How we improved reader habit by 39%

Anna Lisinski
Jul 23, 2020 · 3 min read

Three key tips for creating habit forming features, from understanding the problem to using movement and change at the right time and in the right way

myFT shortcuts on the homepage

Habit has taken on a whole new meaning in the past few months with Coronavirus causing drastic changes to people’s daily lives. Now is a great time to be exploring with users what habits they miss, why they miss them and whether they want to start creating new ones.

My team was charged with the task of increasing engagement with myFT in the App. MyFT for those who are unaware, is an FT feature which enables readers to select topics of interest to follow, thus creating an onsite feed which is customised to their specific needs.

Our hunch, taking influence from the bubbles format seen in Instagram stories, Snapchat and Google photos, was that by providing a more dynamic experience which was easily navigable, modern, topic and image led, users would interact with myFT more frequently.

We were surprised at how well it performed. Our A/B test showed users clearly found great value in this solution, with visit frequency to the App increasing by almost 40%.

Here I’ll take you through some of my key takeaways:

Improving the ‘experience’ not the ‘page’

It’s very easy to focus on improving the ‘page’ rather than the experience. We were certainly guilty of this, but were able to identify through really listening to the users, the solution was more around improving navigation.

We had multiple variations of how to better display the myFT feed ’page’ until our most off-beat idea of using instagram style bubbles at the top of the homepage, was the most well received in testing.

This flipped the whole ‘feed-page’ concept on its head.

It’s one of those product basics but worth really checking in on. We’re so used to creating ‘web-pages’ it’s important not to forget the real problem … how can we improve the ‘experience’? Without phrasing the problem this way, solutions will always be limited.

Creating a dynamic experience

A dynamic experience is important in habit formation as it creates the feeling of change.

If nothing changes on a return visit, what is the benefit of returning? Often in the case of news, the benefit is to know you’re all caught up and you’re not missing out on any news.

The FT writes hundreds of articles a day and we know users don’t read all of them, so even though they think they’re up to date, it may not be entirely the case.

In the case of this new feature, the movement of the topic bubbles to the far left indicates where the most recent articles are published. The use of images and red dots also provide quick visual cues as to a change on the page or new articles waiting to be read.

It’s important these movements and signals clearly communicate something of use to the user. Movement for the sake of movement, or without a clear purpose can be confusing or create a hollow habit, which will quickly get kicked when no longer of use.

This brings me to my last point, and most important, you can’t create habits for habits sake.

Solving the user problem is your biggest priority

We learnt through onsite user feedback that users wanted the control to dip in and out of certain topics rather than have all the content on one page to scroll through.

The topic bubbles as merely navigational links didn’t need to be dynamic for them to solve the problem. The movement of the bubbles, the articles waiting indicator, are all aspects which merely improve it. The core solution was able to provide value on its own.

I highly recommend removing the complexity of these habit formation features when initially exploring solutions, often the additional aspects meant to bring people back, can confuse the feature’s main selling point and lead you down the wrong path with your discovery.

To conclude…

As we’re reminded every day, life may never go back to the way it was, so now is a rare opportunity for product people like you and I who are in the business of creating habits. An opportunity to discover and provide solutions for problems and needs that are only just emerging, to help users adapt to the new normal.

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