How we doubled our email sign-up rate by reducing friction
We’re proud of how the Quartz Daily Brief has grown and evolved, now publishing six days a week in three time zones around the world. And our readers seem to love it, too. But our subscriber list wasn’t growing quite as fast as we hoped, and there was one major reason why: the signup process had way too much friction.
When we launched Quartz in 2012, we wanted to build an account framework that could handle all our future aspirations—personalization, geolocation, read-it-later, offline mode, annotations, user settings, and a variety of email subscriptions. We tossed out a lot of ideas, some of which we planned to pursue immediately and others we said we’d do later.
As we set out to build the account system, it only made sense to make creating an account a requirement for email signup. If we were going to eventually build in other functionality centered around a specific user, it made sense to have everything tied together, right?
This is probably the way most people get to such a problem: planning so much for what you mightwant to build down the line that you instead make the user experience less appealing for the functionality you have available right now. In reality, requiring accounts just slowed down the Daily Brief signup process for a lot of people, frustrated others, and turned many off from signing up entirely.
Near the end of 2013, we decided to redesign the email signup and account registration flows in an effort to make them more appealing. But it quickly became obvious that the problem was not about the aesthetics. If we wanted more email subscribers, we’d have to make it easier for people to subscribe.
As with architecting any registration system from scratch, it’s easy to fall into the user flow trap very quickly—that is, feeling obligated to account for every possible edge case a user may find themselves in, rather than designing a few common flows simple enough that users don’t find themselves wandering off the path.
We agreed that we would break off the email signup process from accounts entirely. Accounts would now govern our annotations product and any other features down the road that truly demand an account.
This resulted in three major changes for email signups:
Require only an email address for signup
Move from a double opt-in (requires users to click a link in an email to fully activate a subscription) to opt-out (subscriptions are automatically active unless a user reverses the action)
Allow for optional marketing fields that add no friction to the conversion process
Since we rolled out the new system on February 19, our daily subscriber rate has doubled, even on weekends when activity dips considerably. Users can now sign up via “in-stream units” (pictured above) or through the Daily Brief landing page. Of the people that view that page, a full 60% of them now go on to subscribe. In the chart below, you can see the noticeable effects these small tweaks have made to our growth.
If you aren’t already a subscriber, you can click here to now easily sign up for the Daily Brief.
It’s been eight months since we open-sourced Chartbuilder, our tool for quickly making good-looking charts. In releasing the project to the public, we hoped it might promote visual journalism and that new contributors would help make Chartbuilder better.
We just announced that Quartz is expanding our coverage of India in a big way. Here’s some from Capital and Mint, and here’s the press release…
Quartz India to launch in June 2014
The digital global business news publication expands its coverage on India with regional content and targeted native ads
March 20, 2014—Quartz, Atlantic Media’s digital global business news brand, will launch Quartz India this June with region-specific content and targeted native ads. Quartz India, with launch sponsor GE, plans to provide both global and India-specific business news coverage.
More than 40% of Quartz’s readers are outside the US, a level that has been consistent since its launch in September 2012. India remains a top source of Quartz’s international traffic, it is a growing region for business news, and readers in the region are trending towards news consumption via digital and mobile channels. Given the small number of digitally native publications in the region, Quartz sees a strong opportunity for growth in readership.
“There is a growing business class in India that is hungry for objective coverage of the Indian business landscape and how it fits into the global economy,” says Jay Lauf, publisher of Quartz. “This growing population, like everywhere else in the world, is adopting the mobile devices and social mechanisms that give them ready access to information they need, and Quartz is built for those conditions.”
Quartz will collaborate with Scroll.in’s team of reporters and editors in India to produce region-specific content for Quartz India. It will feature business, markets, and technology news and analysis, along with access to the full content produced by Quartz’s journalists globally. Readers in India will be able to access the region-specific version of Quartz via qz.com. Quartz India content will also be available to readers outside the region through the Quartz India view.
“We saw an opportunity to serve our readers in the region even better with both our journalists around the world and an increased focus in India,” says Kevin J. Delaney, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Quartz. “It’s a mobile-first region at a critical moment in its economic history—and we’re excited to deepen the coverage available to readers on their smartphones and tablets especially.”
Quartz, launched in 2012, covers global business topics rooted in a set of defining obsessions, focusing on the new global economy and geared toward business leaders and senior decision makers across a range of industries and markets. Quartz has over 25 journalists around the world who produce quality content 24/7, and this content is optimized for access on tablets and mobile devices. Quartz surpassed five million unique visitors in the month of January and is tracking to be up more than 400% over the first quarter of 2012 in terms of advertising revenue.
