Back in 2002 when Alastair McLellan became editor, the title had a website, although McLellan said he did not read it despite being responsible for it. Content was uploaded after it had been published in print, with the weekly title being the focus.
McLellan talked through more than a decade of digital evolution at the AOP B2B Summit, a conference taking place in London today.
Slamming in the paywall
McLellan described how the title evolved from putting old content on the website in 2002 to adding more breaking news. The publisher then "slammed in the paywall", putting up a hard wall requiring anyone who wanted to read online content to pay.
"It worked a treat," he said, with between 2,000 and 3,000 people taking out a subscription. The digital offering blossomed with the title being named the PPA brand of the year in 2010.
But by 2012 "we had burnt through those 2,000 or 3,000 people", McLellan said. "We needed a more sophisticated approach."
The new approach
This new approach involved the HSJ last year developing three mantras, McLellan explained.
1. Allowing potential subscribers to 'taste' the content
The first mantra is about developing a content "funnel". This allows people to "taste" content, before registering and subscribing.
In order to do this the HSJ optimised for SEO, working out the best times of the day to send out newsletters, and moving some content in front of the paywall.
People therefore get to try before they buy, with the title making the "subscription pathways" as easy as possible, whether on mobile or via the newsletter. The team also focussed on getting subscribers to return more frequently to the site.
2. 'Building an army of advocates'
The second mantra involved "building an army of advocates" on social media. The HSJ appointed a dedicated community manager and encourages members of the editorial team to spend between 5 and 10 per cent of their time on social media.
Social conversations help build the brand, explained McLellan, and the engagement is then tested and measured.
A new digital development role also allows the title to closely analyse and optimise story timings, headlines and sees them score individual stories based on engagement.
3. Going digital-first
The Health Service Journal has also adopted a digital-first approach. "We have no more press day," Sutcliffe tells journalists. "We think like a daily."
The weekly magazine has become the "weekly digest" as the production process has been re-engineered.
And storytelling has become iterative. "We own the story from the tweet to the research paper," he explained.
So what next for the HSJ? McLellan said, among other ideas, they are now thinking about mobile-first, more visualisation, more curation. They are considering creating a dedicated community site, building a team of experts, and making measurement "a way of life".