How Fox Sports boosted site traffic -- and engagement -- in 6 weeks

While Fox Sports has witnessed great growth in audience on social platforms like Facebook and YouTube, it is also interested in getting people to spend time on its own site.

Six weeks ago, the company started rolling out a new design for its Web and mobile sites, which has three key new features: A “semi-infinite” scroll that includes four consecutive stories, personalized article recommendations based on the user’s past browsing history, and a fixed social bar that makes it easier for users to comment on and share articles.

The decision to make these changes came as a result of Fox Sports Digital seeing very low engagement on its platforms — a “fundamental problem,” according to the company’s svp of product development Devin Poolman. This is because the old FoxSports.com was very URL-focused. Users who clicked on a link were only presented with that article and had to proactively search for other things they might want to read or watch on the site. Often, that meant a lot of drop-off.

“Whether they were coming from mobile or Facebook, in our traditional experience, we weren’t giving them a lot of opportunity to do anything other than read that story,” said Poolman.

Social and mobile users are traditionally seen as impatient, which made this a key issue for Fox Sports especially considering how much of its audience is coming from those environments. In August, 35 percent of traffic came from social media, according to Adobe Analytics data, and 78 percent of the total monthly audience was on mobile, according to comScore. (Overall, Fox Sports had 19.1 million unique visitors in August.)

In setting out to make a change, Fox Sports brought together a cross-disciplinary team that spanned sales, ad ops, engineering, finance and product design. “We had large swaths of people participating,” said Poolman. “Here’s a problem, let’s review, let’s introduce other parameters, let’s look at solutions and create something testable.”

It’s during this process that the company also made a point to improve the video experience on its site. “Our video player was taking too long to load,” said Poolman. “By the time it did, people would already have scrolled by on the page.”

Here, the engineering team’s work on video and page-load times — which are now loading 20 percent and 48 percent faster, according to Poolman — as well as the decision to add personalized recommendations has helped. Instead of working with a third-party vendor, Fox Sports built its own recommendation engine, which suggests three articles based on what users have previously browsed, liked and shared. These stories, many of which have videos embedded within, also show up beneath the original article as part of the site’s new multistory scroll.

“We now can identify that you are a greater consumer of video than another person, and because of that, we can shift the content flow [to fit you],” said Poolman.

Since implementing the changes, FoxSports.com has witnessed a 23 percent lift in pageviews and 37 percent increase in time spent per visitor who came via social media. The bounce rate has decreased by 14 percent and video views have doubled.

Initially tested with only to 1 percent of its users, the new design is currently available to 20 percent with plans to roll it out widely within the next week or two, according to Poolman.

That doesn’t mean the work is done. While it’s currently using the so-called “semi-infinite” scroll, the company will likely test an infinite version down the road. It’s also hoping to increase the presence of scores on the site, which has been added to the product roadmap, and will soon add an ad unit to the right of the page.

“We’re at the stage where we [feel] validated that we have a much better experience,” said Poolman, “but it’s an evolving process.”