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Balancing Audience Growth and Traffic Generation with Analytics at TheAtlantic.com

Source: TheAtlantic.com

Editor’s Note: This post is based on a presentation by Adam Felder, associate director of analytics for Atlantic Media, as part of a webinar hosted by Publishing Executive.

A recurring anthem in digital analytics is “moving beyond the idea that success can be defined solely by pageviews,” a sentiment echoed by Felder as part of presentation on How Publishers are Using Content Analytics to Drive Strategy.

How does this play out in terms of stories, evaluation, and in actual newsrooms? Felder shared two articles from TheAtlantic.com — a short-form piece about how to “draw” a shrugging emoticon (hint: ¯_(ツ)_/¯), and a long-form cover piece on the criminal justice system.

The short-form piece amassed a lot of pageviews, and these continue to grow as people search for the best way to express their shrugging online. The long-form cover piece has not seen nearly the volume in terms of pageviews, but Felder pointed out that it has seen a lot of engagement in terms of time spent. Readers spent an average of five minutes actively engaged with the piece. Using this engaged time metric, the long-form piece was more successful than the short-form piece.

In an ideal world, digital publishers would aim for both a lot of pageviews and the maximum engaged time spent by readers. Felder is a pragmatist. He knows that both of these metrics can be positive, if understood and prioritized correctly. To reflect this, TheAtlantic.com developed a two-pronged strategy that emphasizes audience development and traffic generation goals.

How TheAtlantic.com Reaches Audience Development Goals

TheAtlantic.com wants to build a loyal audience that understands and respects the brand of The Atlantic. Felder points to a long-form post on war photos as a type of story that represents that brand, and resonates with the loyal readers.

Source: TheAtlantic.com

Source: TheAtlantic.com

The click-through rate for a journalistically rigorous post such as this one is lower than the CTR of simpler posts developed for traffic generation purposes (see below). However, the people reading this type of post seem to think more about it, share it more frequently with their friends, and use it as a jumping-off point to discover other articles on TheAtlantic.com. This means it is doing its job of developing an interested, loyal audience for the site.

Strategies that Felder and his team employed to meet their audience development goals in this case included:

  • They focused on their highest-performing and most rigorous posts, which are frequently long-form journalistic articles
  • They measured the return rate of the audience, as well as its engagement

Of his audience development goals, Felder says: “You have to be patient with audience development; look at the long view. Six months from now you can see if people who read one article have become loyal readers.” Metrics, of course, are the best way to measure this.

How TheAtlantic.com Reaches Traffic Generation Goals

Whlie focused on quality and audience development, TheAtlantic.com still aims to get as many people on-site as possible. This includes being agnostic about their origin point or likelihood of returning in the future.,

Felder used a Justin Bieber post, which received high click-through rates, but not high share rates as an example of a post that focused more on traffic generation. People who read this article didn’t go on to read other articles on TheAtlantic.com, possibly because they weren’t interested in the other articles that were more “on brand.”

Source: TheAtlantic.com

Source: TheAtlantic.com

Two strategies that Felder said his team used to meet traffic generation goals included:

  • Increasing the amount of content they are producing

Says Felder: “The more content you have, the more likely opportunity you have to get people coming into your site.”

  • Focusing on current events and other news topics to ensure relevancy

Maintaining a Balance Between Audience Development and Traffic Generation

Felder admits that “in an ideal world, an article can fit both [audience development and traffic generation] goals; rarely are the tactics so clearly split.” Maintaining a balance means that each metric is understood and valued for what it brings to the business and editorial goals of TheAtlantic.com.

Want to view the full webinar? It’s available on-demand here.