Blogs > 37th Frame

Photography, notes, commentary and much more from former Reporter Online Editor Chris Stanley.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Seeing metrics by the dashboard light

This month I have been working on something that will hopefully be of interest to my fellow JRC employees and probably of very little interest to the rest of the world. So I apologize to my non-JRC friends, but there is plenty of material on the Royal Wedding out there so you better get to it.

My current IdeaLab project is to spread the gospel of site metrics - useful not only to see how we are doing but also to guide how we position our stories and coverage to maximize the audience. Unlike the old days where we could publish our stories and photos and throw them out there hoping that lots of people would look at them, now we have the ability to analyze how many are reading each story, for how long, where they came from, how they got there, how they navigate ours sites and where they go when they leave. And many other useful facts.

The purpose of using this information isn't just to guide what we cover (yes, we know fire and crime stories always rise to the top), but also how to draw readers into stories they might not know about, even if they visit our sites. We have many ways to do this - social media, cross-linking, updates, SMS alerts - but what actually works, and when should we use these tools? Using metrics, we can see spikes in traffic at certain times of the day. These spikes are good opportunities to reach our audience with new material - either fresh or re-organized on our home pages to bring different stories to their attention.

We can see what search terms are bringing readers to ours sites - useful for writing headlines that will grab their attention and that of the search engines.

By looking at article view numbers from other sites in the chain, an editor might find a good story that would be of interest to their own readers with or without localization.

We can measure how effective our social media efforts are - posting a few links on Twitter or Facebook is good, but watch how the hits multiply when we engage our audience in a discussion about a topic or an unfolding news story. And posting to social media at strategic times could bring readers back to our sites when they might otherwise not do so.

Does paginating our web pages cost us readers? Did a recent contest really bring them in? Are a lot of hits coming from a local corporate domain? The answers to these questions can all be found in site metrics and used to guide our online efforts.

This isn't just a popularity contest - it is a way to bring extra content to our readers that they might actually want to read. It is not a substitute for good news judgement or local knowledge, but a way to KNOW our audience even better and reach out to them more effectively.

For this project I created a 'dashboard' in Omniture for each of our daily sites that do not have them yet. Dashboards are a quick and easy way to share site metrics via email on a regular basis with the staffs at all our sites. They are customizable reports that can be automatically generated and emailed, so recipients do not have to log into the Omniture system to view them. I will be sending written and video instructions to publishers and editors on how to use and customize their dashboards via email (I'd post them, but they contain some proprietary information not good for a public forum).

These videos will also be made available to weekly editors, and I would be happy to assist them in creating dashboards if needed. If anybody else in JRC would like to view the videos, please email me for a link.

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