Hearst Is Revamping All Of Its Online Magazines With A Responsive, Personalized Design

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Over the next few months, all of Hearst Digital Media‘s titles are getting a new look.

Tom Smith, Hearst’s vice president of technology and strategy, told me that the whole company is switching to a new publishing platform, which incorporates both responsive design and personalization. The first two magazines to make the switch are RoadandTrack.com and TownandCountryMag.com. (Other Hearst titles include Cosmopolitan, Popular Mechanics, Good Housekeeping, and Esquire.)

The new responsive design is the more obvious change. It’s an increasingly popular strategy for companies to adapt to mobile by creating websites that rearrange themselves based on the size of the screen. And now that the broader redesign is in place, Smith said it will allow his team to experiment and continue tweaking site designs in “smaller increments.”

In the long-term, the personalization strategy may be more significant. Essentially, Smith said that Hearst titles can take the data that they already use to show different ads to different audience segments and now target editorial content too.

“That’s something marketers understand,” Smith said – but people are still wrapping their heads around it on the editorial side, so the personalization is relatively limited so far.

One lightweight example involves showing a different set recommended content links to different readers of the same article, depending on factors like their location, what device they’re using, and how they came to the current page. Another possibility: A magazine could create “six different versions of an editorial promotion,” using different headlines and images that are designed to appeal to different audiences.

“We’re not trying to turn editors into marketers,” Smith added. “It’s saying, ‘How do you let them take this capability and express themselves more?’”

The redesign strategy fits into some of the broader trends we’re seeing in online content, with a number of startups working to improve related recommended links and content personalization. It’s also interesting to see these moves coming from a publisher that was previously known for a “contrarian strategy” that kept the Internet at arm’s length.