools that allow staff to use data to better inform the decisions they make day to day, but not drive them down a specific path.

We overhauled the interface code, bringing in React, a new shared component library for future INCA projects, and Redux for state management. We also implemented a brand new login and authentication system, allowing us to give more people access to data than ever before.

We’re publishing a white paper on INCA and our future plans in the coming days, so do look out for it. This post will be updated with the link once it has been published.

INCA was awarded ‘Technical Innovation of the Year’ at the 2018 Online Media Awards, so congratulations to all involved 🎉

Looking ahead to next month

There’s a lot to look forward to, including:

  • The World Cup is upon us, and we’ll have two new cross-Digital projects to share
  • Basile went to Paris to attend OpenVis, the dataviz conference coming from the US to Europe for the first time. He’ll be publishing his notes in the coming weeks
  • We’ll be launching a brand new tool into our newsroom that promises to change the way we publish online

And finally…

At the end of May we must sadly say goodbye to Ben Whitelaw, our brilliant Head of Audience Development. Congratulations from all the team, and we wish him all the best with his new role at the European Journalism Centre.