Newsrooms have been staring at their analytics and sharing them for years, right? What else could we possibly learn from these numbers?

I hear editors say analytics mostly confirm what they already know. Crime, crime, crime … it’s all people want to read online.

In other newsrooms, I hear people talking about analytics and how to use them to focus on the content that really counts for readers. Here are some tips to find out how to learn from the information that comes from analytics to ensure your coverage is deep and meaningful in ways your readers will appreciate.

1. SHARE WITH EVERYONE: Editors aren’t the only ones who benefit from studying analytics. Reporters can learn from their own analytics, too.

  • Now: How do reporters learn about analytics? Some newsrooms have screens up in the newsroom to show real-time analytics. Reporters will stop by and take a look at the screens occasionally. And many newsrooms share a list of the most popular content on the website each day with the whole staff.
  • Dig deeper: Give the keys to your analytics to everyone. Hold a brown bag lunch session in which your analytics guru gives basic pointers on analytics to the whole staff. So, give everyone access and teach them how to use your analytics tools. In many GateHouse Media newsrooms, we use Parse.ly, which allows reporters to find out exactly how their own content is doing. Just think, your education reporter may discover that readers gravitate toward stories about standardized testing, prompting a deeper dive into those tests in schools in your area. If reporters only saw those lists of the most popular content, they might not have seen the audience trend on school testing. Some editors push back, saying some folks might be depressed to see how little time people spend with their content, but this is no reason to keep the information from your staff. Great leaders understand that information is important for growth, and they will look for ways to help struggling staff members learn from their own metrics and produce content that resonates with readers.

2. GO BEYOND JUST LOOKING: Instead of simply noting what’s hot or observing that you’re having a slightly above average morning, find a way to capitalize on your best stuff and ditch the stories that have run their course.

  • Now: Some newsrooms hear a report from a digital editor during the morning meeting that shows what’s trending, how the morning has been going, what the top story is. Many newsrooms send out analytics reports in email that show general trends for the past 24 hours or the past week.
  • Dig deeper: Be sure to take some time to discuss analytics especially during your morning meeting. Is there a hot story that you can add some context to? Can you do a quick quiz or poll to make the story more interactive? Did you shoot a video? If not, is it worth revisiting to grab a video? Is location important to the story? If so, do you have a map? You get the idea. Also, perhaps if you are reviewing analytics during the morning meeting, you notice a story you thought would do better. Discuss the headline, which is often the culprit. Be sure you make the headline engaging and ensure you’ve reworked the print headline, which often falls flat online because you have less context and fewer entry points online than you do in print. Or maybe the story would benefit from better placement on social media. Share it again during a time when you’re likely to catch a lot of people (and use analytics to determine what time is hottest for your social media audience).

3. GO BEYOND REACTING: If you have access to real-time analytics, you might find yourself reacting to the latest spike.

  • Now: Astute digital editors notice spikes and react by giving stories better placement on their homepage or sticking with a hot story for longer in key positions on the homepage. Or they might recirculate on social media or add some context.
  • Dig deeper: Consider tracking and tagging content to slice into analytics in a new way. If your content management system has a field for keywords or tags, you can develop a system to tag content. The most obvious way to tag is based on topic or content: tagging your sports teams or your school districts. Here are some other ways to use tags:
  1. Geographies: If you cover more than one town, be sure to add a tag for the surrounding towns to find out how many people are reading content from their area.
  2. Content length: Tag every story with a “short,” “medium” or “long” tag, and define that for everyone. You can then discover in your analytics platform how readers respond and also how much you are producing of each content length.
  3. Content type: Another way to slice content type is “brief,” “process” or “in-depth.” Process might be defined as a meeting story that advances an ongoing story without resolving it, or giving an update on an ongoing court case or construction project in town. By tagging types of content, you can learn how many stories of various types you do and how readers react to those types of content. For example, maybe readers reward in-depth pieces with more time spent on those stories. Maybe they click in on a process story but bounce out quickly.

In each of these examples, the “now” is great, so don’t stop there. Be sure to keep digging. Your analytics have a story to tell. Be sure you’re paying attention.

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