A 2011 journalist engagement survey conducted by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute showed that 9 out of 10 daily community newspapers receive Web analytics reports on Internet data such as page views, length of visits, and traffic to their websites. Forty-one percent of the 529 daily community newspapers editors interviewed said they receive Web analytics reports every day.

As the industry shifts from circulation and readership to page views and click-throughs, publishers and advertisers are paying more attention to website data such as ad impressions and unique visitors. Some publishers are using free services such as Google Analytics, while others are turning to companies such as Chartbeat that provide real-time analytics for websites in order to make sense (and cents) of their Web analysis.

Numbers and Data
For publishers looking to get their feet wet with Web analytics, Google Analytics is a free tool that is flexible enough to use with any business. The company also offers a premium service for a fee.

According to Google’s Analytics advocate Justin Cutroni, the search giant became involved with Web analysis about seven years ago in order to help content publishers measure audience behavior and advertisers measure their expenses for a better return on investment. With Google Analytics, there is no hardware or software to install — just input a JavaScript code on the website pages and Google Analytics starts to collect the data.

“One of the most important metrics to track is conversions, which is when a visitor to your site completes an important task,” Cutroni said. “Every company should outline the primary business objectives of their website (macro-conversions). This can be completing a sale or filling out a Get a Quote form. It’s equally important to figure out what smaller actions (micro-conversions) might lead someone to a macro-conversion down the line, like visiting the Contact Us page, spending more than 10 minutes on your site, viewing a certain number of videos, or signing up for an email newsletter.”

Google Analytics also integrates with Google AdSense, another free program that helps publishers earn revenue by displaying relevant ads with their online content. AdSense includes ads on site search results pages, displays ads on the website suited to the audience’s interests and learned from valid clicks and impressions, and integrates with mobile webpages and apps to connect mobile users to the right ad.

Founded in 2007 and based in Los Angeles, JumpTime is a digital optimization firm that was created to help publishers find a solution to monetize high-quality content online. One of its most successful proprietary methods is FloPower, a content programming algorithm that helps maximize engagement and monetization on any level of traffic. FloPower calculates the actual value that will be derived from every 1,000 visits to a specific piece of content and the total value of the page, including how successful the site is at keeping visitors engaged and sending them to the next piece of content.

“This solution has helped publishers see an increase of 20 to 50 percent in engagement with users and advertising,” said JumpTime co-founder and chief executive officer Michele DiLorenzo.

DiLorenzo described FloPower as “immediate value plus future value” and stressed that content is a publisher’s greatest asset.

“It (content) should drive the user to a deeper experience and create additional ad impressions. Publishers usually only consider immediate value, and not future value,” she said.

An example would be if an advertiser was willing to pay $18 CPM (cost per mille) and only received one click-in visit. DiLorenzo called that visit “high immediate value and low engagement.” She compared that to a visitor who enters a site and visits low value pages (“high engagement and low overall value”), and an optimal balance of engagement and value, where one click leads to visits to high value pages.

“Click-through rates don’t equal value. They’re empty calories,” DiLorenzo said. Instead, FloPower shows numbers on engagement, page views, and downstream views.

“It’s telling the full impact,” she said. “It’s looking at every dollar view on every piece of real estate … FloPower predicts what happens next.”

The ability to see those real time analytics is what attracted Hearst Newspapers to partner with JumpTime about 10 months ago. Hearst Newspapers owns 15 daily publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle and Albany Times Union.

“At the time, JumpTime was the only one with products that could overlay with our websites,” said Karen Brophy, vice president of digital at Hearst Newspapers. “Since using JumpTime, we’ve seen a lift in traffic because our producers know in real time what’s working and we have a central CMS system, so our newspapers can share what’s performing well.”

Although Brophy wouldn’t share specific figures, she said the increase in traffic has been reflected on the sales side as well. “It helps to know and see what’s performing and see the actual dollar drive traffic, and if we need more traffic, we can make that happen.”

Based in New York City, Chartbeat is a real-time data analytics firm that was launched in 2009 and currently serves 153 media organizations, including The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

“Chartbeat Publishing gives insight in real time on who your audience is, what content they’re looking at, and where they’re coming from,” said user experience lead Adam Clarkson. Like Google, Chartbeat implements JavaScript coding on the website to capture data.

For legacy media publishers, Clarkson said collected data can steer content to be more responsive to reader demands. “There’s an old mentality set by journalists and editors that they should only post what the public needs to know and they feel data adds pressure to write about what’s popular instead. Two years ago that may have been the winning argument, but that’s now overruled. Data can help us learn — learn our audience and find an audience.”

