As part of an ongoing process of improvement, Inside Housing set out to revamp their Digital Presence in line with a Branding Update, and Redesign of the core Inside Housing print magazine.
The key participants from Inside Housing and Ocean Media Group were Editor Martin Hilditch, Commercial Director Catherine Tomlinson, Group Art Director Sonny Dhamu, and Group Production Director Jon Squire, who worked exceptionally closely with Digital Product Manager Denise Rattray’s Team - including Digital Producer and Developer David Delawa.
The key goals were to broaden the appeal of the Inside Housing Portfolio in order to encourage deeper and more sustained interaction from the readership - with a view to also driving up Registrations and Subscriptions.
There was already a substantial Affino-powered Inside Housing website which had been in place since 2016 - while the project’s focus would be to significantly redesign and update the look and feel, structure and core framework of the site - with a particular emphasis on improved navigation and easier and fuller content access and overview.
Sonny Dhamu would redesign and refine the visual aspect and appeal, while Denise and David would reorganise and enhance the inner workings of the website and overall digital experience.
A key proviso here was the re-launch of the re-designed Inside Housing Magazine which had a fixed date based on its print production - this meant that the digital project had to be carried out at light-speed!
The new site rollout was already factored into the longer term strategy for the brand, and the Coronavirus epidemic didn’t significantly influence this particular path, while it did though accelerate the process somewhat.
The aims were largely to fundamentally provide quicker and easier access to more content. The bywords for the project were the same as are currently featured in the site’s pop-up footer welcome address :
"More news. More knowledge. More analysis."
In an exciting development and in contrast to typical Affino Projects - the vast majority of the collaboration here was internal to the Ocean Media Group - with the Editorial and Commercial Teams liaising unusually closely with the Digital Production Team, as mentioned in the introduction.
There was a lot of planning that went into the project, while in many ways the key collaboration here beyond the initial goals and objectives setting, was the marriage of Sonny Dhamu's designs, with the Production Team's implementation. There was also some significant input from an external consultant who had assisted on the magazine redesign - a lot of that process also influenced, infused and informed the Digital Project too.
The project was fostered and enabled by a close-knit spirit of cooperation - where all participants made themselves easily and directly accessible at all times - which was obviously essential for the tight schedule they had to work within.
The deep Affino experience and expertise of Denise's production team was critical to the smooth progress of the project - as there was already an intricate knowledge of rolling out relatively complex sites on Affino within tight deadlines.
Affino was involved only rather peripherally on this occasion - which we find hugely encouraging, and hope serves to inspire other Affino owners to do more of the same. There was an initial discovery meeting between the Ocean Media Group and Affino teams - where the Affino team fed in ideas and showcased new Affino capabilities which were available to Ocean Media Group for the updated site.
The Affino team was also on hand to ensure the smooth running and success of this project. And we placed both support and development services on high alert - to be able to respond rapidly to Denise's Team's needs and to keep the project on track.
On Affino's side the activities were coordinated by Head of Projects Susan Kerrigan, Customer Support Executive Jose Claramunt, and Front End Development Lead Luis Montiel Paz.
In truth Denise's own team of 3 carried out 99.99% of the digital production work and deserves huge praise for how smoothly things went, and for how intricately and faithfully the desired designs and functions were implemented.
We always say planning is everything in these types of projects - and ever so important in particular when time is tight. The original Goals, Vision and Mission document that the key participants put together is in itself an incredible piece of work and a critical component in the success of the project. It informed every aspect of every consideration from beginning to end, and ensured that the Design and Implementation were as optimised as they could be within that process.
Sonny Dhamu worked intimately with David Delawa in particular to ensure that the implementation matched the design as closely as was possible. And the new Design - an elegant, rather open-pored grid-like framework is excellent at meeting its key goals of delivering more intuitive, more direct, more comprehensive and more copious content within a single screen overview. In essence putting more extensive and more easily accessible content in front of readers' eyes.