GE, Quartz India’s premier launch sponsor, is known for having a focus on innovative native ad formats and content marketing as well as its commercial success in India.
“Increasingly we are partnering with top media owners to help us tell GE stories of innovation and impact around the world, through co-created content and thought leadership brought to life on engaging platforms,” said Jason Hill, GE’s director of global media strategy. “Driving familiarity about GE technology and outcomes in India is central to growing our commercial activity in that market. Our partnership with Quartz is a way to deliver those messages through a business news platform we think will achieve fast adoption.”
More information on the launch of Quartz India will be provided in the coming months.
For more information and press inquiries, please contact:
Emily Passer Director of Communications 646-539-6614 email@example.com
We just sent out the following press release and wanted it to share it with you…
Quartz soars in 2014
February 6, 2014 - Quartz (qz.com) reached a new traffic record, with over five million unique visitors in the month of January and revenue numbers beating expectations. This extremely rapid growth, not even 18 months after the site’s launch in 2012, continues to show the power of Quartz’s strong global business content and its embrace of the free and open web.
This quarter alone, Quartz is tracking to be up more than 400% over Q1 last year in terms of advertising revenue. Over the past year, Quartz has added more than 40 blue chip accounts to the client roster, many of whom continue to run with Quartz in the beginning of this year.
“It’s an encouraging start to the year,” says Jay Lauf, publisher of Quartz. “Readership metrics are ahead of our expectations and revenues are following that same trend line. The most encouraging figure for me is the more than 75% renewal rate we’re seeing from advertisers—our high-impact offerings are working incredibly well.”
Others in the media are praising Quartz’s innovation in the newsroom and unique ad offerings, calling it “competitive ” and “impressive”.
Mobile is Quartz’s fastest-growing segment, with 41% of unique visitors viewing the site on a tablet or mobile phone in January, according to Omniture. Quartz’s global readership continues to expand, with 44% of unique visitors coming from outside of the US.
Quartz’s unique approach to journalism has attracted a loyal audience of professionally successful, digitally native business leaders from every major industry and global region. About 60% of readers are senior executives within their organizations.
“It’s clearer than ever that readers around the world are looking for high-quality journalism tailored for reading on the devices they have near at hand,” says Kevin J. Delaney, Quartz’s co-founder and editor in chief. “Our journalists and engineers are entirely focused on delivering that—and, continuously refining their efforts, are helping define a new model for business media.”
Today we surpassed 50,000 subscribers to the Quartz Daily Brief, our morning email newsletter. (Above, a cake to celebrate. It tasted better than it looks.)
We put a lot of work into each Brief, so it’s been gratifying to receive such a positive response. Perhaps more important than the number of subscribers is the fact that more than 40% of all the emails we send are actually read, an open rate that’s unheard of in this business.
Really enjoying @qz. The quartz daily briefs are must reads. Congrats @kevinjdelaney - awesome job!
Thanks to all 50,000 of our subscribers. If you’re not yet among them, you can sign up for free right here. Pick your edition—Asia, Europe/Africa, Americas—for delivery in the morning wherever you live.
Earlier this year, we made it possible to leave annotations in the margins of Quartz. Today we’re adding the ability to highlight our text, too—and share those highlights with the rest of the world.
All you need to do is click on a paragraph to activate it. (You’ll see a grey background.) Then just click on individual sentences to highlight them in yellow; click again to undo. You can highlight as many sentences throughout the piece as you like. The URL in your browser’s address bar will update to reflect your highlights, so you can share them on Twitter, send them in an email, or just keep them to yourself.
For example, here’s a link to a Quartz article about Hershey buying a Chinese chocolatier with a few key passages highlighted.
We’re adding this feature to make Quartz more useful for you. Everyone takes away something different from our reporting, and now you can decide what’s important. We’re excited to see what you do with it.
Some technical background: Highlighting on Quartz is based partly on Emphasis, an open-source project initially developed by Michael Donohoe in 2011, when he was a developer at the New York Times. Michael is now our director of product engineering.
Quartz seeks a fall intern to cover technology and science
Quartz is looking for an intern to help us cover technology and science, starting immediately. It’s a paid gig with plenty of opportunities to write. You don’t have to be a current tech journalist, but a familiarity with how we cover the news is essential. The best candidate will be collaborative and eager to quickly and efficiently tackle assignments from editors.
Our headquarters are in New York City, but remote interns will also be considered. Part-time is OK.
Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with applications. Include clips, a CV, and a link to your Twitter account and/or website.
Quartz had 5 million unique visitors in July, our 10th month of operation. Thanks to all of our amazing readers for making it happen. We just sent out this press release to celebrate…
Quartz (QZ.com) Reaches 5 Five Million Uniques
August 1, 2013—Quartz (QZ.com) reached a new traffic record with five million unique visitors in the month of July. The extremely rapid growth since the site’s launch just ten months ago shows the power of Quartz’s strong global business content and its embrace of the free and open web.
“The incredible traffic growth we’ve seen has outpaced our most optimistic forecasts for this year,” said Jay Lauf, SVP & Group Publisher, Atlantic Media. “Even more exciting is the incredible target audience we’ve been able to attract. That is, in turn, attracting blue chip advertisers from across categories.”
According to Bizo, 65% of Quartz’s audience are executive level decision-makers. About 40% of readers come from outside the US, with Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, India, and Germany among the top geographies. The monthly unique visitor numbers are according to Omniture.
The most visited of Quartz’s “obsessions” this month were: the mobile web, China’s transition, energy shocks, space business, the sea, and the future of finance.
Interest in Quartz continues to attract campaigns from top-tier advertisers including: Adobe, Box, Colloquy, Cathay Pacific, Growth Accelerator, Harvard Business School, KPMG, Morgan Stanley, Rolex, and Sony.
For media inquiries, please contact Perri Dorset at 646-560-5699 or email@example.com.
We’re thrilled to welcome Heather Timmons to the Quartz family. She’s joining us as Asia correspondent based in Hong Kong.
Heather previously worked at The New York Times, where she was based in London and New Delhi, and covered mergers and acquisitions, high-flying bankers, the private equity boom, and terrorism.
In 2011, she co-founded and ran India Ink, the paper’s first-ever country specific news journal, which provided more in-depth news and analysis of the world’s largest democracy and of India’s global diaspora. India Ink grew to a monthly audience of close to one million unique visitors and substantially expanded the paper’s readership in India.
Before the Times, Heather was the banking editor at BusinessWeek, where she covered the perils of the big bank business model and the danger of banks’ expansion into risky lending, corruption on Wall Street, and a post-9/11 New York. She began writing about banking and finance as a reporter with the Daily Deal and American Banker.
The clear, blue sky out the window of the Quartz office was telling us it was safe to venture out for lunch, but our light bulb, glowing purple, indicated otherwise. Sure enough, it started to rain about 10 minutes later. We could see pedestrians outside the window running for shelter,…
Today we launched open.qz.com, a collection of notes and ideas from our engineering team. Josh Kadis, a Quartz developer, kicked things off today with excerpts from a talk he gave recently at the VIP Developer Workshop in April. Read more on building a Wordpress-powered web app.
Just a quick note to say that Quartz had a tremendous April, with 2.3 million unique visitors coming to qz.com. It was our best month since launching just seven months ago. That’s all thanks to you, our readers, who keep spreading the word about Quartz and our journalism. We’re very appreciative.
Our strategy at Quartz is pretty simple: Make good stuff that people want to share. In designing the site, we’ve tried to stay true to that mission by getting out of your way and letting the stories shine. Ads, meanwhile, aren’t shunted to the side in small boxes but included in our stream, where you might actually enjoy them.
We also know that news sites are not like newspapers, in that web readers don’t usually care about sections. You come for a specific story—often following a link you found in social media—and, if we’re lucky, stick around for more. Data show us that most of you read more simply by scrolling into the next article.
The header at the top of Quartz is now smaller, more efficient, and clearly labeled. Many of you told us that the previous header was distracting, so this new one is usually collapsed and out of your way. But tap or click to expand it, and you’ll quickly see how to navigate around the site.
Obsessions are now more prominent. We eschew most traditional sections at Quartz. Instead, we have specific subjects we’re obsessed with and hope you will be, too. Those obsessions are now clearly labeled in the navigation.
Everything is in one place. The black bar that used to grace the left side of Quartz is gone, which we hope makes the design even cleaner. But all of its features remain: You can view top, latest, popular, and starred stories by choosing any of those options in the new header. Search is there, too.
Today’s update is among the more visible changes we’ve made since launching seven months ago, but we’re actually making improvements all the time. The Quartz engineering team has made 73 code pushes since launch, many of which are documented in our public version history. And there’s much more to come this year as we respond to your feedback, study data about usage of the site, and build some very exciting new features.
