UX design for online publishing and media companies: what you need to know

Realm Digital 20 August 2021

In today’s online media industry of rapidly growing interfaces and digital transformation, UX design has never been this important as it is now. Especially with the power consumers have when it comes to switching to alternative sources of information.

So, what can publishers learn from a software development company with experience in this space, and how can better UX design concepts improve the experience for their readers leading to increased revenue? In this article, we will discuss concepts that might be impacting your user’s experience negatively. 

1. Paywall – yes or no

To paywall, or not to paywall, is an ongoing debate across the global media industry. How do publications monetise their content online and ensure the publication is sustainable vs growing a readership, engagement, and sharing—especially in the face of so much free content online. Some publications, such as Daily Maverick do not erect paywalls, while other publications experiment with a mix of hard and soft paywalls. But paywalls aside, too many online publications are ignoring user experience (UX)—let’s call it reader experience—best practice that turns their audience off in ways that have nothing to do with entering their credit card details. Online audiences are used to a minimum standard of user experience from their digital engagements, else they’ll very quickly go elsewhere, and too many publishers are still coming up short. 

2. Forcing monetisation efforts

Some reader experience issues are a direct result of trying to balance monetisation with delivering an optimal reading experience. Top offenders include non-persistent cookies that mean readers must repeatedly log in to access their customised content and other benefits of being a subscriber. A related barrier is not recognising a subscriber when they land on the home page or click through from a newsletter and then, not only requiring them to log in (again) but hitting them with a “Please Subscribe” pop-up. As well as being poor UX design, the very least a publication can do is recognise their valuable paying supporters.

Advertising banners that cover most of the reading space, especially on mobile devices, or impact download performance and navigation are another top contender for monetisation efforts negatively impacting readability.

3. Poor internal search functionality

It’s not only monetisation activities that knock the reader experience though. Poor search functionality makes it difficult for readers to find specific stories or read more broadly on a topic. If publications force their readers to use Google to search for their stories instead of offering a well-functioning internal search, they risk losing them altogether. 

4. Lack of Homepage personalisation for readers

Personalisation functionality that allows readers to disregard what they aren’t interested in and get more of what they like should be table stakes in 2021. Also, the ability to learn from readers’ previous patterns should be standard. Static homepages are a throwback to the print world—today it is entirely possible to deliver to each user what they are most interested in, as well as news they might have missed that fits their reader profile. 

5. Multi-device feature

In a multi-device world, readers should be able to seamlessly move from device to device, with the same sign-on, settings, preferences, customisation and functionality at their fingertips whether they are on their laptop, tablet, or smartphone. And please, no repeated requests for login details once a reader has logged in on a device!

6. Content types

The irony is that reader experience innovation can drive the business side of publishing. It doesn’t have to be considered a pay-off. Take evergreen content. In the print world, today’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper. But in the digital world, evergreen content can be repackaged and live on as valuable background, nuance, and context to current stories. Or be gathered in a collection of book reviews, restaurant reviews or travel guides. 

For publications that invest in photography, this is another source of improved user experience and monetisation.  An optimised image tagging strategy can help with discoverability, giving readers the flexibility to enter stories via the images as well as drive licensing sales. 

Decreasing fake news outlets as the goal

So, it turns out, improved reader experience can stop publications from turning readers off and making the most of editorial assets, driving monetisation. And much of this advice applies in equal measure to corporate and other content projects. Beyond the business imperative for excellent reader experience, there is an existential one. If legitimate news outlets lose readership due to poor user experience, this creates a space for fake news outlets and other sources of disinformation to thrive. Legitimate publications should be doing everything in their power to be the primary source of news and information that is read, shared, and reshared. 

As with any industry, publishers face challenges around access to skills, making time to innovate, tracking the success or failure of experiments based on meaningful metrics, and building solutions in a way that is low maintenance and easily replicable. This is where an IT partner with publishing experience can be the difference between getting started and driving reader experience today, or still turning readers off with unnecessary pop-ups in a year’s time.

Want to unpack how great UX design can benefit your online publication and ensure an optimal reader experience? LET’S TALK

Realm Digital has been recognised by DesignRush as one of the Top 20 UI/UX Design Agencies in the United Kingdom.