Formula for Success: Reader-Centric Online Content & Design at The Scientist

What makes for an award-winning website? According 2020 Website of the Year Azbee winner The Scientist, it needs to be frequently updated, mindful of visuals and design and dedicated to readers’ needs.The Scientist News Opinions Page ASBPE Blog

The Scientist provides print and online coverage of the latest developments in the life sciences, including trends in research, new technology, news, business and careers, say Editor in Chief Bob Grant and News Editor Kerry Grens. The online audience is broad, however, including the traditional audience of industry and academic researchers as well as the science-curious public; the website routinely attracts more than 1.5 million pageviews per month.

The publication’s editorial staff includes six editors and a rotating cast of interns, supported by “award-winning designers, a topnotch sales team, a crack development team, marketing wizards, and more,” Grant and Grens tell ASBPE. Grens generally makes decisions on what The Scientist covers online, although the editorial team is very collaborative, contributing ideas and content. Kerry prioritizes stories that are timely, important to life scientists and novel.

Typically, The Scientist aims to post around 12 new articles online every week, with a mix of news stories, features, blog posts, Q&As and opinion columns written by staff writers, interns and freelancers.

Learn more about online processes, goals and strategies at The Scientist in this interview with Grant and Grens below.

ASBPE: You recently redesigned your website—what went into that decision, and what was your goal for the new version?

Grant and Grens: The decision to redesign our website in 2018 was spurred by a desire to better serve our readers and advertisers with a modern, sleek site that highlighted our unparalleled content, design and functionality. Our goal was to make our website more easily navigable and more engaging. We pride ourselves on having a really talented art department, and the new site showcases their infographics and illustrations in ways that weren’t possible with the old version.

ASBPE: What is your strategy or process to determine what goes in print and what is an online exclusive?

Grant and Grens: We see our website as a forum in which we can deliver timely and important news to our readers. This includes breaking news, story developments and opinions in the realms of research, policy, publishing and issues affecting the broader scientific community. Our print product represents an opportunity to cover wider-reaching trends in life science and to publish thought-provoking pieces from professional journalists and leading researchers. It’s also where we invest in more time-consuming efforts such as infographics, that are then adapted for the website.

See for yourself! This feature article:
Clues Point to Climate Change as a Culprit in Gray Whale Deaths
shows how The Scientist can display infographics in various ways.

ASBPE: How do the needs and interests of your readership change regarding print vs. online content, and how are you adjusting to meet those needs?

Grant and Grens: While we view both our online and print content as essential reading for the life science professional, we capture a broader audience online. This includes visitors who find our content organically through Google searches and follow us on social media, and so they likely represent a more diverse audience than our print readers, who are generally working life scientists. For that reason, our print content (which is also all published in our website) tends to delve more deeply into the nitty gritty science, whereas our social media presence, and to some extent our online-only articles, have a bit of a broader appeal.

ASBPE: How do you approach visual interest elements—illustrations, art, slideshows, multimedia—for online content or to enhance print content?

Grant and Grens: Our top-notch design team creates and commissions award-winning infographics, illustrations, photography and more to accompany our print and online content. The goal is always to supplement the written word while providing a user-friendly guide to oftentimes complex scientific concepts through the use of layout, design and other graphical components. We encourage all of our reporters and editors to think of visuals at the very beginning of an assignment to get started on those in parallel with the article reporting. Custom infographics, for instance, typically require a long lead time so we do our best to account for that.

ASBPE: In the redevelopment of your website, what changes were surprisingly effective or useful?

Grant and Grens: Our new website came with a new content management system (CMS), which gave the editors and reporters much more flexibility in how their stories would be displayed. There are now different standard layouts to choose from instead of a one-size-fits-all limitations, so we can really tailor the presentation of stories to the visuals, rather than the other way around. That was really the biggest improvement.

See for yourself! These two articles:
Alterations in Immune Genes Make Bats Great Viral Hosts
Newly Found Proteins Stop Fungal “Bleeding”
demonstrate the layout flexibility in The Scientist’s website, enabling the publication to feature banner images, supported with mobile-responsive GIFs or full-width inline images.

ASBPE: What recommendations do you have for other business publications that are looking to enhance their website or online offerings?

Grant and Grens: Always try to inhabit the perspective of your audience. To the best of your ability, try to see things from the eyes of your audience, existing or potential. This and keeping tabs on other sites—those of competitors and noncompetitors alike—will help you ascertain what features and functionalities mesh best with your readers’ expectations.

ASBPE: What’s next for The Scientist’s website?

Grant and Grens: We have some exciting changes coming down the pike in 2021. One is to publish more of our in-depth, enterprising features that were typically reserved for the print magazine as online stories. This might offer us more opportunities for presenting these stories now that we won’t be constrained by page limits and static images. As ever, these changes will get us even closer to the goal of better connecting with our audience and attracting new users into the fold. We also plan on making our website even easier to navigate and customize based on an individual user’s interests and preferences. Stay tuned to The Scientist to see what’s coming next year!

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