How the menus and navigation were organised were key to this improved access - with a Key Topic menu bar at the top of each page - always displaying the major content categories. Moreover when those Topics were clicked on they fired up separate Topic Channels a la The Stage website, instead of the former on-page selective / preference filtering. This was a key component to the overall improved user experience.
At the same time and actually leading up to this project - the main Inside Housing Print Magazine was reduced in frequency from a weekly to a monthly bumper title. In place of this the editorial team worked at creating a lot more digital content - more articles, more in-depth research and reports, more responsive and quick-reaction features to current topical stories and interests, and more specialist content - including white papers and spending reviews.
The fact that the Editorial department was freed up from weekly print planning, made it easier to deliver a more agile approach and respond more quickly to current affairs and events, and this was responsible for a deeper, richer and overall better web browsing experience.
The freed-up time has also allowed the editorial team to concentrate more on multimedia - with more content now being prepared for formats like webinars and podcasts and with the 'Inside Housing Live' new series of videos.
While shifting the print edition to a monthly schedule, Inside Housing have also introduced an offer for a weekly audience via their 'The Week in Housing' weekly newsletters.
Other key facets of the new design are in fact fewer images within that more elegant framework - to allow for more content and more accessibility on each screen. The previous site had a fairly heavy-weight multiple-image Feature Scroller, which was a little slow to load, and introduced a lag into the page upload speeds. The new design, despite a lesser reliance on imagery, still has more areas though to highlight and showcase content and ads. Overall the experience is more direct and more flowing from one article to the next. The new format allows for better curation and better use of the on-screen real-estate too.
The tight deadlines meant that there wasn't too much scope to load in and accommodate brand new Affino functionality - as seen on the recent The Stage and LAMMA 365 sites. While Ocean Media Group and Inside Housing in particular are looking for clever ways to incorporate those new innovations - in particular including the My Interests / Bookmarks, enhanced video and podcast presentation formats.
Affino was only required to assist on 3 relatively minor tasks - a new custom comments template, a new simpler date format - dd.mm.yy, and an update to a custom topic articles / navigation script. There were a few incidental bugs and glitches that required Affino's involvement too - but those were literally less than a handful - and very swiftly and responsively dealt with and resolved.
The big take-away for us at Affino - was just how self-sufficient and self-reliant the Ocean Media Group Digital Production Team has become. They've had a lot of experience in very rapidly rolling out multiple sites on Affino - and that expertise really shows in this project. We were proud to see just how well-oiled the Production Team has become - and they are a great example to all Affino site owners.
It has to be said right from the offset that this was a pretty major accomplishment by such a small team. We've always advocated that you can achieve world-class results with Affino - with minimal resources, and this exercise is great proof of that.
If you read through the Vision and Mission Document - you can see that every intended production goal has been achieved.
The roll-out of this site was one of the smoothest and most efficient in memory - and for sure the parallel marketing campaign was instrumental in preparing the audiences for the transition. And there has not yet been a single dissenting voice - the readers are overwhelmingly satisfied by the new changes.
The project kicked off on September 10th, and was fully launched just a little over a month late on November 23rd. So obviously not too many days to draw any statistical conclusions, while Registration, Subscriptions and session times seem to be a little up on what they were in advance. And the Digital Edition has recently seen its readership double - which are all very encouraging developments.
The project has delivered an all-round deeper, richer and better customer experience which is reflected by the current unanimously positive feedback.
Affino congratulates Ocean Media Group and Inside Housing on this significant achievement, and hope to see the rollout of some of those key innovations here in other parts of the portfolio.
"A very easy to use and highly functional experience, the new site looks fantastic - we've ended up with a great final product after a really positive and smooth running operation. Affino's support was highly responsive and always there when we needed it. And it was heartening to be on the receiving end of so much positivity from the readership"
Martin Hilditch, Editor, Inside Housing