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Data Journalism Tools

The Small Publisher’s Guide to Editorial Analytics

Numbers don’t lie. For local publishers looking for new ways to boost traffic and click-through rates, editorial analytics can serve as a roadmap to success.

Rather than polling readers or simply guessing which articles will be most popular, more publishers are now relying on audience metrics and editorial analytics to inform their newsroom decisions.

Editorial analytics platforms can be setup to measure visitor activity on a publisher’s site. With popular platforms like Chartbeat and Parse.ly, publishers have the ability to track readers on their websites in real-time. Analytics platforms also track whether site visitors are actively reading, or whether they are just skimming content and saving articles to read later.

With this data in hand, publishers can make better decisions about which topics or stories to cover and how prominently certain articles should be promoted on their sites.

Three examples of how analytics can be used to make newsroom decisions include:

  1. People in the community may say they love reading stories about the public library, while editorial analytics suggest that sensational crime stories are actually driving the greatest engagement.
  2. Editors can track how small changes to published articles, such as changes to headlines or additional links to outside sources, impact how readers engage.
  3. When doling out annual bonuses and selecting candidates for promotion, publishers can look at reporters-specific metrics to determine which staff members are bringing the most value to the organization.

Should editorial analytics always be used to determine which topics get covered in a local publication? The answer to that is tricky. Just because a certain topic doesn’t generate traffic doesn’t always mean it’s not a topic worth covering. These are difficult questions that journalism ethicists have been debating for years.

In the years since digital-first publications like The Huffington Post and Gawker first started using analytics to make editorial decisions, the practice has gone mainstream. Many of the most popular tools for collecting this data at large media outlets have since been adapted for smaller digital publishers.

As a best practice, editors should consider asking themselves these questions when deciding the best ways to utilize editorial analytics in the newsroom:

  • Which readers are we trying to reach?
  • What types of reader behaviors do we want to cultivate or encourage?
  • Which metrics are we using as benchmarks for success?

In a survey of news editors, CEOs, and “digital leaders” conducted by Reuters Institute, 76% said improving the way newsrooms use data to understand and target audiences is going to be “very important” for their organizations.

Larger newsrooms have added analytics teams to the mix at a furious pace. Audience development editors and data analysts pour over the data to uncover new areas for opportunity. In smaller newsrooms, journalists themselves have access to analytics tools and metrics for their own published stories.

For publishers who’ve decided to start using editorial analytics to make strategic newsroom decisions, the next question is which platforms or tools to use. We’ve put together a list of some of the top choices for small and mid-size publishers who run their websites on WordPress.

Top WordPress Plugins for Editorial Analytics

  1. Chartbeat: For existing Chartbeat users, this plugin makes it easy to install Chartbeat’s code and start tracking website traffic and audience behaviors.
  2. Google Analytics: The Google Analytics plugin for WordPress connects publishers to Google Analytics and lets them see how visitors are finding and using their websites.
  3. Parse.ly: Designed for writers, editors, and website managers, Parse.ly helps publishers understand how audiences are connecting with the content they publish.
  4. Google Analytics Post Pageviews: This plugin links to a publisher’s Google Analytics account to retrieve the pageviews for individual articles or posts.
  5. Clicky by Yoast: Publishers who use this plugin can track individual posts and pages as goals and also assign revenue to specific pages or posts.
  6. Crazy Egg: With Crazy Egg, publishers can see exactly what visitors are doing on their websites and where they are clicking. They can also see where visitors are coming from and what types of content are bringing people back.