When DallasNews, GuideLive, SportsDay, SportsDayHS and Al Día readers visited their websites in August, they were greeted with a new home—DallasNews.com.
Mike Orren, the paper’s chief product officer, explained to E&P that last summer the company had completed “the deepest reader study that (they’ve) ever done.” The research was geared toward configuring the print edition and examining what was needed in digital. It looked at print, hybrid and digital subscribers as well as non-subscribers that read the Dallas Morning News online, and even at people who should be reading the publication but were not.
“One of the things that we saw very clearly was people did not like our digital products,” Orren said.
Some of the complaints included the difficult navigation, the slow loading time and the poor aesthetic design.
“When our readers are judging us as a subscription option, they're not just comparing us to the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal,” Orren said. “They're comparing us to Netflix. They're going to be comparing us to Disney+ and if that user experience is not as good as that, we're going to have a hard time.”
He explained that the previous website design started out well, but they were working with an outside agency that did the front and backend work. Making any changes would rack up agency rates, so having a limited budget made updates very difficult.
But it wasn’t just frustrated users that prompted the paper to redo their online presence. Orren said about five years ago, the Morning News had built their own CMS with the intention to utilize it as well as sell it to other publishers, but the project was under invested. So, the paper had to look for a CMS partner. They find one with the Washington Post’s Arc program.
“(Arc has) launched around 700 sites now so they’re starting to get really good at it, and I think we came on at a good time,” Orren said.
In an announcement, Orren said the new site now loads more than 300 percent faster than before, the search engine is more functional, and the site has more navigation cues and a “lean-back” reading experience.
“It’s too early for any formal feedback on the sites,” Orren said. “However, I will say that from tracking social media the first couple days of the launch, it was running about 87 percent positive and glowingly.”