How to Enhance Story Performance With Instant Image Testing

Can you instantly determine the better image? The USA TODAY Sports team did, using Instant Image Testing.

Instant Image Testing is one more means to simplify complex decisions and enhance content. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then having the right image is critical to telling any story to its maximum effect. Although it manifests itself as a real-time A/B Test, editors on the Visual Revenue Platform don’t think of it as a testing feature, but rather a creative one. And that is how the feature was intended — another means for live performance data to enhance an editor’s ability to craft the best content for his or her audience.

USA TODAY Sports was one of our first customers to take advantage of this capability. “This tool allows us to perfect our presentation as quickly and effectively as possible, ” says Tim Gardner, Assistant Managing Editor at USA TODAY Sports Media Group. “While headlines are one way to guide a reader into our coverage, Instant Image Testing takes that a step further.”

Here’s what happened when they began putting images to the test:

“The elation of victory and the agony of defeat are easier to convey to our audience in an image,” says Gardner. “This feature allows us to ensure we have the best combination of headline/image as possible in real-time. It allows us to show off the best of the in-depth content that USA TODAY Sports is known for.”

If you’d like to see image tests run in real-time, just let us know and we’ll gladly arrange it.


USA TODAY Sports Boosted their Olympics Coverage by 57% with Headline Testing


The USA TODAY Sports team used our headline testing capabilities extensively throughout the London Olympics 2012.

Instant Headline Testing truly empowers online editorial teams. It gives them an opportunity, in real-time, to see which different aspects of a story resonate best with their audience or whether the audience is familiar with an athlete’s name or moniker e.g. Yohan Blake vs. ‘The Beast’.

“Our digital team is always looking for ways to write creative, engaging and appealing headlines that will make our audience want to click,” says Tim Gardner, Assistant Managing Editor at USA TODAY Sports Media Group. “Headline testing helps us quickly decide which headline to choose, ensuring we maximize the appeal of every story. With limitations on the numbers of entry points we have, our digital team works to ensure our headlines not only catch the eyes of consumers, but encourage readers to click and explore the full coverage USA TODAY Sports is known for.”



Some of the differences are very nuanced like the Tip sheet and Obama story. Others, like the Brennan story, are less so, but that tweak resulted in an astonishing 194% increase in CTR. During the Olympics the USA TODAY Sports team ran approximately 150 individual headline tests and the average resulting lift in CTR on those that won was a phenomenal 57%.

“Simply put, we want to create the most dynamic audience experience in sports,” says Matthew Graham, VP Audience and Programming at USA TODAY Sports Media Group. “The competition to attract sports fans is limitless. Therefore, we need to make sure we’re presenting our content in the most appealing way possible. Testing different headlines not only allows us to engage our audience in real time, but provides insight into how we can expand our user base exponentially over time.”

Having a headline testing tool that helps you instantaneously understand how one headline directly performs against another is a must have in any editors arsenal!


How does (Glenn Beck’s) The Blaze consistently pick the right Carousel Stories to feature throughout the day?


The Challenge

The Blaze is not even two years old, yet it’s a huge news destination. It has an incredibly loyal, returning audience that often starts on the homepage and digests its mix of news, reporting and opinion pieces from there. “We focus on reaching the most deeply engaged and high-value readers,” says Betsy Morgan, President of The Blaze. “Maintaining this focus ensures we keep The Blaze healthy, growing, and above all, relevant.”

This means that The Blaze's editorial team needs to understand exactly how their audience is engaging with the content on their front page 24/7 and adapt accordingly. Correctly placing the most important and valuable ‘Feature Stories’ is a crucial part of their daily homepage recipe. “I need to drive article consumption from the homepage,” says Scott Baker, Editor in Chief. “To do this well, our front page editors need to decide exactly what stories are important to place in the Feature Story position, how long to leave it there, determine how well the audience engages with it, and what its value is to us; and I need to do this 10 to 20 times a day! This task is immensely difficult without data driven decision support.”

The Visual Revenue Solution

The Visual Revenue Platform provides The Blaze with specific real-time recommendations on which content to place in the Featured Story position. “It is like a second front page editor that has the ability to look at a host of data points and feed them back to the editor in one succinct recommendation,” says Morgan. “We might not choose to take the recommendation then and there, but if VR continues to push the suggestion, it’s a great indicator to make the move.” The Visual Revenue Platform allows the editor to maintain full editorial control. Recommendations to the Feature Story position are strictly regulated by editorial instructions set by The Blaze's editorial team. This ensures that the recommendations made by the platform are very much in line with the Blaze’s editorial tone and drive them towards their given objective.

“Deploying Visual Revenue on The Blaze has been immensely useful,” says Baker. “The other week we were promoting an article titled "What Romney’s Tax Returns Show Us." I knew it was an important story that would resonate but I had no idea to what extent. I put it in top stories at 10:20am and it stayed there until 2.30pm as per VR's recommendation. To be honest, if I hadn’t seen how well the position and article were engaging the audience, I would have taken it down well before that time and lost out on that extra value, which was significant.”

Conversely, the Visual Revenue Platform will inform The Blaze if they’re over-exposing an article, i.e. one that just simply isn’t connecting with the audience. Unlike traditional analytics solutions, Visual Revenue has the unique ability to understand exactly how The Blaze’s homepage is currently performing (position-by-position), how it has performed in the past and, using a host of signals and algorithms, how it can perform about 30 minutes into the future – the recommendations.

The Result

Since deploying Visual Revenue, The Blaze has seen a 59% increase in article views driven from the Featured Story position alone – consider, therefore, what it’s done for the rest of the homepage. “Visual Revenue has been a fantastic addition to our data-driven newsroom,” says Morgan. “It’s consistently helped us promote more relevant and engaging content. Couple that with the ability to apply a dollar value to content and business logic to the recommendations and it’s truly a winning recipe.”

Online content promotion is a delicate juggling act; pull an article out of a position too soon and you lose out on revenue, leave an article up for too long and it ends up costing you. “If a story isn’t immediately engaging I tweak the headline, flip the artwork and watch the recommendations,” says Baker. “If that still doesn’t work I’ll move it down a notch or two. Visual Revenue helps me make informed decisions and mitigates some of the risk involved in moving an article too early or too late.”