Digital transformation

Newsroom expert: How Adam Gerik drove up web traffic twenty percent

Are you looking to beef up your web traffic? Here are some tips from a GateHouse newsroom expert who increased his own news site’s traffic by twenty percent during the course of a year.

NAME Adam Gerik

POSITION Digital editor

NEWSROOM Journal Star

BACKGROUND I want to be upfront about this – I never went to journalism school. I’m nostalgic and regularly watch TCM, but I’m growing increasingly irritated at print nostalgia. Do we fawn over great roads or the wires that dangle outside our homes? Certainly not. A print newspaper is just one method of getting information to our readers. I still do believe that it’s the best way to protect yourself against a sudden thunderstorm, though.

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Lest I sound like a soulless monster, I am also an accomplished organist.

I started at the Journal Star almost a decade ago as a photo intern, was hired as a staff photographer and eventually moved out to the web desk when it became clear that I knew how to operate a computer. Remember how I said I’m without a journalism degree? My bachelors is in information networking and telecommunications – the wires and routers that hide in your closets. I created a ton of video for a few years, then became a newsroom manager in 2012 where I supervise a staff of eight photographers, graphic artists and web producers.

STRATEGY My boss, executive editor Dennis Anderson, set the goal of a 20% increase in web traffic and I remember laughing in horror. TWENTY PERCENT! I honestly figured that we’d come in somewhere lower – like 5 or 10%. My team didn’t meet that goal from 2012 to 2013 by doing anything sexy or heroic, but we stuck to a few simple rules:

  • Inject personality into social media! Even your institutional accounts. Don’t be a bland brand robot (say three times fast).
  • Question why your newsroom workflow is the way it is. I guarantee that it’s not to help your digital platforms.
  • Share analytics reports with everyone, not just editors. We even set up Chartbeat displays in a few places to show real-time traffic. I still remember a few astonished gasps when a wayward reporter would see something as banal as restaurant health inspections rocketing to the top.
  • Instill a sense of ownership among the staff. Your website is not just for those lucky enough to have “web” in their titles.
  • Finally, train train train. We still don’t do enough of it.

There are a few things we really need to work on. We do a poor job of actually engaging our readers. Some of that goes back to the traditional idea of a newspaper being this heavenly distributor of news, unswayed by the whims and desires of readers. We’re here to give them their veggies and nothing sweet. That’s ludicrous.

Our story budgeting process and copy desk workflow is still print-centric. That causes problems during the day hours, when traffic is highest.

Don’t set out to kill your print presence. This transition to digital should be left up to your readers – use both effectively in the meantime.

And finally, don’t forget to thank your lucky stars for mobile and Facebook. Without them, you’d never have a chance.

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