The arrival of the Financial Times’ revamped site is getting closer, signalling a shift in how its content is tailored to readers who are increasingly personalising what they read via Facebook and Google.
“Pretty soon” is the ambiguous timeframe the publisher’s head of platforms for membership and ecommerce Jonathan Furse gives for the site’s launch. It’s a response indicative of the slow and steady development of the portal that’s slowly whirring into life to ensure FT content is seen by as many people as possible whenever and wherever they are.
The design has been through several iterations and will go through “quite a few more” as more user feedback is assessed, a spokesman clarified. It's a “good indicator of our direction of thinking but should not be seen as even close to finished,” he added. “This process is ongoing.”
Like most news sites, the FT publishes hundreds of articles a day. Surfacing them is a big problem at a time when readers consume content more liberally between publishers. “That’s why personilsation and search are key parts of the site," Furse told The Drum at subscription expert Zuora’s conference yesterday (7 October). "Users should be able to use our site in a more habitual wait that’s mobile first. We want them to be able to define content and engage with the FT more easily.”
Personalisation is something the FT hasn’t done before. And so a new feature, dubbed ‘My FT’, will let readers subscribe to topics and effectively curate their own content. “It’s already getting quite a lot of applause among our test audiences,” assured Furse.
To help get the site's content in front of more eyeballs, the publisher has scrapped parts of its mobile strategy. With almost half of its traffic coming from smaller screens, the FT’s site is going mobile first, with a responsive design that it hopes will close the gap between mobile readers and revenue. “I think that first point of contact where we’re encouraging people to download the app as soon as they arrive on mobile was perhaps not optimal for the channel,” said Furse.
This doesn’t mean the app will be ditched outright; it serves a different purpose for “engaged readers,” said Furse. Some readers use the app to ensure that they’ve finished all the articles in that day’s edition. However, longer term he “couldn’t comment” on the future of the app.
“What we’re doing isn’t just about mobile traffic,” Furse continued. “It’s about trying to innovate on how people are discovering and engaging with our content.”
The idea being that the new design will help the FT to further premiumise its inventory that’s been moving toward more native and long-form placements. As such there several changes happening at the publisher to claw back ad budgets from the likes of Facebook and Google.
Once such change saw the FT drop the way it charges for online content earlier this year. In February, it dropped the metered access model it pioneered for an approach Furse likens to enjoying an “all-you-can-eat for a very small payment in the UK”. Readers are offered a one-month’s trial providing access to most FT content for a “nominal sum”. It appears to be the right move as subscriptions have jumped 80 per cent, claimed Furse.
“We came to the belief that we couldn’t get people to build a habit of coming to the FT if we’re constantly telling them no [with the app and metered access model],” said Furse. “That was probably a bad idea even though it served us well.”
His comments are indicative of the frankness the publishing industry has toward the mobile challenge now many accept they need to work with technology platforms that could conceivably take traffic away from them. Google revealed its new fast article format yesterday (8 October) - Accelerated Mobile Pages (APMs) - following in the footsteps of Facebook and Apple in trying to get publishers to priories their content through their platforms.
Furse said the tool, which cuts the load time of pages by 85 per cent, “interests” him. Media owners have been trying to slash the time it takes their sites to load, but understand that they can’t do it alone. “I like it because it still gives publishers power,” noted Furse – a reference to the concerns some publishers have had with the similar offerings from Facebook and Apple. Google’s APMs are effectively a neater package of the content on its servers that’s then cached by the technology business.
“What we need to do is understand how a paywall works out in that strategy and that’s the challenge with Facebook’s Instant Articles as well.”