From startup to most trusted UK news site in 4-years

i newspaper
Director of Digital Product and Innovation
Digital strategy and delivery for a multi-million pound acquisition and subsequent sale
Editorial, Design, Development, Commercial and a host of 3rd party tech providers

The challenge

Phase 1 - From Zero to Hero

Johnston Press Plc bought the i newspaper in late 2015. It was a large scale acquisition of a widely successful newspaper product. As the brand only really existed in print there was an opportunity to digitise and scale the brand and audience reach.

Working closely with Editor in Chief, Oly Duff and his team, the challenge was to create a digital news site that leveraged the strengths of the print brand at the same time differentiating itself from other quality news titles online. We had to find a way to connect with consumers who felt underserved by decades-old incumbents who had bigger budgets and a considerable head start. 

The i had built a value proposition based on concise quality news coverage in print. There was an opportunity to leverage this positioning for an online audience craving the same quality news in a concise format - particularly on mobile.

Given the sensitivities of the corporate acquisition, we only had eight weeks to conceive and deliver the product. This meant we needed to be at our most agile.

The UX of other long-standing national news sites had become bloated and heavy. So, we concentrated on a streamlined content plan helping user find the ‘facts not the spin’ and explaining the news rather than purely focusing on breaking news in a light and accessible way. With an editorial budget that was a fraction of our competitors, we put the most insightful content front and centre. This was reflected in the site design through features such as ‘Essential Five’ and a ‘Matrix of Editors Picks’.

The digital product had a clean and simple UX and was built with a mobile-first approach.

Given the sensitivities of the corporate acquisition, we only had eight weeks to conceive and deliver the product. This meant my team needed to be at their most agile working with our initial development partner Endava.

After 18-months of continuous improvement both from a content and product perspective, we managed to reach a critical mass of 4m monthly users. Product and Editorial working shoulder to shoulder to test and learn. Each step of the way we optimised the content plan and feature-set. 

Part 2 - Scale and sale to DMGT

After successfully establishing a foothold in arguably the most competitive news market in the world, there was a need to scale the audience to meet the demands of a commercially focused owner. The goal was to grow from a monthly audience of c4m to 12m+.

By focusing on key topics such as politics we continued to serve an audience of ‘freethinkers’ who craved quality content and trustworthy insight. Analysis showed there was also an audience interested in first-person stories about people and their experiences across the UK. Of course, there was room for a more frivolous strand of content plan with jokes and location-based humour playing an important part in driving scale. Well, this is the internet after all.

There was also and opportunity to leverage the wider JP network of 140+ local news sites in a way that would fit a national quality news brand. With care we harnessed Search and Social Media traffic - By early 2019 ranked for 1.2m keywords on Google (almost double that of the next biggest site in the JP portfolio,

In 2019 we re-platformed inews to take advantage of emerging AMP technology working with specialists Bright Sites.

Search traffic was rising but we could see an opportunity in making the entire product a Progressive Web App that not only gave the user a reliable, fast, and light mobile experience but also synchronised with Google's growing promotion of AMP based sites.

Our final product change was to introduce a Live Blog tool in time for the General Election in December 2019. This tool supercharged the political coverage of driving several million page views in a matter of hours on the day of the election.

The results

  • By December 2019 reached 14.5m monthly users (GA360 - Dec ‘19)
  • Organic traffic in 2019 rose from 180k in Feb to 9m in Dec
  • Sistrix top 100 Search performers 2019 with 130% growth
  • A differentiated digital product built around the quality content principles of ‘The Essential Daily Briefing’ that resonated with a new audience searching for quality news
  • Simple and smooth, mobile focused UX that echoed the key elements of the print brand utilising emerging Progressive Web App (PWAMP) technology
  • PAMco most trusted digital news site 
  • DRUM Digital news site of the year
  • Fastest growing, youngest news site in the UK
  • Sold to DMGT in Jan 2020 as part of a £50m deal

Congratulations, Steve...for consistently innovating and caring about inews through both its iterations, unquestionably helping put the foundations in place for its next and very exciting chapter - Richard Thompson, MD i Newspaper and