In one discussion yesterday, Kevin Ward, editor of the Worcester News, raised a point which I thought had been a long time coming.
He described a story from a couple of months ago which told how a number of students dressed in fancy dress costumes had smashed up cars in a street.
The story attracted vast amounts of traffic after being picked up by an ‘American aggregator’ – I suspect Fark.com. Ward said that he felt like the Grinch in the room when his commercial and web teams got excited by the spike in numbers. ‘Those people aren’t our audience,’ Ward said.
Of course, it’s hard not to get excited – especially in an industry used to seeing minus signs next to circulation figures – when a story goes bonkers. But rather like the hangover after a good night, you do end up wondering whether the pain of trying to match that high figure the next day, week or month is really worth the delight at a temporary blip.
There are occasions when such a spike does have a lasting, positive, impact. For every spike the Liverpool ECHO has enjoyed during the various goings on at LFC, the downward side of the spike has always been shorter than the upward side. One of the blogs in the Trinity Mirror platform, Anorak City, saw a huge spike after appearing high in Google searches for The Flintstones. Again, the decline after the spike was shorter than the increase.
Both of these are examples of people discovering content which appeals to them from a source which is generating lots of content on the same subject. Often, when a news website has a Fark-fuelled spike, it won’t last.
Trying to compare print statistics to online ones can be tricky. To start with, there is no limit to the number of people who can see a story online. That said, in the same we focus on making sure print titles get to the audience which best suits the business – increasing the chances of advertising response rates being higher – we need to find a similar statistic for online audience.
Page impressions and unique users are strange statistics to quote. They encourage ‘think only of today’ mindset. I’m not sure sites which stick content behind registration walls fare much better in this respect. If someone signs up to access one particular story that interests them, there’s no guarantee they’ll come back to look at the rest of the content, or even be based within the area the website is aimed at.
For advertisers, it’s response which matters more than anything, so the metric we should be pushing most is pages per user. It doesn’t sound as sexy as Xmillion visitors a month, and it’s important people still follow that number, but nothing screams engagement and interest more than a website which gets people clicking.