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Serendipitous discovery:
How PNAS is fostering new connections with new content types

January 10, 2023

As one of the world’s most comprehensive and highly cited multidisciplinary scientific journals, PNAS strives to foster interdisciplinary connections among the many research communities it serves.

“Our goal in rebuilding pnas.org was to solidify its status as a destination site where our community could trust that they would find relevant and impactful content,” says Michael Hardesty, Digital Product Manager for PNAS. “In many ways, we were held back from being agile and responding to customer needs by our technology.”

PNAS wanted to support spontaneous content discovery, “using platform technology like AI recommendation tools to surface relationships between content types and keep users on the site longer, or just help them on their journey.” The search for new publishing and website development tools that would offer more features, control, and stability led them to seek a new technology partner after 25 years.

“We also wanted to improve our publishing operations,” Michael explains. “We wanted greater control over how our content is loaded, how it’s presented on the site, and the pathways with which readers discover it.”

Another key goal was accessibility. “We launched the original pnas.org 25 years ago,” says Michael, when “accessibility wasn’t necessarily at the forefront of everyone’s mindsets when building websites.” Michael and his colleagues are excited about how much has changed over the past several years, including the advent of accessibility legislation in some parts of the world. “We wanted to make sure that not only were we meeting the WCAG standards, but also achieving our goal to lead as much as we can in that area, to make using our website as equitable as it can be for the largest possible audience.”

A partner for the future

Finding a technology partner was a multi-year project.

“What we really focused on from the onset,” Michael says, “was finding a vendor that would approach the relationship as a partnership.” They wanted a thought partner: “someone who would ask, ‘Have you considered this? Are you sure you want to do that? These are trends that we’re noticing or the best practices we recommend.’”

Atypon stood out not only for offering “very sophisticated and mature” technology, but also because Michael and his colleagues “felt confident that they would help us out in that regard and that we wouldn’t be the only one driving the conversation.”

Content consolidation that drives efficiency

For PNAS, one goal was to consolidate content streams outside of journal article production, to show all articles, blogs, videos, and informational content in search results.

“That’s actually a pain point for many users,” explains Sean Concannon, a Solution Architect at Atypon: “You go to a website and you can search for the content, but you can’t search for ‘How do I publish an article?’ or ‘How do I get an article reviewed?’ If you can help an author find information more easily, you’re improving the author experience.”

Atypon’s Digital Objects offered an ideal solution.

All of our content in the journals, blogs, and podcast are indexed and housed in the same architecture. We can curate collections using platform technology without needing to write a line of code. 

Atypon worked with PNAS content dating back to 1915. Subject-level tagging enriched the content, enabling PNAS to automatically generate about 250 different interdisciplinary topic pages and start sending alerts on those topics when a user signs up. With Atypon’s Digital Objects, relationships between the journal articles, blog posts, and podcast episodes increase discoverability and efficiency for internal teams. “Before, if we wanted a collection we had to create a page from scratch, which limited our ability to scale and respond nimbly,” explains Michael. “Now, all of our content in the journals, blogs, and podcast are indexed and housed in the same architecture. This enables us to streamline the process for pulling content into collections, to the home page, and to different landing pages. We can curate collections using platform technology without needing to write a line of code.”

Measuring the impact of PNAS content

Being able to host and connect content on a single platform brings another key benefit for PNAS: a deeper understanding of their users.

“Capturing behavioral data on how readers are interacting with the site, in a privacy-first manner, was another priority for us,” Michael explains. “Since launching the website, we’ve begun to build this dataset, and we’re continuing to add to it. This enables us as a publisher to better understand which content our community is gravitating towards as well as to measure the effectiveness of our features and the site at large.”

They can now ask more detailed questions, and can run experiments and iterate based on the resulting data, something they weren’t previously able to achieve.

There’s a wealth of data that were just now getting access to which will improve our ability to meet business goals. 

“As the industry progresses towards a more open research environment, the focus will shift towards the author and researcher experience,” says Michael. “From a data perspective, the more we can learn from how users are engaging with our products, the better equipped we will be to respond to their needs.”

PNAS worked with Atypon to upgrade their metrics and analytics stack, layering Atypon’s Insights tool with Google Analytics and using Atypon’s Smart Groups functionality to segment their audiences.

“For example,” Michael explains, “if anyone has visited a podcast in the last seven days, you can build reports from that, Literatum’s Insights tool will tell you how many page views can be attributed to this audience segment. We can then map that information to other data points to understand how this group of users is navigating the site, or how they are discovering the content, or whether they signed up for email alerts or a newsletter. If you’re listening to a podcast, how likely are you to also read a research article, versus something more journalistic like a News Feature or Opinion piece? There is a wealth of data that we’re just now getting access to which will improve our ability to meet business goals.”

More accessible, intuitive pathways to discovery

Moving to Atypon was a significant investment for PNAS; their new site launch coincided with a major rebrand and a renewed focus on accessibility and discoverability.

“We have received a lot of positive feedback so far, and we’re excited about how the website will continue to evolve,” Michael says. “We’ve reduced friction in the user journey, and we’ve given more pathways to discover content.”

Learn more about PNAS’s new website and their experience in this video demo.

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