Thursday, 14 May 2009

Behind the paywall - Can you really charge for News content?

As MediaGuardian, New York Times and News Corp as a whole started making noises again about charging for their content it begs the question of whether this idea is at all workable? There seem to be too many barriers to this ever actually happening?

1. The BIGGY. Most web users can get the same information a click away for free and carry the mindset that the majority of web content is free. How can you change this ingrained expectation and behaviour?

2. The obvious scenario perhaps. Website X throws up a Paywall* and starts charging for access to it's cherished content. User Y subscribes to content, copies content and immediately disseminates content for free.

3. Advertising revenue. Advertisers would run to the hills. Why pay for placement on a site that will invariably attract/get less visitors than before? The exception to this has been
Whilst they successfully charge their users high premiums for access to content they can expect to charge equally high premiums to advertisers. Those that do pay for digital content are a valuable audience, both in terms of the additional profile data from registrations and the simple fact that they are obviously willing to pay. But, and it's a big but, on the web they are still the exception not the rule.

4. The BBC. The BBC is as ever proving to be the eccentric case in this mix. They already have a Paywall in the sense that they charge the UK public licence fee £142.50 annually for it's service through it's Public Service Broadcasting remit. The online content continues to be funded through this and while this is the case how can other news sources possibly compete?

5. Supply outstrips demand. There are still more news sources than consumers on the web. A survival of the fittest invariably kills off the weaker brands over time but the biggest growth in news feed comes from the blogging community and social media.

6. Credit Crunch. As we continue to be gripped by the economic downturn how many of us really value our daily news injection from Website X, Y or Z over other more 'essential' financial obligations?

* Paywall - A website that restricts access to certain content only to paid subscribers.

UPDATE: 20th April 2011
This article in the Guardian today has probably given us a sneak peak of the future of Paywall content. Slovakia's media throw up a universal paywall :

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Page Combination Removal Feature in Maxymiser

We use Maxymiser as our Multivariate/AB testing tool of choice. Maxymiser allows you to see how individual test variants are performing in it's console. In a previous post about culling variants I talked about how we like to actively remove under-performing variants from our tests. Well this has been a contentious issue, whether or not it's the right thing to do in a test scenario (see post for full discussion). However Maxymiser have recently added a new feature to their test console that allows you to remove under-performing page combinations* from your test. Doing this also allows you to immediately and clearly see the impact of performing such an action and its immediate effect on the remaining page combinations.

Below is a screenshot of our Maxymiser console displaying an active test before we remove an underperforming page combination. P8 page combination is highlighted as an under-performing page combination. It has an uplift of minus 1.76% and a 'Chance to Beat All' value of 25.23%.

Now after we exclude the P8 page combination from the test you can see what the results look like. The lead page combination P2 leaps from a 39% 'Chance to Beat All' to 51%, hence speeding up your test. The overall uplift value also moves from 3.19% to 3.59%.

So the introduction of the page exclusion feature actually allows you to experiment more with 'What If' scenarios. We like to think that this enhancement was made to Maxymiser as a direct response to our need but it's probably not the case!

* A page combination is a collection of multivariate test variations

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

My Twitter toolset - a few of the most original & useful tools out there

There are many listings of the plethoria of tools that have been developed for using directly or indirectly Twitter and it's many facets and features. I've decided to put together a list of what I think are the most useful of the ones I've seen & use regularly. Here's my top eleven (everyone does 10):

1. TwitterSnooze - I love this. You can pick people you are following who, shall we say, are a little over enthusiastic on the tweet front. You can 'rest' them from your news feed while not unfollowing them altogether. Genius really.

2. Twitterholic - gives you the current list of who's most popular on Twitter and also let's you find out your own ranking. Rather surprisingly @stephenfry is ranked somewhere in the mid sixties at time of writing.

3. “#hashtags “or 'Hash tags' – a word prefixed with the # symbol – are used by Twitterers to make it easier for people to follow key topics on Twitter. For instance, users who were tweeting about the recent Swine Flu breakout added #swineflu to their posts. provides an at-a-glance running ticker of popular hash tags, to help Twitter users keep up to speed with hot topics.

4. Friend or Follow - allows you to see who your following but who's not following you back (how rude). You can then manually unfollow each if you so desire or use the next tool in the Twitter arsenal...

5. SocialToo - This tool allows you to do a host of different things automatically in Twitter. Some services, however you will have to pay for. Amongst it's features are the ability to automatically follow people who follow you and automatically unfollow people who don't follow you. I've signed up for this particular paid service as I think it's actually the most powerful Twitter application I've seen so far. You have to kick it off periodically and the script can take an eon to run but it does what it says on the tin, you'll log into your account after it's run and suddenly see you are following an equal number of people to the number who are following you.

6. Tweet Effect - This tool helps you to find out which of your Twitter updates made people follow or leave you. Now it's certainly an interesting incite into the way people view you on Twitter but it has to be taken with a pinch of salt. It basically suggests that for every tweet you gain or lose followers. Twitters not that straight forward in reality, people sometimes choose to follow/unfollow an the basis of other reasons not as the result of a single tweet. That being said it's still a good barometer for your news feed.

7. TwitPic - Basically this site lets you share photos on Twitter. You have a Twitter account, you therefore have an implied TwitPic account. If you send a photo from your phone or whatever to your Twitter account it gets hosted on this site. Settings allow you to either automatically post the image to your Twitter feed or manually do it at a later date.

8. - a site where you can pump in your stupidly long URL and get it shortened to a much more Twitter-friendly (below the 140 character limit) length. Or alternatively there's the original URL shortner

9. Twitalyzer - a tool to evaluate the activity of any Twitter user and report on relative influence, signal-to-noise ratio, generosity, velocity, clout, and other measures of success in social media. This one's okay but again I have my reservations. Yes they're using some interesting metrics to measure success but it seems to me that success in Twitter will always be measured by the number of followers you have, it doesn't matter which way you cook your stats!

10. Tweetdeck - Doesn't really need any introduction but's an extremely popular desktop app that makes it easy to break feeds into manageable chunks, and even categorise replies. Requires a computer running Adobe Air, but works on both PCs and Macs.

11. TwitterGadget - is just one of dozens of Twitter clients for iGoogle. It allows you to do almost everything you can do in Twitter but from your iGoogle homepage. You've got to be a fan of iGoogle to buy into this way of working, which I am!

Read Part Two of this post (more Twitter tools)

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Striking while the iron is hot

Probably the holy grail of any web optimisation exercise is to be serving the most optimised page content at the most effective time possible. For us in banking this opportunity presents itself once a year in the form of the ISA Season*.

We were keen to improve the conversion of ISA landing pages in preparation for this busy sales time for the bank. This test was for an ISA savings product page and we were looking to test header copy, images and body copy combinations in order to improve conversion. The winning design would be implemented in time for the peak volumes during this period.

The Hypothesis for this test is as follows:

By Multivariate testing combinations of header copy, images and body copy on the ISA product page we expected to see a 10% improvement in number of visitors starting an application for a product and improve out visitor to submitted application ratio by 5%.

This test was run twice (Between 13/03/2009-06/04/2009 (Pre Tax Year) and between 06/01/2009-13/01/2009 (Post tax year)). We were forced to conclude the second test early due to the product being withdrawn but in both instances the winning design was the ‘Right hand side tabbed content’ although we did have alternative images winning in each test. In the final test we saw the lead design resulting in a 16.14% increase in conversion (17.13% in the first test) over the default design with a statistical significance level of 98.65%.

* End of the old tax year and the start of the new one and something many in the financial services industry call "ISA Season"