Goals: The Berkshire Edge’s website was launched in 2014. After four years of the same design, The Edge wanted to stay ahead of the competition by introducing a newer, more dynamic look that would also be more easily navigable and would keep readers on the site longer. The regional publication was created to report on the lives and interests of people in the southwest corner of Massachusetts, known as the Berkshires, and the surrounding tri-state area. The primary goal of the new website is to reflect the vibrant community its journalists cover.
Tired of seeing their website grow stagnant, The Edge’s publisher and staff decided it was time to make a change. Two-thirds of The Edge’s traffic comes from mobile devices, which meant the publication’s new website would need to be redesigned with a stronger focus on mobile and an improved user experience. It would also need to feature improved ad placements, in order to increase impressions and clicks.
Given the changing fundamentals of digital publishing as a business, The Edge was also interested in launching a membership program, along with a sponsored content real estate section. The goal here was to provide a new source of revenue and to reinforce the publication’s role as a leader and a partner in the Berkshires community.
Solutions: Starting from the ground up, we went all in on The Edge’s website and developed an entirely new custom website theme. Using a custom website theme gave us the freedom and flexibility to create a website that is like no other, with the seamless feel and effortless user navigation that The Edge’s publisher had been asking for. Within 30 days of the new website’s launch, The Edge was already seeing the number of on site users increase by 44%, while the sessions per user increased by 28%.
The Edge’s increased website traffic also reflects the success of its membership program. Having a modern, mobile-friendly website has bolstered The Edge’s credibility among readers and created stronger demand for the publication’s membership program, which readers pay between $60 and $240 per year to join. The Edge’s website updates have also led to an uptick in local advertisers, who benefit from the increased buzz and the connection with enthusiastic readers.
3 Favorite Features
RUN OF SITE ADS: Before the website redesign, The Edge sold ads based on the category or page, but that strategy had proven to be limiting over time. With the new website in place, The Edge’s ads are run of site. Utilizing three ad zones—leaderboard (1170x100), sidebar (300x250), and center column (800x160), along with a center column ad size in the publication’s daily newsletters—The Edge’s sales team has seen a 300% to 400% increase in ad impressions since the switch.
MEMBERSHIP PROGRAM: The Edge’s membership program has become more than just a source of recurring revenue for the digital publication. The membership program has also brought together loyal readers and solidified The Edge’s role as the go-to outlet for people who live and love life in the Berkshires. Since its debut, the membership program has brought renewed attention to The Edge and created a new pipeline of local contributors.
INFINITE SCROLL: High bounce rates had been an issue for The Edge before the website redesign. We used an infinite scroll feature to keep readers on the site for longer. Rather than clicking from page to page as they scroll through stories, users can now click “Show More Stories” and the website will load another ~10 posts on the same page. This strategy creates a more efficient user experience and keeps readers on The Edge’s website for longer.
What I find most valuable about working with Web Publisher PRO is that they are way ahead of me in finding solutions to my problems. Most developers fulfill requests. David and his team tell me what I need and then proceed to solve my problem. In the last several months, David urged us to launch a membership program, redesign our site for better user experience and change our ad placement to run-of-site. We have done them all, and they have all worked extremely well. We have a growing community of members. Our readership has shot up, and our advertisers are getting more views on our site than ever before. I can’t wait for Web Publisher PRO’s next suggestion.
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Before & After
PREVIEW IMAGES INCREASE ENGAGEMENT. Before the redesign, The Edge’s website minimized photographs as a visual element, and article previews were limited to a brief headline. By adding thumbnail images alongside every article preview, we have been able to grab readers’ attention and boost the number of clicks each article receives, while more effectively balancing images and text.
SIMPLIFICATION ALWAYS WINS. Looking at data in Google Analytics, we discovered that readers were not actually using the menu to navigate around The Edge’s website. Rather than try to force a behavior that was not natural, we followed the lead of existing readers and trimmed down the menu. This left us with a compressed header and a menu with links to four popular pages on the site: home, membership, calendar, and real estate.
ENCOURAGE READERS TO EXPLORE. With the new navigation and design flow in place, readers can easily navigate The Edge’s website according to the behaviors they were already exhibiting. That includes enabling readers to click on the category name in any article to see related content, presenting content sections on the home page that refresh as users scroll, and suggesting additional content at the bottom of article pages as a way to keep readers on the website for longer.
SPEED IS A TOP PRIORITY FOR READERS ON MOBILE. With so many people consuming news on their smartphones and tablets, The Edge couldn’t afford to ignore its mobile readers. We took the mobile user experience into consideration at every step along the way with this project, developing a website that is faster and including advanced features like an infinite scroll, which helps readers quickly scroll through article headlines instead of waiting for additional pages to load.
The Design Process
DESIGN INFLUENCES THE WAY WE SEE NEWS. The Edge’s original home page and category pages had too many empty spaces, and the way content was arranged made for ragged eye-flow. This had the effect of making the news website look like it didn’t have enough news to report, which is certainly not the case. Our new design utilizes a mainly horizontal format for information that becomes vertical on mobile, and it better reflects the broad range of content published by The Edge on a daily basis.
The Tech Process
CUSTOM EQUALS QUALITY. The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t usually work in the digital publishing industry, and The Edge’s team knew that they needed a website that would stand out from the pack. In addition to creating a custom WordPress theme, we also added a customized user-friendly WordPress admin dashboard. Coupled with minimal plugins for lightning speeds, The Edge’s new website is as advanced as they come.
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