Content ideas

Three quick ways to boost your traffic and engagement

As news organizations, we know the importance of attracting readers to our websites. From a business perspective, we need impressions to grow revenue. And, frankly, when we write a story or take photos or video, we want people to take time out of their hurried lives to look at our stuff.

So, how can we grow in the digital space?

No gimmicks. No clickbait.

Clearly, the answer is to produce content that matters to our readers. We want to spend our time on journalism that will change their lives.

Apart from all of the deep work we have to do to understand our communities, which is valuable and necessary and good, here are a few ways to grow your numbers in all the right places. Maybe these aren’t news to you, but do them consistently, and you will do a happy dance when you see your analytics.

1. USE ARCHIVE PHOTO GALLERIES: This involves no new work, except digging up the images.
Hint: These work best, according to the good people at the Wilmington Star News in North Carolina, if they relate to something currently in the news.
Example: Eight years after the three-story mall closed in Columbus, Ohio, a photo gallery from the Dispatch took readers on a journey from the opening of the mall, with its crush of excited shoppers, through the holidays and events over the years (think Hanson’s “MMMBop” drawing a crowd in the 1990s), until the mall – deserted in the latest photos – was torn down to make way for Columbus Commons, green space that now hosts a Beatle’s tribute band in an outdoor concert.

Archive shot of the musical group Hanson performing at a Columbus, Ohio, mall in 1997.
Archive shot of the musical group Hanson performing at a Columbus, Ohio, mall in 1997.

2. INCLUDE VIDEO WITH TOP STORIES: Legacy newspaper organizations are still trying to figure out what kind of video content resonates with viewers, apart from a building burning out of control. Turns out, if you match video with your top stories, it increases time on site. Plus, your videos will have more opportunity for views. (I aced my symbolic logic class in college.)
Hint: Even if your story doesn’t lend itself naturally to video, you can still have a reporter on film talk about the process of researching the story, or you can have an editor discuss how an ethical conundrum was resolved. Find ways to add value and additional information in your video, even if it doesn’t meet the criteria of “motion and emotion” that we love.
Example: Cape Cod Times did a nice little video of the scene where an old Jeep Wagoneer was going to be extracted from a sand-filled garage in Truro. The reporter’s voiceover explained the story, and the video showed the scene. The video accompanied a short preview story. Cape Cod also use Facebook Live to show readers the Jeep being pulled from the sandy enclosure and embedded the Facebook Live video on their site with a new story.

3. YOU’RE THE EXPERT: Think about your high-interest topics: Maybe you have a big-time sports team and a sports reporter who knows all about it. Maybe you have a major industry in town and a reporter who gets all the scoops. When you have a big story, do a live chat with your reporter. Promote it all over social media, and encourage readers to ask questions. If you’ve struggled with reader interaction, you might try a live debate or chat with people on your staff who have different views on a hot topic. FiveThirtyEight has a weekly chat. An example: The Biggest Surprises Of The Trump Presidency So Far. Find your local groove.
Hint: Publish the transcript. This will be a long read, but if you have good interaction during the live chat, with engaged readers asking questions, this will make for a great read afterward. And if you try the staff chat, the transcript will give people who couldn’t follow along live a chance to read your thoughts.
Example: The Columbus Dispatch does a chat with its Blue Jackets beat writer and publishes the transcript. It’s long, but readers stick with it. The transcript, with its interaction and almost a Q&A style, is a natural alternative story form, which translates well to people reading on their phones.

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