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Regional news network Local World has reported a 70 per cent growth in average monthly unique browsers for February, compared to the same month a year earlier.

Internal figures, sourced from Omniture, reveal average monthly browsers reached 16.14 million last month, up from 9.5 million in February 2013.

Founded in January 2013 to incorporate Iliffe News & Media and Northcliffe Media, Local World owns more than one hundred print titles and 76 title websites.

In the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC), the company recorded an average of 11.7 million monthly unique browsers for July to December 2013 – up 35.1 per cent on the first six months.

And 2013 results released today by Trinity Mirror, which has a 20 per cent stake in Local World, show Trinity made a profit of £5.1 million, suggesting Local World secured a £25.5 million adjusted post-tax profit in the 12 months since its launch.

Tim Rowell, executive product director, digital, at Local World, told Journalism.co.uk the "consistently strong growth" in traffic was due to a revised publishing strategy with a greater emphasis on social media and search engine optimisation (SEO).

"The thing that really struck me when I joined Local World in June 2013 was the sheer volume of content the network published each day," said Rowell, who was previously digital publisher and director of mobile product development at The Telegraph.

On a typical day, there are between 1,600 and 2,000 articles published across the sites, and "significantly more" on Thursdays when the weekly titles go to print.

"To put it in context, the Guardian and The Telegraph probably publish 500 to 600 stories per day, so we're already three or four times that," he explained.

Our content is directly relevant to the local audienceTim Rowell, Local World
"Our content is directly relevant to the local audience, but I felt that it wasn't getting the audience that it naturally should get."

One of the first issues Rowell identified was "a degree of confusion" around Northcliffe's network of 'This is' sites which, although mainly populated by print content, were essentially standalone brands operated by a centrally-managed team.

A key piece of work over the last six months, he explained, has been shutting down the 'This is' sites and creating new sites under the print title brands – for example This is Bristol is replaced by BristolPost.co.uk – with the aim of "giving ownership" back to the newsrooms.

"We want to focus on the individual titles themselves and take advantage of the strength those [print] brands have already," he said.

Staggered publishing times

 An important change in Local World's strategy is that the networks now stagger publishing times to ensure a "smarter spread of stories" throughout the day.

Instead of publishing all content at a certain time each morning, the sites now "drip feed" stories throughout the day to take advantage of peak web traffic times at 7am, lunchtime and early evening.

Rowell added that editorial teams had been "hugely receptive" towards taking a more hands-on approach to digital.

"Journalists across the newsroom are now working directly with the CMS and publishing their content to the sites themselves," he explained.

Social media

Another area where Local World has seen a large increase is in the amount of traffic to its sites from social media, which has risen from 30,000 daily uniques across the network in January 2013 to 200,000 in January 2014 (according to internal figures).

Local World now has an appointed social media "champion" in each newsroom who runs each title's social accounts, on Twitter and Facebook.

"The way the tweets are written – using relevant words and similar principles to search – ensures people in the local community can find them," he explained.

There is also now a bigger focus in "responding to tweets and engaging in the conversation" with other users, he said.

Social media is not just a push mechanism, we've realised it's push and pullTim Rowell, Local World
"Social media is not just a push mechanism, we've realised it's push and pull."

Search engine optimisation

Following training in SEO, Local World journalists are being "far more descriptive" when it comes to making content more discoverable, said Rowell.

"From a journalist's perspective [SEO] is not just about the headline, it's how the article is structured and it absolutely is not just about filling keywords," he added.

Local World's head of editorial and commercial SEO Richard Underwood, who also previously worked at The Telegraph, has also done a lot of work with regards to the "practical build of the site", he added.

As a result, search is now generating 300,000 to 400,000 daily unique views across the Local World network, with an audience between 85 and 90 per cent UK-based.

Local World has also rolled out a redesign of the newspaper sites, although Rowell noted that this is still in the "initial" stages.

One of the projects he is working on is a redesign to take advantage of Local World's growing mobile audience. Rowell is "pretty open-minded" about what form this will take, noting that there are "certain attractions" to both responsive and adaptive design.

"We want to create an experience for our users but also ensure that we can monetise it," he said. "That's one of the key challenges on mobile."

He added that throughout the year Local World would be continuing to improve the sites "both in terms of editorial and commercial products".

"I think to a certain extent, a lot of the work we've put in place over the last six months has been about laying the foundations, getting everything in place," he said.

"In many ways we've only just got started."

Update: This article was updated to add profit-related figures from Trinity Mirror's annual report.

Correction: This standfirst for this article originally stated that traffic had increased by 70 per cent "compared to 2012", since corrected to 2013.

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