How editors can make analytics work to their advantage

Editorial analytics has become such a hot topic it was the subject of a recent Magazines Canada webinar with Carley Fortune, deputy editor at Chatelaine (pictured below).

Carley Fortune ()

Analytics are important to editorial teams because they gave editors a deeper insight into their audiences, into who audience members are, when they visit, what they consume, like and dislike. Editorial analytics can inform reportage, editorial decision making, and strategy. Analytics help set editorial priorities when editors have lists of what is popular, trends, headlines, story formats and frameworks. And, analytics can also be used by editors to determine what doesn’t do well, as well as things that could be cut back.

The analytics Fortune outlined that she cared about included data on audience size, geography, preferences, likes and wants.

“What you look at is determined in part by the business goals of the company and what they tell you to monetise or what is important to your site,” she said.

In the past, Fortune said, publishers and editors would get insight from experts running focus groups or doing research. Now, analytics data provides editorial teams with much quicker, more in-depth insight and can provide brand-specific benchmarks of performance. Through this, editors can determine whether an article is successful or whether it underperformed, using data specific to their publications.

“It allows us, and this is something we don’t always like as editors, to challenge our assumptions,” she said. “We might think a certain topic is a perfect fit for our audience, but the data could tell us otherwise.”

Analytics help set editorial priorities. For Fortune, this means doing deep dives into the analytics of the Chatelaine website and social feeds, to gauge past performance of editorial packages and content pillars. For example, in her most recent deep dive into the site analytics, Fortune said there were definite learnings from year to year, especially when it came to holiday gift guides. “The thing that was most surprising was how well articles on stocking stuffers did,” she explained. “Double or triple what other types of gift guides we were doing. So, this year, there will be more stocking stuffers.”

Fortune’s deep dives are an annual occurrence, where she takes a couple of days to study the results of the last year’s traffic. These deep dives inform Fortune about how well the site content matched audiences needs, wants and likes.

For editors who have never done a deep dive into analytics data, Fortune suggests first to discover whether site traffic is growing or shrinking.

“And, by how much?” she asked. “Where does it come from? What are the pathways to your content? Search engines, social media, other sites? What are the most important topics or categories on your site? And, what percentage of the site’s overall traffic does each category get?”

With Chatelaine, she explained, content pillars include health, style, living, news, home décor and food. “I look at the traffic each is getting, and I rank them in terms of traffic from most to least,” Fortune said. “And then I look at whether the category is growing or shrinking year over year.”

Editors doing deep dives into a year’s worth of analytics should be on the lookout for trends in topic, in story format and framing devices. Is something in fertility doing well? Or, perhaps listicles or galleries draw particularly large amounts of traffic?

Editors can also look into content headlines for patterns.

“When you look at stories that did well, you will notice trends in headline formats as well,” Fortune said. “For example, there may be certain words that encourage people to click more often, or styles of headlines that draw more traffic than others. Do question headlines, number headlines or statements work?”

Fortune explained, “One of the things I found, when I was looking at headlines, is that questions don’t work for us, ever. We were doing a lot of question headlines, because to me, they seemed like something would work. The analytics challenged my assumptions. Questions didn’t work at all.”

According to a Reuters Institute report that came out earlier this year, few big newsrooms have developed editorial analytics with which to tailor editorial priorities. For the report “Editorial Analytics: How news media are developing and using audience data and metrics,” more than 30 editors were interviewed across a range of media organisations. Nielsen, the director of research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and Federica Cherubini, a research associate and media consultant co-authored the report.

“What sets best practice approaches to analytics apart is thus not that they have big screens with numbers on them in the newsroom, but that they know how to make sense of numbers and can act on those insights,” Cherubini and Nielsen wrote in a NiemanLab article describing the research.

Increasing numbers of editors and editorial staff are interested in making audience data work for their publications and developing keener insight into their audiences. 

“It’s encouraging to see journalists and newsrooms taking a greater interest in actually understanding their audience. Without good analytics, you are flying blind. That’s very dangerous in a competitive and constantly changing media environment,” Nielsen said in February.

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