Journalists now have access to more complex and intricate data about the stories they publish online, and media organisations are using this information to drive their editorial decisions.
With so many tools being developed both for the public and for internal use within publications, reporters can be guided by these metrics when going about with their daily work.
The best headlines can be tested, as can the most appealing images, amongst many other factors that collectively determine how "successful" an article is.
We heard from three experts on analytics at Journalism.co.uk's newsrewired conference on 20 July: David Brauchli, senior vice president of communications at Content Insights; Rob Hammond, head of SEO and distributed platforms at Trinity Mirror; and Elinor Shields, head of engagement at BBC News.
They each gave some advice on how to best approach analytics in the newsroom, helping journalists improve the quality of their content, and a build larger, more engaged readership. Here are five key takeaways from the session:
Do not use pageviews as your sole form of analytics
“Pageviews do not reveal any user intent,” Brauchli pointed out. "Only using pageviews makes it difficult to see if users are actually engaging with the content. These numbers alone cannot prove if readers actually liked the piece, or learnt anything from it."
Hammond agreed: “Do not focus solely on pageviews or unique visitors.” There are now so many other numbers you can look out for, including metrics as simple as the number of comments posted under an article, or measuring the time spent by readers on each page.
Monitor audience engagement
Measuring engagement is incredibly important, explained both Shields and Hammond.
“You should look at the performance of the bottom 10 per cent of your articles, and reflect on what didn’t go well,” said Hammond.
This brings up a key question publishers need to answer when assessing the success of their strategies: If audiences are not engaging with your content, why are you publishing it to begin with?
Media organisations should test analytics platforms and solutions to identify the right tools for them.
The BBC uses a variety of tools including Chartbeat, Crowdtangle and Telescope to measure engagement, one of their main strategic targets.
Identify metrics that match your strategy
Aside from engagement, the BBC focuses on three other key areas of development: reaching under-served audiences, social media, and video content.
Placing the attention mainly on these four areas has made it easier to implement metrics goals throughout the organisation.
It can make the daunting process of collecting data less overwhelming once it has some form of direction.
However, “not all metrics are created equal,” Shields pointed out. “You should pick out the key metrics, and then align them across the business.”
Compare metrics against each other
“How do they affect each other?” Brauchli asked.
It’s important to consider that certain analytics influence others. For example, a great headline that would generate lots of clicks could bring in more unique visitors.
Make sure not to isolate statistics when looking at them, and think about positive changes you can make to your article that could result in improved metrics in areas that may not seem instantly obvious to you.
Avoid clickbait headlines
“Try to get away from those clickbait headlines,” Brauchli advised. “Or, at least adjust them. They [often] do not match up with your editorial strategy.”
Whilst a clickbait headline may bring more visitors to your page, this does not necessarily mean they are engaged with the content.
You also risk frustrating readers, making them feel misled. With this in mind, are they likely to visit again?
Clickbait can put off readers in the long-term, and may prevent organisations from reaching larger audiences, or building a loyal readership of visitors who can rely on the title as a reliable source.
Find more coverage of our latest newsrewired event on newsrewired.com.
Want to improve your organisation's use of metrics? Journalism.co.uk is running an evening workshop on analytics in October. Find out more here.
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