To maximize real-time response, Chartbeat offers its customers the option to be notified immediately by email, mobile application, or text message if there is a spike in traffic. “(Publishers) can optimize related content and push it out to other audiences and not wait until the next day to see they had a spike,” Clarkson said. “They can act on it now.”

Chartbeat recently launched its Heads Up Display, which allows editorial teams to see vitals on traffic sources and most-clicked pages in an integrated menu bar. It also provides insight on how people are interacting with a certain story, detailed real-time click rate, and homepage performance.

Founded in 1999, vSplash is a digital marketing firm with U.S. offices in Atlanta and Lyndhurst, N.J. vSplash offers a unique kind of Web tool called BuzzBoard, which allows sales staff to send the URL of an advertiser (or even the entire customer database) to vSplash, which will then analyze the customer’s digital presence and performance. A diagnostic report is given to sales representatives to return to merchants with suggestions on how to create new revenue streams. The data also includes the customer’s Criticality Score, which gauges how well a company is performing based on key data points.

“It shows the sales rep the digital side of things,” said vSplash board advisor Neal Polachek. “Before, the sales rep would just have the merchant sign a contract and say ‘Great, see you next year.’ It was easy and straightforward, but now there’s complexity and they need to understand these kinds of proposals for merchants.”

Senior vice president Anthony Bratti said that since it launched earlier this year, BuzzBoard has analyzed 10 million listings and 2.2 million unique URLs. That number is on track to rise to 5 million by December.

“BuzzBoard is not meant to be the smartest person in the room,” Bratti said. “But our customer base — newspapers — can use it in their product sales. They can show it to small businesses and make them smarter … it makes reps more confident in having these conversations.”

It also saves the sales reps time and makes more room for more face-to-face interaction, Polachek said. “What usually takes two hours for a sales rep, now takes two minutes with vSplash.”

Bratti said vSplash customers have seen a 60 percent increase in sales productivity when using BuzzBoard.

Audience and Behavior
If you want loyal readers, you have to turn them into “sticky” readers.

“It’s not just about page views,” said Jeff Shabram, vice president of digital and director of digital advertising at the Omaha World-Herald. “It’s where people are looking and how many people are looking.” Shabram called the term “stickiness,” with the key question being, “Can you hold that person’s interest and entice them to read more?” Broadening interest meant broadening the number of readers, he said.

When the Omaha World-Herald and its cluster of newspapers at Midlands Newspapers, Inc., partnered with content management system provider TownNews.com nine years ago, Shabram said the Internet was still at its infancy and community newspapers were looking for a partner to help guide them into the Internet arena. Founded in 1989 and located in Moline, Ill., TownNews.com now serves 1,500 newspaper clients.

Shabram said what was attractive about TownNews.com was the company’s understanding of the core needs of a community newspaper. “They were trying to be cutting edge, not bleeding edge,” he said. “(A newspaper) can get into tremendous expense when developing something that ends up not being (compatible) with the technology future.”

Customers who use TownNews.com’s BLOX CMS also have access to BLOX Analytics which provides data for online and social traffic. Various reports on page views, referrers, bounces, time on site, and exit can also be generated in TownNews.com’s tracking system MurlinStats. Charts can be compared to previous days, weeks, months, and years. Sites can also integrate with Google Analytics, which is fully supported by BLOX Analytics reporting tools. For social media analytics, TownNews.com employs social tracking company AddThis.

TownNews.com vice president of technology and operations Brad Ward said when publishers are asking about analytics, they want to understand why they saw a spike in traffic (Ward said it usually comes from the story being shared on popular sites such as Drudge Report); they want help on figuring out popular items on the site; and they want to know how they compare to their peers.

Receiving the real time analytics is important to Shabram and the 23 other media properties within his company. “It’s vastly different than the printed formula,” Shabram said. “It’s now more malleable.” Stories are reengineered on the page, layouts adjusted, and breaking news highlighted, he said.

Shabram said analytics have helped the Omaha World-Herald discover that readers are not finding stories directly on the homepage, but that social media is helping them land on the front section and leading them on to more stories.

“We saw a growth in mobile,” he said. “It helped us analyze mobile verses traditional website growth. We saw a growth in traffic to stories, but we didn’t see traffic fall getting to the front section. We were able to receive insight on audience behavior, see what related stories were being read, and properly promote them.”

As a result, Shabram said readers were able to move on to the next element on the website. “You don’t know what you don’t know, not until you discover it.”