We hope you like the changes and encourage you to send us feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It might sound audacious to think that Microsoft, the arbiter of uncool, was at the forefront of design a few years ago. But it was.
It turns out the company’s decision to focus on “flat design,” a type of visual scheme where everything has a smooth and even look, was a few years ahead of the rest of the technology and user interface industry.
While Microsoft was flattening its interfaces as if it were a child pushing down on a bulge of putty, its competitors – including Apple and Facebook — were focused on skeuomorphism, a type of look in which, say, a note-taking feature on a Web site or in an app would look like a spiral-bound notebook, a reference to the real world look of a notebook.
Now everyone seems to be following in those flat footsteps.
“The best things can’t be planned. The “sleeps” post began life as something Leo wrote, but making a different argument. David and Ritchie were separately working on an analysis of the tweets, but didn’t really know what to say about them. I suggested pairing the two. Zach saw a way to do that by giving the post a new spin.”—Gideon Lichfield regarding “We know when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sleeps” (via quartzthings)
We’ve said from the start that Quartz is a mobile-first news organization, so it only makes sense that our first major redesign would be on your phone. Today we’re excited to roll out two big improvements to the mobile experience of Quartz:
an update to the user interface, including more intuitive navigation, a cleaner design, and more emphasis on the images that make our stories shine;
offline support on mobile and tablet devices, so you can take Quartz with you on a plane, in the subway, or anywhere else you’re not connected to the internet.
These changes reflect your feedback, our own aspirations, and data we’ve been collecting on mobile usage of Quartz since launching six months ago. The takeaways are clear: Keep it simple, put the content above all else, make it easy to share, and ensure that it all works for people on the go.
That last bit is why we’re particularly thrilled to introduce offline support, so Quartz will always be close at hand, whether you have a signal or not. When you open qz.com, all of our top stories are now automatically saved to your device. Open the site back up when you’re offline, and the stories will still be there. To make the most of this feature on iPhones and iPads, we recommend saving Quartz to your homescreen.
Today’s redesign is the most visible change to Quartz since we launched, but we’ve been making improvements on a regular basis. In February, we quietly released a complete revision of the code that makes qz.com work, speeding up the site and expanding browser support to include Internet Explorer 6 through 8. We also rolled out a number of improvements for older Android devices.
One thing you won’t find anywhere on the site are instructions or a walkthrough. Our goal was to make all of these features intuitive, and if they’re not or if you have any other feedback, please let us know at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org (for technical support).
Now that we’ve tackled the mobile redesign, we’ll soon be making similar updates to our desktop and tablet experiences, and we look forward to your feedback on those, as well.
Hurricane Sandy was a mobile event for Quartz users and staff
Like so many other people in the Northeast US, the Quartz staff was displaced by Hurricane Sandy. We managed just fine and escaped the sort of devastation felt in some parts of the region, but today is our first day back in the office after a nomadic week.
Our headquarters in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan lost power on the night of Monday, Oct. 29. We were all at home by then, and the site was experiencing higher traffic than we’d seen since launch, boosted by widespread sharing of our collection of webcams along the East Coast and tips for keeping your phone charged. (At least 70% of our visitors on Oct. 29 came from social media, including 29% from Facebook and 27% from Twitter.) The site held up just fine, thanks to our developers working from home.
When the power went out around 9 p.m. ET on Oct. 29, we saw an immediate spike in visitors coming to Quartz from mobile phones—jumping to a third of all visitors in the 10 p.m. hour. (Only phones are included in “mobile” traffic here; tablets aren’t counted.)
You can imagine that New Yorkers suddenly without power had switched to their phones to keep tabs on the storm. That’s consistent with other sites, including our largest source of traffic that night, Twitter, which reported that mobile usage doubled in the hours following the power outage:
And while our spike in mobile traffic was likely concentrated in New York, visitors in the US only accounted for 58% of Quartz traffic last week. We saw intense interest in coverage of Sandy and other news from France, Canada, the UK, and Sweden.
Back in SoHo, our office was mostly spared by the storm: a window popped out of its frame, but the biggest issue was the lack of electricity. On boarded up windows around the neighborhood, a street artist offered helpful updates:
With the newsroom and some of our homes lacking power, the Quartz team spent the rest of the week in virtual-office mode. Christopher Mims detailed some our best tips for working from home in this piece.
To keep things running smoothly, we relied heavily on instant messaging and Google Hangouts, which we use twice a day even when a hurricane hasn’t swept through our newsroom. A lot of our staff always works remotely.
