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Behind the scenes of Eater's annotated Danny Meyer feature

Ryan Sutton, the chief restaurant critic at Eater New York, reported that Danny Meyer was eliminating tipping from all of his restaurants. We had a major exclusive on the news and good lead time, which allowed us to consider how the content would be presented.

While Helen Rosner and Ryan were talking about the presentation of the content, they kept coming back to the idea that the story was just one sentence. The news was huge and needed to be unpacked, but in its simplest form, the real scoop was only one sentence.

Low-risk experiment

As Vox Product makes moves to improve our storytelling tools in platform, we've raised the bar recently for the kinds of editorial projects on which we do custom work. When assessing where to spend our time on projects, we ask ourselves:

  • Will this help us grow audience?
  • Can we innovate and experiment?
  • Does this elevate the editorial brand?
  • Can we add value?

Working with Helen, Ryan, and the rest of our Editorial Products group, we decided to take this project on as an experiment because the answer to all of those questions was "yes". Using the templating mechanisms available within Chorus, we were able to execute on the concept in a few hours (more on that below).

Our hypothesis

With any experiment comes a hypothesis. We were betting:

  1. If we included footnotes as a means of explaining the one-sentence story, most users would click into the footnotes to learn more.
  2. If we gave away the news in one sentence, the format would incentivize users to stick around and share.
  3. If we were clever with how we promoted this annotated story on social, it would be a driver of traffic.

Working with an existing Chorus template

For this project, we worked within the existing feature template that Chorus offers for Eater. With a few small modifications, we were able to transform the feature layout into a format that added a meaningful enhancement to the content.

This allowed us to move fast and lean heavily on Eater's existing design language. Instead of focusing on the visual design (we used the existing brand typography and color palette), we focused our efforts on making sure the interaction of the navigation elements were useful and functional for the user.

Preliminary numbers

Though the numbers are still coming in, we've already learned that people primarily click the "See why it matters" link and the first annotation; there's significant drop-off in clicks for annotations 2–7. About 11% of visitors scrolled at least 90% of the way down the page. Of course, our footnote behavior triggers that scrolling action, but users were getting to a much greater depth than they do on standard articles.

So far, about 55% of traffic to the page has been referred by social. While we did create custom social assets for this story, a lot of the social lift probably came from the news itself, rather than the design of the imagery.

As we collect additional data, we'll continue to learn about the successes and failures of this design. This understanding will guide us on future projects where we explore a similar format.

Your brand isn't just your website

With partner platforms like Facebook Instant Articles, Google AMP, and Apple News quickly becoming a destination for our users, we can no longer think about these experiments in the context of just our websites. With each project we're considering how we might approach it in a very-closely-approaching world where our stories are everywhere, and Chorus is just one of the many important platforms where we reach our audience.