How to Use Web Metrics to Increase Online Editorial Performance

Today, I want to dig deeper into how editors, journalists, bloggers and other content creators can leverage web analytics to boost online performance.

  1. Measure Often

    Checking metrics once a month isn’t enough. Depending on your role and your industry, ideal time frames will vary, but consider at least creating weekly editorial reports. It can be a simple report that contains key metrics that show what content did well, and how your audience interacted with your digital products.

    Have one person pull it – It can be the intern, it can be the Chief Editor. Ideally, it would take a single hour to create – a small price to pay to ensure you are delivering on your mission.

    Of course, individual editors can check their metrics daily – looking at specific article performance across various channels. This enables you to gauge whether further action is needed to ensure your content reaches your intended audience.

  2. Look at Combinations of Metrics

    Tracking page views or unique visitors can give you a quick estimate of things, but that data is not nearly as interesting as looking at combinations of metrics.

    When looking at top articles, review them by creation date, compare time spent, or segment top articles from search engines vs top articles from newsletters. What were your top entry points to directory pages, or search keywords that brought readers to your top performing articles?

    There are so many useful combinations… think about which will give you information that leads to actions.

  3. Choose Very Specific Time Frames

    Using monthly or quarterly metrics can be useful to show the overall strength of an online editorial strategy, but is not helpful to give an individual editor a sense of what they are doing right, and where new opportunities lie.

    Look at metrics on a daily or weekly basis – segment down to specific time frames such as lunch hours, weekends, or before, during and after events. Likely, you will see trends specific to these time frames, and opportunities that are unique to each.

  4. Move Beyond Quantity Metrics

    Quantity metrics such as page views are nice to show growth of your audience, but quality metrics can ensure that you are meeting the goals of your existing users.

    Have a goal for each article page – what is the one action you want them to take? Is it to click on a link, a video, a photo gallery? How long should readers spend on a 1,000 word article? If you are looking at averages (say 2 minutes for a particular article), then try digging into the actual data if available. How many visitors spent more than 5 minutes? How many spent less than 10 seconds? Which outliers are skewing the averages of these metrics? Where is the middle ground that you would consider your core audience?

    Focusing on engagement metrics affects existing customers as well as new ones… consider their goals when they come to your site, and how you can ensure they have a pleasant experience.

  5. Metrics Should Lead to Actions

    These reports should be used proactively; data should lead to decisions. If you pull weekly reports, try to identify 3 key insights and 1 action based on the data. While it’s nice to be able to say "article performance is up 3%," it’s much more valuable to be able to say "There is an opportunity to serve our audience better by creating more articles on managing their careers. I’m going to check with the sales team to see if they can get a sponsor for a career tips webcast and newsletter."

  6. Share

    Share these metrics, insights and action to your entire brand. Include editors, sales, production folks, interns, everyone. You may not realize how valuable this information is to people in roles other than yours, and how it allows the entire team to set proper expectations on performance and strategy.

    While your at it, when sharing performance metrics, ask your sales team what they are hearing, approach editors at sister publications, take the intern out to lunch and ask her opinion. This is a team effort.

  7. Survey Your Readers & Collect Anecdotal Research

    Are you actively soliciting feedback on articles and matching it to the needs you know your readers have? The fact that people enjoy your content is not enough, you have to be essential to their business and careers.

    If you can, get out in the field as often as possible to see your customers in context – to see actual working conditions – and perhaps, how they use your products.

    Try to survey your audience as often as you can without bugging them. Collect original research and any industry research you can get your hands on. Match it to your performance metrics, and share all of this throughout your brand. The web metrics you look at can’t exist on their own – they need to connect to the real-world lives of your customers.

  8. Create Benchmarks and Set Goals

    Creating benchmarks is easy… just see how well a particular article, channel or content asset performed in the past, and try to beat those numbers. Don’t make a game of it, don’t create a contest, these things can be gamed and can take your eyes of the real goal: helping your readers and customers.

    Once you begin creating daily/weekly/monthly reports, you can begin setting expectations for what you and your team can expect next month.

  9. Have an Integrated Editorial Strategy

    Your print magazine strategy should not be separate from your email newsletter strategy, social media strategy, webcast strategy or website strategy. Integrate the goals of all of your products to ensure you are getting the highest return on investment for your resources, and that each channel is supporting the other.

  10. Ask yourself: How did I Support the Business

    For many markets, relying solely on ads placed next to content is not enough to sustain a business. Consider a variety of ways that you can provide solutions to your audience.

    If you ask your readers to sign up for a newsletter through a Twitter link, track the click-throughs to the link and the number of sign-ups. Consider how the metrics connect reader needs with products that your brand offers.

(Credit where it’s due: these are ideas I have been contemplating for months, but I am heavily inspired by Avinash Kaushik’s book "Web Analytics: An Hour a Day." It’s filled with great ideas on creating a customer-centric business.)

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