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How we choose content for the new BBC Homepage

Clare Hudson

Executive Editor

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The Central Editorial Team in MediaCityUK, Salford

I'm Clare Hudson, Executive Editor of the BBC's content discovery services.

The team I lead, based in BBC North in Salford, is responsible for curating and promoting content from around the BBC on services such as the Homepage and Search, which draws around 9m users a week, and BBC Red Button services on TV, used by 15m a week.

The Homepage is one of BBC Online’s most popular pages, often the most popular. We typically see between 2-3 million browsers a day, and many more arrive during big national events or when significant news stories break. Use of the Homepage, across desktop, mobile and tablet, has been growing in recent years.

There have been five versions of the BBC Homepage since 1997 and the most recent of these has just launched on mobile. V5, as we call it, will continue to welcome visitors to the BBC and present them with links to an ever-changing array of stories from across our output.

We’ve made big changes to the way the best of the BBC is surfaced on this page. Previously, we had a largely automated system where a handful of bespoke panels (or promos) sat alongside automated feeds of content drawn from the various parts of BBC Online. But in this version, we have ensured that the selection, curation and presentation of all links on the homepage sit firmly in the hands of our experienced editors.

Why have we done this?

Feed driven content has its drawbacks. Most of the links in feeds serving the v4 homepage have been written with another destination and audience in mind. This means we have many different promo types and tones turning up on the Homepage. Often the first time we'll find out about a truncated headline or an awkwardly juxtaposed picture is when someone Tweets about it. Through some experimentation last year, we found that users were much more likely to click on links we’d created manually.

So visitors to the new page will find more hand-selected stories than before with clearer headlines and better, more appropriate pictures, alongside feeds from News and Sport, in the first instance.

But feeds have their place. They will continue to play an important role in making sure the page stays current, and we’re working with teams across the BBC to make more, and better, feeds available to users. Over time, editors working on the homepage will be able to draw in more feeds of content from around the estate, organising them into collections for the homepage. Some will be drawn in as is – there’s no need for us to edit a ‘Most Popular’ feed, for example – but some of the collections we make will contain items from different feeds, for example a Comedy collection which draws from TV, radio and online funnies.

In time, we’ll be able to recraft feed promos to better suit the page. My colleague Faith Mowbray blogs about the 'curation kit' we’ll be using to do this work here.

The content mix we have launched v5 with was informed by user activity we’d seen on v4 mobile and desktop sites where we’ve been curating links for some time, and by the need to reflect the interests of a broad audience.

But how do we choose content for the homepage day-to-day? We start by asking the question: “What is important to our audience right now?'

A team of 3-4 editorial staff – a duty editor, content producer and assistant content producer – starts the day early. They’re joined later by the evening shift – another 3-4 people – and supported throughout the day by a similarly-sized planning team.

The “live” team looks at what the audience is watching, listening to and reading on BBC Online. It monitors user activity on the page and looks for trends that tell us what topics our audience is interested in. We watch and listen to output, and we follow social media accounts – we make sure we are where the audience is. We then look for the very best content from the BBC that relates to the stories and topics that have got the audience talking, and we link to it from the Homepage.

The planners have contacts in every department from the journalists and programme makers watching their own audiences react to output to the press and marketing teams who work on reaching audiences with new content. The planning team watches for trends over time that tell us what topics the audience find interesting.

We cover breaking and top news and sports stories. We look for video and audio from BBC journalists to explain what's behind the headlines of the day. We curate content into collections of interest from general themes to specific events like EastEnders 30th Birthday or Six Nations Rugby.

We select three things that we have loved that day, from behind-the-scenes blogs to heart-warming tales to exclusive live music performances. We highlight the personal tales guests and members of the public tell our presenters in our 'People' section. We include learning and lifestyle content to inform, interest and appeal.

Over the next few months, as we learn more about what audiences are clicking on and as our tools evolve, we’ll be creating more collections to target at users depending on their tastes. Eventually, users will be able to choose their own collections and make the page more relevant to them.

I'd like to hear what personalisation of the homepage means to you. What are you looking for, and what collections you would follow?

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