A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts tagged analytics

John Battelle thinks we actually figured out online publishing a decade ago – and then we screwed it up. How? We handed power to the social networks:

Again, for emphasis: despite all the whizzy bang-y social media we’ve invented these past ten years, I HAVE NOT ONE CLUE WHO IS READING ME ON A REGULAR BASIS, NOR DO I KNOW WHO TO THANK FOR SENDING THEM TO ME.

And in the pre-social media, blogs and websites days, we did. Why does this matter?

This is the single most immutable rule of media, folks. PUBLISHING IS COMMUNITY. And if you don’t know who your community is, you’re screwed.

The big news is out. The Times, already an outlier amongst UK newspapers in having a hard paywall, is changing its model again. Not the paywall – this is not a retreat from paid as its stablemate The Sun has done. No, this is a retreat from the treadmill of breaking news.

What. The. Hell.

At least – that’s the reaction I imagine from many journalists. Breaking news is at the very heart of journalism, surely?

Well, that’s the thing. With a few exceptions for major, major stories, I think the profession cares much more about “breaking news” than the audience do. Indeed, I think it’s safe to say that journalists care more about “news” as a concept than the average person on the street does. That’s why the “abandoning breaking news” angle has been latched onto so strongly – because that’s the journalists’ obsession.

I don’t think that’s what this is really about. This is about adjusting our obsessions in light of reader needs. And that’s exactly what a paid product should be doing.

Time for news

New look digital Times

Now, full disclosure time: I did some workshops for senior Times and Sunday Times staff in the build-up to this change (and it’s bloody lovely to be able to talk about it at last), so I have some insights into the thinking behind it – but this is very much a personal take, based on several months of thinking through the implications of what the team were planning.

This change isn’t a grand theory conjured out of the air – instead it’s based on detailed analysis of how people are actually using the website and apps. And, surprise, surprise, it shows that people aren’t obsessively checking the website for news.

This, once you realise it, is common sense. Most people are not in a position where spending their days cruising news sites for information is routine. They have times in the day when information is most critical to them, and other times when they have the luxury to sit back and read things. The rest of the time? They’re working or playing or looking after their family. The work Neil and I did with the Financial Times a few years back highlighted some very, very clear patterns in when their subscribers were using the site. Similar patterns exist for The Times.

So, what we’re seeing here is not a retreat from breaking news as such, but more a reshaping of how they report news around the readers’ needs – especially around time. That’s important because time is the big factor that people keep ignoring. The boom in content – and content availability – that the Internet has brought, and mobile has exacerbated, has not been matched by a boom in available reading time. That, as standard digital journalism theory states, leads to an attention crisis, where readers’ attention is the scarce resource, not content. One solution to that is the trawler model, whereby you put out masses of content in the hopes that enough relevant readers will be caught in the net – and that’s been the approach taken by most news organisations. And that’s why we’re approaching what you might call peak content.

The Times is taking the other path – the one less traveled. The Economist has been exploring it, and now they have company on the narrow road of focused, curated packages of information. In essence their offer is “here’s a manageable amount of content at a time that suits you”.

The charm of completion

And what’s interesting about a contained package of content? Completion. You can finish it – and feel satisfied. You’re not overwhelmed by it. The Internet is an endless treadmill of information. You can never finish it – and never have been able to since the first few months of the web’s life, when it was running off Sir Tim Berners Lee’s desk. Your Facebook feed scrolls endlessly. Your Twitter timeline has no end. And so, with these services you can never really have the feeling of having completed something – of feeling informed.

Other organisations have poked at this idea. For example, the Quartz morning e-mail is a classic pitch for psychological completion. You can get through that e-mail on your commute and feel informed before you get to your desk. This revamp of the venerable newspaper’s digital offering is putting the idea at the centre of their offer.

