Hearst Magazines' digital arm sets out to create online platform that measures user engagement, responds to the data in real time, streamlines publishing tasks; project includes recent relaunch of Cosmopolitan.com

, July 9, 2014 (press release) – Hearst Magazines’ 18 U.S. websites see over 100 million unique visitors monthly (Adobe Analytics), many of whom return multiple times every day for updated content. Users demand fresh information and Hearst Magazines Digital Media (HMDM) knows and values the importance of user engagement. In rethinking its sites, HMDM set out to create a platform that allows for an enhanced user experience, as well as a streamlined process for uploading in-demand content and advertising. With the July 8 relaunch of Cosmopolitan.com, HMDM began the first step of its rollout of new sites across the division.

“We’ve moved quickly to activate our ‘months to moments’ strategy, developing an infrastructure that allows our brands to publish all the time and build scale at a rapid pace,” says Troy Young, president of Hearst Magazines Digital Media. “The changes and upgrades we’re implementing on Cosmopolitan.com, our biggest brand in the U.S. at nearly 30 million UVs, are the first step toward a common publishing platform that can respond to data in real-time and one that we can apply across all of our global properties.”

"This is Cosmo in the palm of your hand,” says Cosmopolitan Editor in Chief Joanna Coles. “To be relevant, brands need to be where the audience is and Cosmo readers live much of their life with their phone strapped to their hand. We are there with them as they wake up, as they go through their day and as they recharge at night. And when they need to unplug, they reach for the magazine."

Cosmopolitan.com relaunched on July 8 with an enhanced user experience.

HMDM established a set of core values necessary for the new publishing platform with enhanced user experience as the overarching goal. The velocity of the sites, from editors’ ability to publish quickly and easily to users’ speed of consumption, was paramount. Simplicity was also important the new platform pares down options and offers fewer, yet more effective publishing format choices.

“For us, users are at the center of everything,” says Mike Dushane, vice president of product development for Hearst Magazines Digital Media. “This means always valuing a user over a page rate. It means a new way of thinking about what we’re building instead of thinking about maximizing the value of every page view, we think about the value to our users and the lifetime of that relationship.”

HMDM became aware of a platform, called RAMS, being used by the wholly owned Hearst Magazines UK company Digital Spy. The Digital Spy publishing platform was built with a strong focus on empowering editors and offers the velocity and simplicity the team was seeking. Digital Spy demonstrated that the platform could excel for highly trafficked brands and the fact that the system was built by and for editors underscored the ease of publishing quickly and the options for increasing audience engagement. James Welsh, a Digital Spy founder and the technologist who originally built the platform, has since joined HMDM to lead technology and is evolving the platform to fit the group’s needs.

Within the common framework of the platform, the HMDM product design team, led by Theresa Mershon and Katelyn MacLachlan, partnered with the front end engineering team, led by Mike Pjura and Constantinos Davanos, to create a pattern library of items such as articles and slideshows, which will be replicated across different sites.

“What has been critical for our team has been developing this platform in close concert with our brands,” Dushane says. “Everything we’ve created has been done with a specific goal of serving Hearst audiences and editors.”

With the new platform, advertising also becomes more organic. The user experience for both editors and advertisers will be streamlined, with equal access to vehicles for promoting and guiding consumption. Editors now have the option to create collections of content around topics including holidays or trends, and advertisers have the chance to sponsor that content.

"Advertisers have wanted to be adjacent to the powerful influence of Cosmopolitan editorial content for 50 years" says Todd Haskell, SVP/chief revenue officer of Hearst Magazines Digital Media. "They now have the ability to create branded content experiences on Cosmopolitan.com that leverage our authority and expertise in a manner that's clearly labeled for the reader, and can further amplify those messages with the unprecedented power of the Cosmopolitan brand on social media. The market is already excited about the possibilities, and we'll have lots of great examples to showcase in the coming months.”

The new system is hosted with Amazon Web Services, allowing the digital team to focus on creating content and iterating user experience instead of recreating infrastructure. By establishing content feeds throughout the experience, similar to those seen on sites like Facebook and Twitter, the new Hearst sites (hearst.com) will allow for easily visible content with a high velocity experience for Hearst audiences. The platform also contains an audience engine that recommends the right content for each user as they explore the site.

User engagement has also been a much bigger focus in the site designs. All of the brands will move away from Facebook commenting and prompt users to create accounts in order to comment this shift will allow for a direct relationship between users and Hearst editors. HMDM believes that this two-way dialogue will be critical to how brands evolve in the future.

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