The Homeowners Bot

MittMedia’s Newest Automation Writes Thousands of House Sales Articles Every Month — And It’s Good for the Digital Subscription Business

How much did your new neighbor pay? Who bought the house you couldn’t afford? This is of interest to most people and, as we saw in our data, of exceptional interest to MittMedia’s readers.

We decided to start writing articles of every property sold. It wouldn’t make sense for our reporters to do this. The solution? We built the Homeowner Bot.

It is now our most efficient “employee” with over 10,000 articles in 4 months. It’s the most read type of article by our paying users and it has converted hundreds of users into digital subscribers.

During the fall of 2016 Mittmedia launched its revised paid content strategy. And it has been a huge success. This was not the first or even the second try to implement a sustainable digital subscription business model. What was different this time? There is a solid foundation in data. A focus on the content. What are the needs of the readers?

In our data analysis of what type of content that make our loyal users convert into digital subscribers, real estate always stands out.

For decades Swedish newspapers have published lists of property sales. Sellers, buyers and price. The layout of the page looks like something out of an old product catalogue. But for the print readers this is, despite its unexciting format, something you don’t want to miss.

When we started to publish this material online, over 10 years ago, we didn’t really do anything to take advantage of the digital format. Again — long lists with addresses, names and numbers. It worked fine and had high readership, but it was clear that the potential was bigger.

In order to meet the digital demand, we needed to be innovative. How could we better cater to the user’s individual interest in house sales?

Since more than 100,000 homes are sold within our geographical area every year it wouldn’t make economic sense to let reporters write articles of every sale.
We decided to make automated articles. The Homeowners Bot was born.

In September 2017 we started publishing articles of every property sale in our regions.

Together with United Robots, Scandinavia’s leading robot journalism company, we developed a simple yet efficient automation. United Robots, founded by MittMedia and two other partners, have built a powerful text automation platform that MittMedia’s editors used to develop the Homeowners Bot.

The bot’s most important feature is selecting the right angle. By analyzing the property data, provided by Sweden’s Land Registration Authority, the bot finds the most interesting angle and writes a headline.

Knowing how important images are for user engagement we have also developed an image service by using Google Street View and algorithms to cleverly select the best image available.

The Homeowners Bot articles are distributed by all MittMedia’s local news brands:

  • Articles are published as any other article on the web sites. Since we use an algorithm to optimize the user’s experience the most interesting articles are displayed first. You often find Homeowners Bot articles among the most read on the site.
  • Whenever there’s a new house sale article from a geographical area of your interest, you get a push notification from MittMedia’s mobile app.

We are very transparent about the fact that the article is automated. The byline on each article states “MittMedia’s Text Robot”. But that’s not something our users care about or even notice. In a survey 2 out of 3 didn’t notice, and those who did didn’t care.

If the Homeowners Bot were a human journalist it would by far be our most effective employee–at a fraction of the cost:

  • During the first four months we were live with the robot it has written more than 10 000 articles.
  • The Homeowners Bot is number 1 when we sort the number of behind-paywall-pageviews by byline, outperforming all human journalists.
  • Over 300 users, and that’s a lot, have been converted into digital subscribers from a Homeowner Bot article.

MittMedia’s team behind the Homeowners bot:

Markus Sandin, Product Owner

Li L’Estrade, Head of Content Development

Henning Johannesson, Editor

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