- Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to describe a new ontological content-based filtering method for ranking the relevance of items for readers of news items, and its evaluation. The method has been implemented in ePaper, a personalised electronic newspaper prototype system. The method utilises a hierarchical ontology of news; it considers common and related concepts appearing in a user's profile on the one hand, and in a news item's profile on the other hand, and measures the “hierarchical distances” between these concepts. On that basis it computes the similarity between item and user profiles and rank-orders the news items according to their relevance to each user. Design/methodology/approach – The paper evaluates the performance of the filtering method in an experimental setting. Each participant read news items obtained from an electronic newspaper and rated their relevance. Independently, the filtering method is applied to the same items and generated, for each participant, a list of news items ranked according to relevance. Findings – The results of the evaluations revealed that the filtering algorithm, which takes into consideration hierarchically related concepts, yielded significantly better results than a filtering method that takes only common concepts into consideration. The paper determined a best set of values (weights) of the hierarchical similarity parameters. It also found out that the quality of filtering improves as the number of items used for implicit updates of the profile increases, and that even with implicitly updated profiles, it is better to start with user-defined profiles. Originality/value – The proposed content-based filtering method can be used for filtering not only news items but items from any domain, and not only with a three-level hierarchical ontology but any-level ontology, in any language.