Coming up at 5pm on The Times

The Times is releasing content in four drops through the day:

  • Midnight – your morning edition
  • 9am – a markets and business centric drop – brief yourself at your desk
  • Noon – lunchtime reading
  • 5pm – ready for the commute home and the evening.

They’re all clearly aligned around consumer need and availability. And they free Times journalists from rushing to get content out now. It gives them an ability to concentrate on getting the more measured and analytical view, while everyone else is rushing around to do the breaking news story. And that’s going to be the success/failure axis of this process. Can they do that well enough to continue to justify the cost of subscribing in an over-saturated market?

That’s question one. The second question is: can they get their subscribers into the habit of checking the site or the apps at these times?

A brave experiment

If there’s one issue the whole industry is sticking its head in the sand over – it’s the over-supply of news. We have far too much of it, and too much of it is repetitious without bringing anything new to the table. There’s certainly room in the market for a number of high volume, high speed, low depth news outlets. But it won’t be a large number of them, as it’s a hard, vicious and expensive game to play in, with high staff costs, intense pressure and a deep reliance on an ever shifting advertising market.

We need other models of news. Journalism isn’t going to be transported into the digital era on the back of a single business model. The crew at The Times and The Sunday Times are to be commended for trying something different – something that has the potential to mix the best of digital and print thinking in a whole new way.

It will certainly be interesting to watch…

So, how was 2015 for One Man & His Blog? Pretty good, all things considered. I had much less time than usual to devote to the blog, due to a very successful working year, but I still managed a 15% increase on 2014’s traffic. I hope (and have plans) to significantly better that in 2016. Much of that gain was down to a handful of very successful posts, which you’ll find out more about below.

I really hope to write much more – and do different forms of journalism – through 2016. While training and helping others to do journalism is gratifying (and lucrative), I have a real urge to write more myself. If I get to this time next year without doing so, I’ll be very disappointed indeed.

On the back end, I finally migrated from an ageing Movable Type install to a brand spanking new WordPress install on WP-Engine, considerably upping the server power behind it. Downtime has been minimal this year, which is gratifying.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the top 10 OM&HB posts in 2015:


1. Bookerly: Amazon’s new Kindle font


The top post of the year was huge in terms of traffic for me. And I’m very smug about that. For a while I’d been slightly concerned about the disconnect between teaching SEO for journalists – and the fact that I rarely work hard on SEO for this blog. I write it for the regular readers, not the “drive-bys”. When my Fire Tablet got an update adding a new font to the kindle app, and I couldn’t find anything good online about it, I saw the opportunity to write something heavily SEO optimised about it – and reaped the rewards. A couple of links from big sites when the font hit the e-ink readers added to the success. Nice to know that I can do it when I want to.

2. Want to read your iPad in the bath?

2014’s SEO test is still doing the business. And I do, in fact, do this, on the rare occasions I have a bath.

(I shower every day, before you go getting any ideas…)

3. Why your big custom CMS project is doomed

A short, link-based post hitting number three? It’s the content. Too many people out there who have been badly burned by disastrous CMS projects.



I’ve just finished* running a workshop on analytics for journalists at news:rewired this afternoon.

Here’s a selection of links I promised the attendees to allow them to explore some of the issues contained in the presentation in more detail:

And let this fine five minute rant from The Guardian‘s Chris Moran be a lesson to you all:

The Presentation

*Actually, a lie – I wrote this at midnight the night before, and scheduled the post…

Martin Belam on the reasons for his latest post:

And having just sat through an event where one of the questions was a worry that knowing something about SEO or writing for social risks “losing the craft” of journalism, I thought it was worth drawing attention to Richard’s words.

That idea of “losing the craft” of journalism is just fascinating to me, because it’s something I encounter so often. The root of it is about the complete absence of any detailed feedback on the reaction to a single story published in print. We never truly knew who read what (and believe me, wether they mean to or not, people lie and lie and lie in market research). Thus, we’ve come to rely on our instincts for our sense of news.

