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comScore increased across all brands

IPC Media: metric-led product improvements

Following our support and guidance to realign its product development with its business objectives and to base its decision-making on robust evidence, IPC Media quickly reversed a plunging comScore and established a more collaborative approach to on-going product management.

COMPANY BACKGROUND

IPC Media, now part of Time Inc. UK, is a consumer magazine and digital publisher in the United Kingdom with a large portfolio.

The challenge

With more than 60 iconic media brands, IPC, now part of Time Inc. UK, is a leading consumer magazine publisher in the UK and creates content for multiple platforms across print, online, mobile, tablets and events. IndigoBlue was engaged to introduce Agile management on the development of the Mousebreaker and InStyle magazine websites.

Both of these projects were developed using Drupal. IndigoBlue introduced a range of processes and management techniques, blending Scrum, XP (test-driven implementation and continuous integration) and Lean software development. The standard LAMP stack was used with MySQL, Memcached, Varnish (InStyle only) and Apache SOLR. Both projects were a resounding success in delivery and development of capability, and IPC subsequently won the coveted Team of the Year at the Agile Awards.

After the initial engagement, IPC acquired Trusted Reviews, a comprehensive source of independent expert reviews, user reviews and news of consumer electronics products.

Following acquisition, IPC started to develop a comprehensive set of new features with a new site design and a technology platform, the aim being to improve advertising revenues, optimise for emerging channels and introduce new editorial subject areas. Importantly, this had to be completed whilst retaining the existing readership.

A core measure for site performance is the comScore, which is used by advertisers and agencies to identify leading websites. Trusted Reviews previously occupied second place in the ranking and was improving its rating relative to the leading brand Cnet before the change. comScore tracks internet data in order to study online behaviour, and provides information on site metrics but also demographics of the users. There is therefore a direct correlation between the comScore and the amount of money that can be charged for advertising. It is therefore critical to the brand’s business model.

A fundamental issue started to occur immediately after the website relaunch, 12 months after acquisition. The site’s SEO ranking decreased significantly, leading to a fall in readership levels and a corresponding fall in comScore ranking. Immediately, advertising revenue started to decline dramatically.

This led to a large number of site changes being requested by the publishing side of the business, all of which were designed to solve the problem as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this was of little impact.

Despite the team being recognised experts in Agile delivery and Lean in its practices, the business was becoming frustrated by the software development group apparently not delivering all the changes quickly enough. At the same time, the development team was frustrated because it felt that many of the changes were counterproductive and that the business was failing to make the right decisions.

Our approach

IndigoBlue was engaged by the business to help optimise the delivery team. However, a brief analysis revealed that the delivery team practices were best in class. There was however a disconnect between the work requested and the overall business objectives, and limited measurement of outcomes.

IndigoBlue worked with the teams at IPC to build in measurement throughout the digital creation, development and improvement processes. We used our unique Impact Mapping process to create manageable KPIs for all areas of the business, to link these to solutions and to build in measurements of success in changing the product in line with business objectives.

This on-going measurement is crucial in ensuring that decisions are reviewed and reversed if the evidence is clearly telling a particular story, something that is often difficult in a fast-moving digital environment. Equally, if something is successful, it is usually worth further investigation and investment.

The KPIs helped to establish a very clear set of areas of focus – those areas which would yield the biggest benefit.

Importantly, this approach identified a key problem in the website page load time which had a major impact on the comScore – an issue that could be addressed.

The outcomes

The newly co-ordinated approach to site improvement had its roots in evidence-based decision-making. Crucially, it also allowed the teams to make decisions based upon the feasibility of delivering the required changes (rather than assuming that they could be achieved, leading to frustration).

Page load times were reduced significantly, and this, in conjunction with other changes, led to the comScore score improving quickly.

Equally importantly, the approach established a new level of dialogue, engagement and trust between the business and technology, enabling a fully collaborative approach to achieving digital business objectives.

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