How Winnipeg Free Press boosted reader engagement with personalization

20 Apr 2016 | By Tobias Arns



It’s crunch time for media publishers worldwide these days. Audiences are more demanding than ever, resources are tight and new competitors are constantly challenging traditional media companies. Resources at the publisher– both human resources and screen real estate – are at a premium and need to be used to the fullest, entering the era of engagement.

Only a few publishers so far have really experimented with site personalization. Yet, there are technologies out there capable of providing the extra push a media company needs, to capture the attention of their audiences, increase satisfaction with the brand, and drive revenue.

Full homepage personalization

Winnipeg Free Press, regional media company in Canada, took the massive step forward to personalize not just a small section of their site, but nearly the entire homepage. With the exception of some space reserved for editorially evaluated content such as breaking news, the page is run by Cxense site personalization technology. Being the oldest newspaper in Western Canada, starting as the Manitoba Free Press in 1872, carries significant editorial weight. The Winnipeg Free Press digital team always looks forward, for new ways to reach more users and keep them engaged.

After adopting the Cxense Site Personalization technology on the Winnipeg Free Press website, the results are remarkable. In short:Winnipeg Free Press personalization results

  •     Users stayed on average more than 60% longer on site
  •     The home page click-through rate went from 66% to 82% in a week
  •     Users reading two articles as opposed to one almost doubled in one week

“This is a true world first in the online news industry, and an important step ahead for all media,” says Christian Panson, Vice President Digital Content and Audience Revenue at Winnipeg Free Press. “We think this will be the standard way of serving news within a few years. It’s just that much better for the users; they get more original content, which matters to them, brought to the homepage. It also lets our team spend more time concentrating on what really matters: The News.”


How to get there

For Winnipeg Free Press, the decision was made to personalize the whole front page. Other publishers have chosen, also with success, to provide smaller scale personalization of their content, for example by personalizing sections of their homepage, or recommending additional content on the article page.

In the Winnipeg Free Press case, Cxense personalization technology was put to work on the front page, but also on pages that fly-by users from search and social traffic are likely to see. This makes the article pages true alternatives to the front page, and drives traffic to other content that is interesting to the reader but might not be trending right now.


Users hang around longer

An analysis of the Winnipeg Free Press case shows the tremendous potential personalization of content can have. The average time spent on site per user over a week-long period has increased from just over seven minutes, to 9 minutes and 8 seconds. On a per article view basis, users are now spending approximately 63 seconds per page, compared to 50 seconds before the personalization. This indicates strongly that the visitors are more engaged with content presented when visiting the site, and find it more relevant to read.


 …and read more.

The number of users reading just one page before they take off to somewhere else on the internet, is always too high. But after implementing the Cxense Site Personalization technology on Winnipeg Free Press, the numbers improved, and improved fast. Over the course of two weeks, the number of users consuming two pages per session almost doubled compared to before personalization. Likewise, the number of users consuming four, five or six pages almost doubled in the same time.


Social upticks too

The more interested audience brings with them a halo effect which, in turn, drives engagement on social media. More relevant content leads to more sharing of content as data from Winnipeg Free Press personalized mobile homepageWinnipeg Free Press shows. A couple of weeks after adoption, the uplift in Facebook users’ time on the Winnipeg Free Press articles rose significantly, and stayed high. Remarkably, the readers streaming in from social media platforms (traditionally disloyal to media brands) are becoming more engaged and adding to the average reading time boost.


Cater to their interests

By knowing what the audience wants from your site, the process of giving it to them becomes a much easier task. For Winnipeg Free Press, the newspaper sub sections got a significant boost by being able to show more interesting content for each reader. The number of categories (content markers such as “business”, “video”, “world” and similar) having more than 5% consumption rose significantly in the two weeks following the personalization of the site. From having five categories with more than 5% consumption of content, the publisher now has nine. For publishers with a great deal of content, which has been created through the years, this shows an opportunity to unearth “ever-green” content, driving engagement on the site much deeper than the breaking news or trending articles.


How to get rolling

While the technology behind content personalization is advanced, the application of the technology is thankfully easier. The Cxense site personalization technology is tied to products such as Cxense Insight (a real-time analytics solution), Cxense Content and the Cxense DMP (Data Management Platform), making it easier to analyze your audience interests and take action on that data. The site personalization solution uses the same basic technology to identify users based on their interests and show them relevant content on a homepage, a smaller on site widget, across to their mobile phone or in newsletters.