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What are meaningful metrics for local web publishers?

This weekend, Susan Mernit, the founder of Oakland Local, led a session on online media metrics at the Block by Block Community News Summit.

The takeaway? Surface-level metrics can be misleading, so someone at your publication should devote at least one or two hours a week to looking closely at the data.

Take pageviews, for example. A seemingly straightforward assessment of an article’s reach– ‘How many eyeballs did we get?’– is, it turns out, shallow, because you no clue as to the quality of the traffic. Instead, look at time spent on site. If you have 20 thousand views, but 19 thousand of those arrived through Google and left within ten seconds of landing (i.e. bounce rate), you’re not getting traction.

Watch the click path, which delineates the user’s path throughout your site, and at which gates users most often enter and exit. Meaning if Google is your top referrer and users who arrive through Google show a very high bounce rate, most of your traffic may be accidental.

Remember, if your organization understands the meaning behind the data, it can be turned into a narrative to use in conversations with advertisers.

Opinions varied, but throughout our discussion, a consensus developed around the following sites:

1. Google Analytics - Probably the most widely used and for good reason. Mernit stressed the importance of its mapping feature for location-based publications. Google Analytics has been in the news recently because, over the next week, the site is expanding to include real-time metrics.

2. – Run a link through and see how many people have clicked on it.

3. – As the name suggests, shows how your competitors are driving traffic to their sites.

4. – “How far did your tweet travel?”

5. – Tracks every page you publish in real time.

6. Topsy – Searches and contextualizes the real-time user activity across all URLs on your site.

7. Facebook Insights – Measures activity on your Facebook page. (Engagement, for example, is often a more informative metric than number of friends.)

The session ended with one attendee suggesting that so many publications fail to appreciate analytics because they are overwhelmed by the numbers. Which metrics should we be measuring?

Current metrics allow publications to see user activity at a more granular level than, it’s safe to say, most people ever thought possible. It’s the interpretation, though, that make the metrics meaningful.

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3 Responses to "What are meaningful metrics for local web publishers?"

  1. […] and why page-view metrics can be totally misleading. Susan Mernit, founder of Oakland Local, noted, as reported by (a site that trains its eye on local journalism and is operated by […]

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