Metro devices
Credit: Image courtesy of Metro
At the end of last year Metro announced its mobile-first strategy and launched a responsive site with swipe functionality.

Following a mobile-first strategy may be new, but the commuter title has always considered itself a mobile product, providing bite-size, snackable content that is easily digestible on tube journeys.

In the last of our three features looking at mobile-first approaches, we look at how Metro is learning about the "new paradigms" and behaviours that come with mobile, how journalists are now writing mobile-friendly headlines and the early results of creating 'contextual web editions'.

This look at Metro follows features on Breaking News and Circa, both news providers also taking a mobile-first approach.

What does mobile-first mean for Metro?

Metro is the newspaper that you pick up for reading on your tube or bus journey. So what does mobile-first mean to a print title?

"Internally to us it means how we approach product development and how we approach sales and marketing and every facet of our business," Jamie Walters, product development director at Metro, said. "You think with a mobile-first hat on."

Metro has always been mobile

Mobile-first is a natural evolution of a philosophy that has always been thereJamie Walters
If you look back at the history of Metro, which launched in 1999, it has always been a mobile product, Walters said. "We are as a newspaper designed for consumption on the move.

"It is snackable, bite-size, short-form content. The reason it's like that is because we are communicating with an audience that is in transit in very busy lives."

He added that "mobile-first is a natural evolution of a philosophy that has always been there".

Going responsive

At the end of last year Metro launched a responsive site, designed so it adjusts to suit the screen size it is viewed on.

The site also provides "responsive content", Walters explained. Metro's site first pushes content that is suitable for mobile, making the load speed faster for phones.

"Being mobile-first means the site loads with content designed for mobile. And then if the server realises you are on a tablet or desktop it serves that."

Metro responsive swipe

Introducing swipe

The Metro responsive site has swipe functionality, a first for a UK news site, according to Walters. "Users of apps have become very used to swipe functionality," he said, explaining that creating swipe for a website posed more of a challenge than for a native app as the team had to ensure it works on all browser types.

Swipe was in part inspired by Metro's own digital editions, page-turners available for iPad, iPhone, Android and Kindle Fire.

Metro found that if readers got as far as page four in the digital edition, which are usually about 70 pages long, "they had a huge propensity, a 70 per cent likelihood, of consuming the whole product end to end", Walters explained.

"The reason they did that is because swipe made it easy to go from page to page."

Walters and colleagues set about building that functionality into the website. The thinking was that "if we could build that into a website, we could deliver something that consumers want and it would encourage them to consume more of the content, and to come back more frequently".

Findings from swipe

They tend to consume between 10 and 20 pages per visit – which is staggering for a websiteJamie Walters
"It's very early days," Walters said, and one of the key challenges is making swipe discoverable "as it's not something people are used to using on a website".

But when people do swipe, and about 10 per cent of the base is using it, their consumption is "through the roof".

"They tend to consume between 10 and 20 pages per visit – which is staggering for a website. As we make that swipe functionality more visible and more obvious to users, we will start to drive up our overall consumption across the product dramatically."

Creating 'contextual web editions'

Metro is also creating what Walters calls 'contextual web editions'. A web edition is "a set of content that is stacked up along side, and is however long we decide to make it", he explained.

"Initially we just had one iteration of that, which was our selection of the stories. We realised that if someone lands on our site at one of the article pages, such as a sport page, the likelihood is that they are going to want to consume a bunch of sport content subsequent to that."

We found dwell time doubled on those channels as a result of it – literally doubled over nightJamie Walters
Metro ran a test a couple of weeks ago so that if readers landed on a sports page they were presented with the top 25 sports stories in the list of the swipes.

"We found dwell time doubled on those channels as a result of it – literally doubled over night.

"The pages viewed were staying pretty much the same, still 10 to 15 pages, but people were spending longer on those articles. They are swiping through to find what they want, but they are finding more of what they want when we run these editions contextually."

New jobs for journalists

The journalist's workflow has also been affected by changes too. Metro now publishes a long and a short headline within its content management system.

"The CMS recognises where on a page and what device it's being seen on and will serve up the appropriate one," Walters explained.

"We need to get scientific about that," he added. "It's not just about the mobile consumption but what gives that the highest propensity to be shared, what is the most appealing headline in search, what is the most appealing headline for someone who arrives directly on the site?"

He is also interested in how headlines – and pictures – can drive people to swipe.

To test some of these new ideas Metro is setting up an audience board which will meet once a month. "It's a test and learn approach," he said. "And when you classify things as experiments, it kind of gives the permission for failure so people don't have to be scared about trying stuff."

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