The Economist’s product and engineering teams are focused on delivering the best possible experience for readers. Here’s how

Denise Law
Jun 3 · 5 min read
User-experience workshop at The Economist

The Economist’s product and engineering teams have spent the past six months attempting to radically improve our website, app and newsletters so that we can do a better job of showcasing our journalism and giving readers a better experience.

Investing in our core owned-and-operated products is part of a broader strategic push to acquire and retain more subscribers.

Working closely with senior editors and product marketers, we have identified areas that need major improvement — from faster loading times and designs that make sense to better navigation and usability.

To ensure that we build the right things, we are being more rigorous in our approach by using data analytics and customer research, rather than guessing what readers want or copying competitors. We now have a better sense of what our current and future readers expect when it comes to our consumer-facing digital products.

Over the past year we have focused on:

  1. Rebuilding Economist.com
  2. Iterating on the core experience of the new app
  3. Rethinking and improving our newsletters proposition

Economist.com

The web development team, led by my colleague Richard Holden, is currently rebuilding Economist.com so that we can give readers a better experience. That means cleaner pages, a new masthead, fewer intrusive pop-ups and faster loading times built on better-quality code.

The goal of the site rebuild is to help support The Economist’s mission of serving existing subscribers and signing up new ones. Making sure that readers can actually read and enjoy our journalism is part of that goal.

You may have already seen the latest iteration of Economist.com when you click on an article via Twitter or Google on mobile, which takes you to our new Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). As our software engineer Olivia Frost writes, starting with AMP provided a foundation on which to build our future article pages.

Since launching on AMP, bounce rates have fallen by several percentage points despite the fact that we have a harder paywall. This means that a larger proportion of readers via AMP are now visiting more than one page and eager to engage further with our journalism.

We also felt more confident rolling out these pages after conducting usability tests on the new registration barrier. These tests revealed that readers better understood our proposition and what they needed to do next, i.e. register to read more, further reinforcing the benefits of clear messaging and design.

The majority of Economist.com users are not subscribers so making a good first impression is the first step towards encouraging them to come back and eventually pay for a subscription.

Screenshots of our AMP article pages

We plan to replicate the AMP designs for article pages on mobile and desktop and roll out a new masthead, which attempts to convey more clarity about what we offer, as well as giving special reports and Technology Quarterly greater visibility. Work on integrating 1843, a sister publication, onto the new site is also underway.

Ensuring that our work meets (and ultimately exceeds) customer expectations is a crucial part of how we develop new products. For instance, we recently ran a week-long homepage workshop to figure out what a better version could look like.

We came up with a series of potential concepts based on what we know about reader behaviour and then tested these prototypes with actual customers last week.

Mobile app

This month marks the new app’s one-year anniversary. We launched a new app last year with the intention of making it easier for subscribers to access all of The Economist’s journalism including the weekly edition, online-only stories and podcasts, which they cannot do in the Classic app, which offers a digital replica of the weekly edition.

Over the past few months, we have released several features that subscribers have wanted for a while, including reliable offline access for tube commuters and region-specific navigation of the weekly edition. We also improved the audio experience, which is a much-loved feature that makes us stand out from competitors.

Our latest release has been a success so far, with our app store ratings on iTunes jumping from 4.6 to 4.7 out of 5 stars overnight, while our ranking in the news category surged to #23 from #33 last week. Many of our subscribers are delighted:

But not everyone is happy. Common complaints include pesky bugs, an inability to access Economist.com after buying a subscription in iTunes and missing features. These are all areas we plan to address.

Over the next few months, we plan to incorporate more content from our sister publications, release bookmarks-sorting and audio playlists, as well as making further improvements to navigating the weekly edition. Let us know what you think by downloading our app.

Newsletters

We know that newsletters play an important role in engaging with new and existing readers. Unlike our competitors, however, we have opted to focus on a few highly-engaging newsletters rather than to launch hundreds. For us, our two main newsletters — The Economist today and The Economist this week — play an important role in helping to drive traffic and subscriptions.

For example, newsletters surpassed Twitter as a source of referral traffic to Economist.com for the first time last month, thanks to major improvements to our weekly and daily newsletters. This is an important milestone because readers who use our newsletters are more likely to become subscribers than those via other channels.

After rolling out the new daily newsletter, which offers a curated selection of our best content, click-through rates almost doubled, resulting in a 41% increase in newsletter referral traffic. Over the next few months, we plan to run a series of A/B tests to optimise our newsletters further.

Screenshot of The Economist today newsletter

As always, we welcome our readers’ feedback. Please let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Denise Law is head of product at The Economist.

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Insights from The Economist’s digital playbook

Denise Law

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Journalist-turned-product manager. A Canadian living in London via Hong Kong, Shanghai and Utrecht.

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Insights from The Economist’s digital playbook

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