How the Washington Post’s digital platform has evolved into a DX machine
What started as a home grown publishing platform has become an impressive piece of martech with content, experience and commerce all built in.
Since being established almost 150 years ago, The Washington Post has earned a reputation of investigative journalism, political beat reporting and being omnipresent in the D.C. ‘game.’
However, in this heated bipartisan election year, The Washington Post’s most influential asset may not be the journalism, but its digital platform Arc Publishing.
Arc Publishing is an integrated digital experience and content management platform that connects its cloud-based tools for publishers, broadcasters and brands with a portfolio of over 1,200 websites in 22 countries with more than 1.5 billion global readers. Its origins come from The Washington Post’s need to remedy its own issues in transforming its digital experience from a newspaper to a digital-first news outlet spurred the initial business need that created Arc Publishing.
Unproven outside of its own ecosystem, The Washington Post provided its platform for free to college newspapers before signing its first paying customer in late 2015, the popular Portland (OR) publication Willamette Week. A rapid expansion of clients and services followed in the last five years. Meanwhile, the Post has continued to improve Arc Publishing.
“In March we had record traffic of over 8 billion page views from over 1.5 billion visitors,” said Arc Publishing General Manager Scot Gillespie. “We were set up for that scale so we did not have to worry about a traffic spike for us or any of our customers. It felt good to see the success of customers being able to work remotely, publish quickly, collaborate and handle the traffic. We got positive customer feedback from leveraging our experience creating these digital tools for The Washington Post and it shows in our performance.”
A platform for performance
The Arc Publishing platform goes beyond simple website redesigns and content enhancements. The ongoing development of their platform over the past five years to meet consumer demand, from both media and enterprise clients like British Petroleum (BP) has been key to driving revenue and expanding their client roster.
Arc Publishing platform includes:
- Live video streaming app that acts as a mini-control room to create more engaging video content and customized branded content
- eCommerce platform that allows for quick scaling of product availability due to unforeseen or immediate consumer demands
- Subscription platform that allows clients to create and launch campaigns while managing offers, promotions and pricing
“Collaboration is built into the DNA of our platform, products and services because that is how we exceeded in the digital conversion of our own news content,” said Gillespie. “Speed, performance, scale and operations efficiency have been built into our business and engineering from the start. Our job is to get the correct technology stack in place so our clients can focus on content.”
Arc Publishing’s content services is enduring to their peers in the media industry like Oregon Public Broadcasting, while serving as the foundation for larger branding campaigns like their current one with BP.
How has content been the cornerstone to the success of Arc Publishing?
- Content creation tools that have the same efficiency levels for both media and corporate enterprise clients;
- Page Builder, a rendering engine platform to power frequent home page edits as well as website pages overall; and
- AI-powered Arc platform underneath which directs audience to relevant content.
“We knew if we solved the content and publishing problem here at The Washington Post it would work elsewhere,” said Gillespie. “Instead of having different teams to support and operate everything our clients now focus more on creating richer and more engaged user experiences. Our clients own their front-end code running on our platform.”
Engaging the enterprise
Arc Publishing prides itself on solving problems for its enterprise customers, including reducing complexity, increasing eCommerce experience, boosting marketing resources, including microsites, and supporting more efficient internal communications processes.
“Internal communications often is an afterthought at an enterprise level,” said Gillespie. “That is how you get patchwork technologies being placed together that do not reach employees. With our platform you instantly gain efficiency and collaboration.”
Arc Publishing is also buoyed by integrations with Amazon Web Services (Amazon owner, billionaire Jeff Bezos, owns The Post), Akamai Technologies cloud services and Catchpoint’s customer experience modeling.
These partnerships allow for Arc Publishing to build a new site with full implementation for a client, with all tools, in less than 30 days.
Testing and Texas
“If you ask Jeff (Bezos) you can’t test enough,” said Gillespie. “We have brought that culture right to our customers.”
Arc Publishing is running thousands of tests at any given time ranging from the subscription platform, collaboration tools, new button development and everything in between.
User experience testing is vital, as the vocal Washington Post newsroom has often acted as a focus group for user and technology testing. Arc Publishing’s testing is not only limited to traditional functions like user experience, but also for tools like their fast-growing CRM system, which was successfully implemented for the Dallas Morning News.
“We kept having to continue to invest to keep at pace, and we couldn’t afford to keep up with technology,” said Dallas Morning News Chief Product Officer Mike Orren. “The implementation of Arc’s platform saved us three years in terms of road map.”
According to Orren, Arc Publishing helped Dallas Morning News increase reader engagement in terms of depth of visit and repeat visits. Its subscription platform that has led to increase digital subscriptions, according to Orren.
Meanwhile, the CRM tool has led for a more dynamic listing service by Dallas Morning News, from local events, to school directories to lists of local politicians, allowing the media brand to focus on its core business of creating engaging content.
“If the foundation you are building your website experience on is not what it needs to be and your digital product portfolio is a mess, you have to build a foundation and that is what Arc does,” said Orren. “Organizations are allowed to get into a lot of long-term technical debt but the economics of it do not make sense. You would not build your own printing press, so why would you build your own marketing stack of technology?
We are in the business of producing news and media content,” he continued. “Having to worry about anything else is a distraction.”