Using intuition and analytics to shape your content

by NIK BERG, ONE POINT TWENTY ONE AND REDWOOD LONDON

May 2016

Your readers are your business. Give them what they want and your publication will be a success. This is not rocket science.

But not so many years ago there wasn’t really any kind of science involved in figuring out what your readers liked. You published a story, it was printed, and aside from the few (usually irate) readers who could be bothered to write in to your letters editor, it was very hard to measure the success or failure of an individual piece of content. To shape your publication, you would have to conduct costly focus groups or telephone surveys to ask your readers what they liked and disliked.

Today that information (and much more) is merely a mouse click away thanks to the extensive analytics built in to digital publishing platforms such as the Edition Digital system.

You can get real time, continuous information on exactly what your readers are reading. And just as importantly what they are not.

Today information of what your readers like (and much more) is merely a mouse click away thanks to the extensive analytics built in to digital publishing platforms.

Checking page views, dwell times, depth of reading and shares of your digital content will give you an instant picture of performance lending you the opportunity to not only tailor future content, but actually tweak the live content to engage the audience better.

It is both incredibly valuable to the success of your publication, and somewhat terrifying to a writer and editor. An in-built journalistic cynicism says that readers don’t always know what they want or, perhaps, more accurately, what we think they should want.

Creatives don’t always want to produce the most populist stories or the most basic designs. We want to challenge ourselves and our readers to work for their reward. And if analytics show these pieces don’t appear to be performing as well as more simple stories then have they failed? Or do they just need better promotion, better signposting?

The most important thing in using analytics to shape your content is to look at the data in context, not just to consider the raw numbers.

In other words, you actually need to analyse the analytics to reach a meaningful conclusion.

The most important thing in using analytics to shape your content is to look at the data in context, not just to consider the raw numbers.

What is your definition of success?

Is a piece that was read by 300 people and shared by 10 of them better than a piece read by 100 people but shared by 30?

Are the stories you expected to be popular delivering the results?

You may find low numbers but high engagement which could be a sign of poor navigation rather than poor content.

If your content is video or audio-based, you’ll be looking at the number of views, but also how long users watched for. If the duration was low, was that necessarily a bad thing? Perhaps they got all the information they needed up front? If that’s not the way the piece was put together then maybe the audience got bored. Look at numbers alongside the content.

One would expect image galleries to be swiped through quite quickly, and text-heavy pieces to take longer, so if that’s not happening look closely to see what’s not working.

With data so readily available - and so much of it - it’s vital not to jump to conclusions.

Yes, you can react quickly and make changes to your publication. Whether you should or not requires a bit of extra thought.