J.J. Jenkins, the Editor-in-Chief of Mustang News, dishes on the how the newspaper uses Google Analytics to optimize our content delivery system.
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Made you click.
Since launching Mustang News’ integrated newsroom in September, we’ve paid careful attention to our Google Analytics, which tracks which stories get the most hits, and where those clicks are coming from. The results are nothing less than fascinating.
I’ve been observing you, dear reader, from behind the shroud of Google Analytics. And yes, “Upworthy” headlines like the one above work wonders … but we’re not selling out just yet.
But a little context first. Prior to this school year, Mustang Daily was printed four times a week and, having been a part of that process for three years, I knew most of the day revolved around wrangling enough content to fill those pages. And once they were full, we threw the stories online and, frankly, didn’t worry about promoting them or figuring out which stories our audience had latched onto. We were just too preoccupied with filling that “news hole” each day.
We turned that process on its head this year and, according to our website analytics, it’s paying huge dividends. Year over year, our website traffic has increased more than 100 percent. Now we’re on track to accumulate more than one million page views this school year. At least two stories that Mustang News broke first — the “Colonial Bros” party and the new greek life party registration policy regulations — have attracted national media attention, while a third, Gay and Greek, went viral thanks to a post on Reddit’s /r/GayBros subreddit.
In practical terms, it means our fairly popular stories consistently earn well over 1,000 page views, while extremely popular ones can top 5,000 or even 10,000. Last year, only one story topped 5,000 page views.
A key — perhaps the key — to our exploding audience is our use of social media and alternative storytelling forms. Writing about the power of social media in 2014 is hardly new, but as Facebook and Twitter mature into publicly traded companies with intense competition, it is important to recognize the clout they have when directing users toward news. During the past month, more than 40 percent of our traffic originated from Facebook, and the majority of Facebook users are accessing MustangNews.net from a mobile device. Google is the second closest — providing more than 20 percent of our visits — but many of those visitors are finding older stories (often old sex columns, and you can only imagine what they Google to end up there).
A revelation to our staff this year was the influence of Reddit, where links from /r/CalPoly provide a steady flow of hits to our site over the course of several days. In contrast, stories posted to Facebook have a relatively short lifespan, peaking within an hour of the post and dwindling away.
Alternative storytelling forms — namely lists, polls and quizzes — have recently piqued our interest as a staff; essentially, we realized why BuzzFeed is a viral machine. Now, we don’t want to become a hub of cat GIFs and repurposed content, but we’ve found lists are an efficient way for our audience to consume dense content. Last week, our story “11 new fraternity party rules you need to know” sent our website to new heights. It quickly became our most-read story ever, and helped set a new daily page view record with more than 17,000 hits.
Now, we aren’t going to become slaves to our stats, chasing traffic in lieu of doing actual reporting, but watching our readers’ behavior has given our staff a more complete picture of what our audience likes to see and how they like to access it. We’re still working on improving our process, so in the meantime, keep voting with your clicks.