Challenges online news platforms face with personalization at scale

For a digital news platform, it’s very important to delight your readers with the right content selection and to provide a seamless shift from one article to another. So seamless, that your readers won’t even notice they spent hours flipping your news articles. 

As good as that sounds, the news industry has particular challenges that other industries, like the media industry, don’t have. So, we had a chat with Pieter De Smet from Mediahuis on what are some of the challenges the online news industry is facing today. 

Pieter says that to be successful in online news, you need to have relevant news stories for your readers. In this day in age, the readers face so much distraction, from social media to news on different platforms to cat videos. It’s crucial to keep your reader engaged and interested, otherwise, they might choose your competitor’s news source over yours. 

“To be relevant to your audience, you need good journalists and editors. But that’s not something particular for today. It’s always been like that even when we read only newspapers.

Enrolling in the digital era for a news company, such as Mediahuis, it’s important to transform into a digital company first, rather than doing only print. Internally, teams producing news for print, and teams producing online articles are merging together.” said Pieter.

How personalization makes news content more relevant

It’s crucial to suggest the right content to the right user at the right time. It’s all about creating a better reader’s experience and tailoring it specifically to the user. “In our analysis, we see that if people stay longer on the platform, they are more likely to convert and less likely to churn.” – says Pieter.

However, this is not easy to achieve since the news industry faces a few particular challenges.

The news catalog is changing rapidly – every ten minutes, every half an hour, every hour. There are lots of articles produced every day, and for the users, might be difficult to find the content that they are looking for. Personalization helps readers find what they are looking for on the online platform. 

“Moreover, the shelf life of a news article is very short – a day or two days, for example. And that’s a challenge for us.” he adds. “We had a very good example recently with the strikes. We wrote a very good article about what the strikes are about, what should you do, should you be home or not. We have a weekly email sent on Sunday. The shelf life of that article is short, it’s relevant for Tuesday and Wednesday, not necessarily for Thursday and certainly not for Friday and Saturday.”

Challenges with the personalization roadmap

Even if personalization is added to a roadmap, there might be further obstacles in executing the strategy.

The challenge of getting the correct data 

Even if you have lots of people working on data, still it’s a big challenge to have the right insights on the data. When developing recommendations, we should know which numbers to focus on and which insights to use.

And of course, the development speed is important as well. Personalization is added to the roadmap, but it’s a complex strategy that has to be implemented with two or maybe three partners sometimes, for example, development departments in Belgium, Netherlands, and then we have a development department of Froomle, combining those three is sometimes a challenge. 

Accelerating the personalization roadmap

A news organization has a complex structure – lead by journalists, editors, technical teams, the management, business owners which are a very important part of the business. Getting a broad buy-in from all these decision makers can be a challenge. 

But Pieter says, “We try to be open and transparent about what we’re doing. It helps that I can work together with all those people. We cannot forget anyone in the process. So everyone needs to be aware of what we’re doing.”

Stay tuned for the second part of this blog post, where we discuss Froomle’s recommendation system implementation and results.

Let us know if you encountered any of these obstacles and how you dealt with them? Enjoy the full interview.