Visual Revenue is an analytics provider that was founded in 2010 in New York by Dennis Mortensen and his cofounders from his prior Web analytics venture IndexTools, which was acquired by Yahoo! in 2008.

Mortensen said the platform helps editors predict the performance of a story 15 minutes into the future and uses that model to provide specific recommendations on what content to place where on the homepage and for how long, all while maintaining editorial tone. Visual Revenue also provides instant headline testing capabilities without any CMS integration, so editors can run more than 150 headline tests.

“Our platform is designed to help editors promote the most valuable content in the most valuable positions on a given front page, however they define value. This can mean a substantial lift in article views per visit and a visible increase in return visits, as readers fall in love with a well edited homepage,” Mortensen said. “This can also mean driving readers toward more valuable content (such as) videos (and) high value categories, and valuable actions (such as) subscriptions (and) app downloads. On average, sites using our platform have seen a 30 percent lift in article views attributed to the front page, which quite frankly, pays some salaries.”

Toronto’s Globe and Mail has worked with Visual Revenue for about seven months. Deputy editor of digital operations Chris Boutet said that partnering with Visual Revenue gave the Globe and Mail the chance to finally see the click-through rates on the website’s homepage. “It shed some light on some dark corners of user activity,” he said.

Homepage editors are now able to get insight on the page and take immediate action. “We can evaluate designs, test different headlines, hone in on our performance, and drive traffic overall,” Boutet said.

He said newspapers have always had that data, but it was on a slower cycle. “Now we have the feedback right away.”

Omniture, which launched eight years ago and was acquired by Adobe in 2009, is an analytics tool that examines content and provides a clear understanding of how many visitors interacted with ads. The company currently works with 100 media publishers.

“Publishers are looking for what visitors are visiting, the time of day, content freshness or how long content can stay on site before being rotated, and what type of content is being looked at,” said Steve Hammond, head of integrated solutions and digital marketing technologies at Adobe Systems.

Adobe’s SiteCatalyst captures data in real time and helps publishers identify the most profitable paths through a website, segment traffic to spot high-value Web visitors, and develop successful digital marketing campaigns.

Hammond said social media was a “cool segment to analyze.”

“You see behavior to and from sites. You see what article is being referred to back and forth between social media customer and you see there are two type of audiences — those responding and those promoting,” he said.

“Customer loyalty isn’t just providing trends and solutions; it’s a way to connect to other experiences,” Hammond added.

By using the Adobe Digital Marketing Suite, London’s The Economist found success by strengthening audience engagement. According to Adobe, “The Economist was able to reveal new insights about a very active mobile Twitter user base in the analysis and debate area of The Economist site, but noticed that content on that part of the site was not very Twitter friendly. So, the user interaction team revised the analysis and debate areas to encourage more tweeting — leading to increased Twitter traffic.”

Where do you go from here?
From editorial to advertising, a newspaper’s website is a valuable extension of the print product. As Google’s Cutroni said, “The key to any successful business is measuring what’s working and what’s not — the same holds true to your website.

“Not everyone who comes to your site will make you a million dollars, so you have to think outside revenue,” he said. “Build a site that will take people through your website and turn them into loyal customers.”

Cutroni suggested that publishers use data to optimize their marketing efforts. “Knowing which marketing activities are driving valuable customers to your site can help you prioritize your marketing resources, so you can put money and effort behind the things that are driving your business.”

“In general, publishers should have a clear understanding of the audience,” Hammond said. “See how they respond to the content … there are so many different news platforms out there, the only way to differentiate yourself is to create something more relevant and consumer-focused, and you do that by understanding the desires and needs of an audience. With analytics, you have that ability.”

Of Visual Revenue’s strategy, Mortensen said, “Don’t surrender your wonderful brand to the Facebooks of the world. Extract as much value as you can from those channels, but only with the primary purpose of actually gaining a reader for later. Turn a Tweet into a reader who knows you for who you are, will bypass those channels, and go directly to your front page or tablet/mobile offerings.”

JumpTime’s DiLorenzo said publishers should start integrating revenue analytics and usage analytics because “they are absolutely related.

“How do you get a visitor to look at one more story — one more valuable story?” she asked. “You have to get your biggest bang for buck.”

Chartbeat’s Clarkson advised publishers to put data on every desktop. “(Publishers) can tell if it’s a good or bad month before they even receive the report. It’s not constrained to a backroom analyst. The key to prolonged exposure leads to understanding the cadence of the website.”

“(Web analytics) is more of an art than a science,” he said.

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