I am in the middle of constructing 3 sites, and as I finish one, it seems that another project pops up.
In the midst of this html overload, I started to ponder how I could measure the success of these sites to demonstrate my worth as a web designer and social media manager, and ultimately, in building my brand.
As someone who over thinks almost everything, you would think that something called analytics would be right up my ally, but tackling data can be overwhelming.
And it begs the question- well, what do I do with it?
Fortunately, there are a number of tools to help measure site engagement (visit the Analytics section of my Travel Tools for a list).
Although Angwin viewed tracking user activity as a second coming of the Matrix, I sided more with David Moore, chairman of 24/7 RealMedia Inc., an ad network owned by WPP PLC.
“When an ad is targeted properly, it ceases to be an ad, it becomes important information,” he says.
A good understanding of analytics can help professionals in any industry understand who their audience is and what they want from their brand. Why would anyone would pass that up, especially in this economy?
Advantages of analytics for Journalists
As a journalist, I know that data is an invaluable tool in increasing readership. Mark Briggs puts it best in Journalism Next: “If journalists produce great stories but no one reads them, how can news survive?”
Answer: it can’t.
I now interrupt this post for this important caveat:
For any analytics adversaries, let me say, I am not condoning sacrificing journalistic quality for the sake of chasing page views.
Although one may find some instances of that practice within the industry. I believe that understanding analytics and search engine optimization are merely part of the equation. Although it may get you the extra eyeballs, the quality of your content is what will ultimately keep them on your site.
He, also notes that using analytics can help journalists use their time wisely. Determining what type of content is getting the most views can aid publications in deciding where to focus their energy and limited resources.
When looking at these items, you’ll want to identify the Big Three of Web Traffic measurement.
Page views: total of web pages viewed in a given time period.
Visits and unique visitors compared: Total visits compared to number of new visitors.
Engagement and referrers: The amount of time spent on the site and where the traffic is coming from (Google will probably be the largest referrer)
Once you begin tracking these, you’ll be able to establish your benchmarks (actionable goals). It’s important to note that this is an ongoing process. Benchmarks will probably be adjusted frequently according to the goals you have set and your abilities to meet them.
Search Engine Optimization: SEO for short
What is it?
Search engine optimization means ensuring that your Web pages are accessible to search engines and are focused in ways that help improve the chances they will be found. (Search Engine Watch)
Within the SEO court, Briggs argued that “Content is king” and “Linking is queen.”
When linking, you should be linking not only to outside content, but also to other content on your site. Give important content a link on your home page, as those links get the most points.
If you’re using html code, filling in the <title> and <meta> tags are search engine gold.
For journalists, including the words in your headline within the story is also important– think keywords.
This site from Google has some important things to keep in mind if you’re considering hiring an SEO (search engine optimizer) or an SEO firm.
Wrapping it up…
Let’s be honest, as Jeff Jarvis noted in his response to Angwin’s article, this is nothing new. Like it or not, Internet users have been tracked to some degree since the launch of the world wide web.
I do agree with him, though, that sites could be more transparent about their activities.
“If I were an advertising-supported site, I’d be aggressively transparent. I’d tell you exactly what we track and what impact that has on what we serve in advertising and content. I’d create an app to read the cookies placed just for you and explain them. I’d give you the chance to correct information. I’d give you the chance to select your own advertising (now that would be valuable). I’d treat this with radical openness.”
As Dorian Benkoil noted, using analytics is only valuable if you know the proper way to use them.
Benkoil argued that cookies are not an entirely accurate method for measuring unique visitors:
In other words, your Web analytics data may grossly inflate the number of users who come to your site. The rating service company Score in 2007 did a study that found cookie data might over-represent the number of users to a website by 2.5 times.
I also liked the author’s point that considering the behavior and makeup of the community one serves is essential for accurately reading analytics.
Sites with a more affluent community may have inflated data, while those in more underserved communities, like the public school system, may have understated data, simply because of the access to technology.
While advertisers may be more comfortable with third-party services such as Compete, Quantcast, or Nielsen, Benkoil finds that the “panel” methodology** employed by these sites is not best-suited for those serving smaller populations.
“For all of the services, the stats become less reliable as the sample sizes get smaller. The smaller the site, the more difficult the panel measurements can be to believe.”
**“Panel” methodology — observing the behaviors of large groups of Web users and using statistical formulate to make inferences about Internet usage, both in general and on specific sites. (Definition provided by Benkoil)