I had a lot of traffic on my blog the first week of February, nearly 12,000 views, one of my best weeks ever. So I must have been busy posting popular content, right? Not really. I posted three times last week:
- A post about my Tumblr blog Buttrynyms drew a whopping 53 views that week.
- A post on journalists’ reactions to Project Unbolt drew 195 views that week.
- A Saturday post about a gift from my father got just 69 views that week.
That’s it. Fresh content accounted for fewer than 400 views that week. My fresh content did better the week before and the week after. In fact, my content from the previous week did better that week than the fresh content did.
Yet I had the busiest week I can remember (weekly traffic stats only go back to July in my WordPress dashboard and I’ve paid closer attention to monthly and daily traffic).
The point here is not to boast about that week’s traffic (or to expose the weak traffic for the fresh posts), but to emphasize the importance of understanding metrics, not just following them blindly.
I posted last Thursday about the importance of measuring success as we change newsroom cultures in Project Unbolt. Friday I blogged about how metrics can be misleading (indulging my interest in sports metrics — er, stats). Today I want to talk about taking a closer look to see what the metrics are telling you.
If you’re going to make good use of metrics, you need to look beyond the surface and see what the metrics are telling you.
The surge in traffic last week was mostly due to two old posts that suddenly gained a lot of attention:
I gave a keynote address to the Arizona Newspapers Association in late September 2012 and posted the address to my blog, encouraging journalists to “embrace discomfort.”
It got a fair amount of immediate traffic, more than 1,000 views in September and October, but then tailed off to only 83 views in all of 2013. That’s more immediate traffic than an average post (in the past 30 days, only three new posts have received more than 1,000 views). But the sustained traffic (generally from searches and links) was well below what my best posts get. For instance, I’ve had more than 30 posts from previous years that have drawn more than 100 views in the past 30 days.
Suddenly this month, that post had a surge in interest: more than 3,500 views and topping 3,000 views the week of Feb. 3-9. What happened? Ryan Thornburg assigned it as reading for a MOOC (massive open online course) on social media, taught by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. I quickly identified the source of my traffic by looking at the list of referring sites. Usually Twitter, Google and Facebook send me most of my traffic. So this referring site sending me hundreds of hits a day stood out.
Beyond the traffic I got directly from the participants in the class, I’m sure I got more from the dozens of tweets by journalists participating in the course.
— Friederike Steensen (@FrauSteensen) February 13, 2014
— Natascia Lypny (@wordpuddle) February 4, 2014
The surge in traffic to the “embrace discomfort” post was mostly responsible for that week’s outstanding traffic.
But another old post also saw a surge in traffic. My post about why you should find the “Walmart sack” during an interview drew only 259 visits in December when I posted it. January was even weaker, with 41 posts. But suddenly this month it had more than 1,200 posts, including almost 600 on Feb. 6 alone.
I’m less sure what drove this resurgence of interest, but I’m pretty sure it came someone posting the link on Facebook (referring traffic indicated that, and I also got an email from someone who had seen it on Facebook).
I have pretty simple blog stats on my free WordPress blog. Newsrooms working on Project Unbolt will have more sophisticated tools. Whatever your tools and whatever metrics you use to measure success, look below the surface to understand what the numbers are telling you.
Try to identify which stories are doing well and where your traffic is coming from. The more you understand about whatever metrics you use, the better you can respond to your audience and the better you can learn from successes and mistakes.