There are few hotter real estate markets than New York City’s, so today, The New York Times has revamped its real estate desktop section with a heavy emphasis on utility. On the section, visible to registered readers starting today, readers pulling up a home listing will see not only floor plans and relevant housing market data but related information like dining and neighborhood news.
“It’s a smarter way to pull in information that would be relevant to that user,” said Matthew Shadbolt, director of real estate products for the Times. “The Times is sitting on a vast archive that could be pulled in — plus what we do every single day.”
The changes were informed by the Times’ scathing Innovation Report of last year. The internal report pointed out, among other things, the Times’ failure to make better use of its archival content. “There are about 14.7 million articles in the Times’ archives dating back to 1851. The Times needs to do a better job of resurfacing archival content,” it read.
The report also faulted the paper for lagging in tagging stories, which can enable them to be more easily found by readers. “Without better tagging, we are hamstrung in our ability to allow readers to follow developing stories, discover nearby restaurants that we have reviewed or even have our photos show up on search engines.”
The Times has been improving how it tags articles to make sure related content gets surfaced. The real estate section represents the first time it’s applied these improvements to a utility-based product, Shadbolt said. It’s an approach that nevertheless could have application to other parts of the Times’ offering, like its Cooking vertical or news events like the Olympics, he said.
Tagging involves not just labeling stories by topic but making sure the context of the search isn’t lost — and this is a reminder that a major goal of the real estate section is to generate leads for brokers — which could mean it’s in the Times’ interest to suppress stories about crime and the like as people troll listings.
During a demo of the section, Shadbolt ran a search for pricey apartments in the Nolita neighborhood, he got stories about a local personality and the architecture of the area. But if someone’s looking at expensive homes there, he said, “I want to make sure something unpleasant that happened in Nolita doesn’t get surfaced.”
Apart from enhanced search results, the revamped real estate section is the latest in an 18-month process to overhaul the Times’ overall real estate offerings. Last fall, it gave its iOS real estate app its first big redesign, following an overhaul of the mobile Web experience. Shadbolt credits these improvements, along with audience development work, with tripling cross-platform page views to real estate, to the “tens of millions.”
The Times knows that more time spent on its real estate property pages tends to correlate with a higher tendency to contact real estate agents, which is a key goal for the section. To that end, there’s an integration with Foursquare that provides nightlife, restaurant and shopping information from the app. There also are 10,000 new property videos that are powered by WellcomeMat.
Next on Shadbolt’s to-do list: Make the section even more useful for house hunters, by mining the archives even more and building tools that help them answer common questions about things like where they should live or what they can afford. The Times is uniquely positioned to answer questions like that to solve problems for readers, “things the Times has done very well for a very long time, but has never really tapped into from a product experience,” he said.
He also sees room to increase traffic to NYTimes.com overall by integrating the real estate section more closely with the newsroom: “We have [home] searchers that don’t read articles, we have readers that don’t do searches. We’re looking to bridge the gap between those.”