Power came back to SoHo and our office on Friday, Nov. 2, toward the end of the day. We were able to confirm electricity was back by communicating with the Quartz lightbulb, which is hooked up to the internet over WiFi with a Belkin WeMo Switch. The lightbulb was on, and we were back in business.
The heat isn’t quite working here at the office yet, but it’s nice to be back together again, having weathered the storm. By the way, we ended October, our first full month operation, with 840,343 unique visitors, a figure that blew away our expectations.
On his blog, Gideon explains how we are organizing our newsroom:
So instead of fixed beats, we structure our newsroom around an ever-evolving collection of phenomena—the patterns, trends and seismic shifts that are shaping the world our readers live in. “Financial markets” is a beat, but “the financial crisis” is a phenomenon. “The environment” is a beat, but “climate change” is a phenomenon. “Energy” is a beat, but “the global surge of energy abundance” is a phenomenon. “China” is a beat, but “Chinese investment in Africa” is a phenomenon. We call these phenomena our “obsessions”. These are the kinds of topics Quartz will put in its navigation bar, and as the world changes, so will they.
Gideon, our global news editor, has been working on a draft of the Quartz style guide: an early attempt to define our voice and sensibility. We’ll probably publish the guide at some point, but for now, it should suffice to say that George Orwell is frequently cited. The document is more advisory than prescriptive, but I love this astringent passage from Gideon’s section on slang:
Stay away from curveballs, hardballs, inside baseballs, and ballparks; deep benches, end runs, slam-dunks, Hail Mary passes, and full-court presses; sucker and one-two punches, switch and pinch hitters, point men and wingmen; stepping up to the plate, going to the mat, throwing in the towel, coming out of leftfield, or coming in under the wire; and covering one’s bases, getting to first or second base, or being off-base.
Game, set, and match. (However, a portion of our newsroom is lobbying to exempt cricket metaphors from this rule, so you may well see financiers hitting for six in Quartz prose.)
On a related note, Kevin recently brought into the office a copy of Le Monde's style guide from 2002, when he was a reporter in Paris. I was amused to find a mini-glossaire under the entry for “Internet,” including a number of faddish, English-language terms of that era like “shopbot” and “shareware.”
To slake my obsession and distract myself from work, I recently set up a lightbulb in our office that toggles on and off when someone mentions @quartznews on Twitter, among other rules. Now, when you interact with us, our newsroom is literally brightened.
The setup is fairly simple, thanks to some new products that help anyone with a nerdy curiosity play around with the Internet of Things. The lightbulb, pictured above, is plugged into a Belkin WeMo Switch, which was released last month. It connects to the Internet over WiFi, and an accompanying iPhone app lets you turn on and off any device plugged into the WeMo. (I use one at home to flip on my AC before getting home.)
In addition to manual control with your phone, it’s also possible to give the switch a bit of a Web-connected brain. Belkin has partnered with ifttt, a Web service that stands for “if this, then that.” That allowed us to set some rules for our little lightbulb: if something happens, then flip the switch. Here’s what we came up with:
Facebook’s share price dipped below $20 on Thursday and Friday last week. And China has won 77 medals so far at the Olympics. (The latter data comes from an API built by ESPN, which is nice because we’re pro-collaboration here at Quartz.) But the most interesting and meaningful, if not exactly practical, trigger is the one that lights up our newsroom when @quartznews is mentioned on Twitter. It’s a nice manifestation of our relationship with Quartz users, without whom we’ll be in the dark.
Of course, there are plenty of other lights in our newsroom, we actually use TweetDeck to keep tabs of mentions, and having multiple triggers means it’s sometimes unclear whether Facebook is tanking or we’re blowing up on Twitter. We should probably pare it down to a single rule. But for now, we’re just playing around. When devices and sensors are hooked up to the Web, the possibilities unfurl in lots of directions.
Earlier today we announced that Gideon Lichfield is joining Quartz as our global news editor, and we couldn’t be more excited.
As we began sharing our vision for Quartz this winter, several people volunteered that Gideon would be the perfect person to work on this project. He is a deep thinker on digital media who speaks five languages fluently and has reported everywhere from Moscow to Mexico City — in other words, exactly what we were looking for.
Gideon comes to us from The Economist, where he has worked in various capacities since 1996. He is currently serving as the magazine’s media editor, and previous responsibilities have ranged from documentary film to e-learning to The Economist’s website, as well as three bureau chief postings.
Gideon shares our conviction that there’s a huge opportunity in providing quality coverage of the new global economy from a newsroom solely focused on digital platforms. We’re eager for him to now join us in creating it and look forward to his leadership.