The problem with that is journalism is not art for art’s sake – it’s a public service. It exists to inform people about… stuff.

(I wanted to use a more precise word there, but given how BIG journalism is, and how much it covers, “stuff” seems more appropriate.)

We now have a feedback mechanism to explore how our work is being received, thanks to the sort of analytics we can get online. And that means we can improve that work in pretty close to real time so it finds a larger audience. That’s not losing the craft of journalism, that’s improving it.

Why be a crafter when you can be a master crafter?

Journalism requires an audience. If you have a good story, using the sort of techniques Richard Beech talks about help it find an audience. And if your story isn’t worth finding an audience for – why the bloody hell are you writing it?

Moon rising

This is not news. The fact that people think it is is news:

The Guardian’s website is being swamped by unidentifiable “dark traffic”, and executives at the company cannot figure out where it is coming from.

“Dark traffic” reflects views on a website being driven from unknown sources, that can’t be picked up clearly from analytics packages or referrer logs. It’s pretty much a direct result of the shift to mobile consumption of news – and the dominance of apps in social sharing on mobile.

The Atlantic first identified “dark social” traffic back in 2012 to describe traffic coming messaging apps that had been stripped of referrer data because messaging and email use a less visible system than the that used by web pages.

Essentially, if you knew about the dual shift to mobile and apps, you knew this was coming. If you didn’t…

The core things to bear in mind:

  • It’s only going to get harder to tell where people are coming from
  • None of this stops you understanding where people go, and where they go after that

Image by ramson, and used under a Creative Commons licence

Dan Barker’s been poking at the tracking javascript on Buzzfeed, and found some very interesting data being captured from quizzes:

In other words, if I had access to the BuzzFeed Google Analytics data, I could query data for people who got to the end of the quiz & indicated – by not checking that particular answer – that they have had an eating disorder. Or that they have tried to change their gender.

Online quizzes: just a bit of harmless fun, right? Right?

Google+ Insights

Remember all those tech press stories declaring Google+ dead after the departure of Vic Gundotra?

This happened a week ago:

Many of you have asked for more data about how your social content is performing and who your audience is on Google+. So starting today, we’re offering all Google+ pages access to Insights reports. Insights provides key info that helps you tailor and optimize your Google+ content, including:

  • Visibility: All time total, photo, and post views, and how page impressions have trended over time.
  • Engagement: Which types of posts are getting the highest level of engagement on Google+.
  • Audience: Get an overview of your follower demographics.

And then yesterday, Google+ premium happened:

Apps customers have long been able to host Hangouts with up to 15 people, but now the sessions will be available in HD-quality — together Google believes that will “save time and money”. Premium also enables more granular privacy controls, letting Google+ users set their posts as restricted to their domain (thus visible to colleagues and employers only) if they wish, or hide their profiles from public searches.

There’s a full break-down of what’s being offered on the Google Enterprise Blog.

These are not the moves of a company winding down a product.

Beware online journalists who report or repeat rumour and speculation as if it was fact…

NYT homepage traffic

Talking of homepage traffic, Zachary Seward has actually looked into the NYT homepage traffic for Quartz:

Traffic to the New York Times homepage fell by half in the last two years, according to the newspaper’s internal review of its digital strategy.

Is that indicative of an overall fall?

Overall traffic to the Times isn’t falling; it’s just coming in through the “side door” more often.

So, no, then.

As the report itself says:

Traffic to the home page has been declining, month after month, for years. Traffic to section fronts is negligible.

Yet, how much time and effort is going into producing that homepage and those section fronts? An amount massively out of proportion to the traffic, I’d suggest.

This is absolutely symptomatic of the problems with traditional publishers moving online. They bring the habits of print with them, they don’t use metrics intelligently to understand how traffic actually moves across and around the site, and they end up wasting time and effort in pointless pursuits.

We cannot afford this moronic head-in-the-sand attitude to how our readers actually use our sites.