Credit: By Anssi Koskinen on Fotopedia. Some rights reserved.

Digital media has offered journalist and publishers an insight into audience behaviour that was never previously possible. But as the amount of data newsrooms have access to increases, so does the challenge of understanding how to use it.

More publishers are now moving away from chasing audience growth figures to consider the increasingly varied ways people find their stories and what keeps them engaged, said Sachin Kamdar, chief executive of Parse.ly, as the analytics platform relaunched its dashboard today.

Traditional metrics like pageviews or the number of unique visitors to a story are complemented by indicators of the readers' attention, the device they are using to access the site, and referral sources.

"The challenges that a lot of publishers are seeing now are related to the exhaustive data that their sites and audiences are outputting on a daily basis," said Kamdar. The Parse.ly relaunch offers a combination of growth figures, and engagement and loyalty data.

"What we're focused on with this release is getting all that data into a single source where everybody can use it to make better decisions."

More journalists are becoming data-savvy and interested in how their stories perform, requiring access to contextualised data insights.

At the Guardian, for example, an in-house analytics platform called Ophan was built to make data more democratic.

Attention time is one of the metrics it looks at, and digital audience editor Chris Moran told Journalism.co.uk these figures have taught the team a lot about the effects of clickbait for example.

The people that are creating the content are looking at it on a real-time basis.Sachin Kamdar, Parse.ly
Data from Ophan has also been used to inform the redesign of the new Guardian website, officially relaunched yesterday.

The new Parse.ly platform aims to make collaboration between different departments in a media organisation easier when it comes to working with data.

Kamdar added that it's important for publishers to understand where audiences are coming from and how to use that data to foster engagement and loyalty.

As referral sources change and develop, publishers are seeing an increase in the number of people who come to stories from social media, for example, foregoing the homepage.

Media outlets with an insight into referral sources can continue to engage with their readers through these channels after a story has been published and shared.

Looking at tags analysis, for example, can indicate what type of stories are more popular with audiences by pointing out which topics generate more interest.

One publisher who uses Parse.ly uses tags to also categorise their articles into types, such as features or reports, said Kamdar. This enables the outlet to find out what approach to stories their audience prefers.

Combining real-time analytics with historical data is another issue, or missed opportunity, highlighted by Parse.ly.

He said media organisations have "siloed" the two, using different systems "that don't really sync well with one another so what you end up with is this 'apples and oranges' comparison".

"Your editors and the publishers might be evaluating the site using historical information, but really the people that are creating the content are looking at it on a real-time basis," he explained.

"If you get them married then you have a stronger way to align success between the two."

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