To improve the app, the Journal focuses on engagement metrics, such as time spent, then adjusts features accordingly.
“The ethos of spending time perfecting a product is beginning to die away,” said Maani Safa, managing partner at Etch. “It’s a quick, iterative build where you’re doing something as fast as possible to get learnings back from analytics and data right away.”
The team focused on identifying parts of the app that most engaged users and finding ways to expand them. For example, those who followed content topics, such as the Federal Reserve, markets or the election, spent 45% more time in the app than those who didn’t, Roussel said. So the Journal is adding more “follow” categories and brainstorming other ways to personalize the app experience.
The What’s News app displays markets data in a uniquely mobile way, via a scrolling stock ticker readers can accelerate by swiping through.
“Markets data is typically hard to design for a mobile app,” Roussel said. “But it’s a very high value-add for our audience, which is very focused on business and finance.”
Weekly users of the app return three times a day, a signal that’s encouraging for subscriber retention.
“You see a lot more stickiness with the native app experience because you can focus more on engagement,” Roussel said. “With apps, you get deeper behavior, but you don’t get wider behavior. If you want to reach a wide range of people, the mobile web will achieve that.”
Attracting subscribers through a proprietary app also ensures that the Journal doesn’t lose control of its experience to platforms.
“We strongly believe we are in control of our own core platforms, and we will never give that up,” Roussel said. “Publishers that in effect have given up their own platforms – it’s a dangerous model for them to pursue.”