Even though they’re in front of the paywall, live blogs have made up a quarter of conversion reads for Nine’s Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Now deputy digital editor Sophia Phan says format enhancements are helping readers find and engage with content more efficiently and effectively.
“A home page redesign included several components championing the live blog asset to adapt to the nature of breaking news and the evolving number of stories requiring live coverage,” she says in an INMA Digital Strategies blog.
Development of live article push notifications was prioritised to ensure subscribers had the latest available information. “Previously, we only had the capability to alert readers to standard articles, so the change allowed us to alert when news breaks or if an announcement is imminent.”
Phan says the newsroom worked closely with the product team to enable multiple bloggers and producers to be able to edit live articles concurrently as well as pin posts and video content to the top of the live article asset.
“By November 2020, with all of these changes in place, our US election live blog broke internal records, becoming our most-read piece of content ever.
"But our work won’t stop there. There are always ways we can improve our product.”
Though the blog was already a key method for newsrooms to set the agenda and deliver timely updates, there were some problems to address.
One common piece of feedback was that it was hard to find posts covering the most important developments of the day. “We had the functionality to pin posts, but they often changed throughout the day and impacted all four metro websites. The ‘summary’ at the top of a live article seemed like a synopsis of the blog, rather than the day’s events, and it hyperlinked to separate articles, rather than blog posts.”
There was also criticism that readers had to dig through posts to find relevant information. When readers clicked on a push notification, they often couldn’t find the post related to that alert. “We needed to make push notifications relevant even if readers weren’t opening them immediately,” says Phan. “This issue also impacted social media editors who were resharing the same asset multiple times a day.
“As a result, we built a new live article template that allowed for in-page navigation, the pinning of key posts, and the anchoring of blog entries. Posts then appear in reverse chronological order based on publish time, and they are clickable. Now it is easier to navigate to the corresponding post. It allows readers to more easily digest our rolling coverage and provides an option to jump to the post for additional context.”
Readers can also now share individual post URLs if they want to highlight a particular issue. “This functionality allows us to pin alerts to individual posts within a blog, and means that when a notification is clicked hours later, it will take readers to the corresponding post, rather than the top of the live article,” she says.
Pagination was also introduced to enhance the reader experience, allowing users to more easily navigate through the live blog. There is an option to click both the ‘latest’ and ‘oldest’ page in the blog article, as well as search by page number.
The Age and the Herald have published more than 1000 live blogs since the beginning of 2020, averaging two a day over that period. “Our data showed the live blog experience was extremely valuable to our subscribers,” says Phan. “It is often the top story of the day for that audience segment, as well as a key conversion driver for our best prospect and casual readers.”