Tool Review: Analytics platforms for newsrooms

Which platforms do newsrooms use to measure online content performance?

Picture: Stephen Dawson/Unsplash

There are various platforms or tools newsrooms’ can use to measure analytics. There is a range of analytic tools or platforms that are easy to use that have been adopted by newsrooms. If you are new to this field this tool review could help you get started.

Laura Grant from Media Hack says that for newsrooms and freelance journalists to get the best out of content analytics they should set goals and focus on the content metrics. The metrics such as social shares, site traffic, conversion rate, performance can reveal content consumption, or how many people have viewed or accessed your content. “Ultimately the goal is to ensure people read more stories when they visit your site, stay more than 30 seconds on it and click on more than one page per session,” Grant says.

“Essentially content analytics tools show you whether people are reading your stories. However, you can also use it to show advertisers your site performance over time,” she explains.

To get a better understanding of content analytics Grant suggests newsrooms and freelance journalists to look at case studies done by the content analytics company Parse.ly. These case studies show how companies such as Bloomberg and Mashable have used Parse.ly to enable audience engagement.

We share some of the tips from the newsroom on which content analytics tool they use and prefer.

Google analytics

Grant explains that Google Analytics will provide useful traditional real-time answers on the site’s performance. The platform is a free service offered by Google.

South African freelance technology journalist Bryan Smith, says journalists should use Google Analytics to retain readers. Google Analytics, tracks and reports website traffic. Journalists and media practitioners can use it to see audience insights, content performance, make content or site changes and it also allows journalists to understand their readers.

Smith explains that your digital platform could have many visitors every month but those visitors are practically meaningless if you don’t know anything about them — but with analytics, you analyse their behaviour and their content preference. This way journalists can keep the same readers/visitors and attract more traffic to their sites with tailored content.

A Google Analytics page. Picture: Pixabay.

“Essentially journalists should make their content work for them, the trick is to analyse the performance of data quickly and determine what kind of content the visitors are searching for and reading and encourage engagement on the site and on social media, this way you build a loyal audience,” he says.

Google Analytics can be useful for editorials, columns and opinion pieces because articles can be tailored and geared for a specific audience. Studying the data generated by Google Analytics journalists will create insights that will help them take action, such as choosing the best time to publish content.

How to use Google Analytics

To use this tool you need a Google account and only with a Google account can you set up a Google Analytics and use it. Then you can follow these instructions to get started.

Here are five tricks on how to use Google Analytics effectively

1. If your readers enjoy your website, there’s a high chance they’ll search for what they want to read while visiting. This is a goldmine: a source of great inspiration and ideas for future articles if you haven’t covered them already! You can see what your readers are searching for on-site by heading to Behaviour > Search Terms and Search Pages.
2. Set up great Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) links! While this might sound complicated, these are essentially specialized links that indicate where your traffic is coming from in analytics. For example, journalists could write a story about a particular community, set up a UTM link, and then feed that link back to that particular community to understand how many visitors view the story from a source and gain other valuable insights about that demographic. Google offers a tool for this here
3. Keep an eye on your website and publication’s site speed (the amount of time it takes for webpages to load). Users can quickly become frustrated and might give up while waiting for a page to load — research indicates that users are likely to leave a site if a webpage takes longer than three seconds to load. You can look at this information by heading to Behaviour > Site Speed > Overview
4. If you’re based in Africa, you’ll want a great mobile experience as that is how most consumers access the web. You can use analytics to keep track of what devices your users employ by heading to Audience > Technology > Network or Mobile. According to the Digital in 2018 report by We Are Social and Hootsuite, 52% of the world’s internet users prefer accessing the web through mobile phones. 
5. Perhaps the most underrated tool when it comes analytics is the ability to see how users navigate your site from entry to exit. You can see how users access your site (sorted by locale) by heading to Audience — Users Flow. If users aren’t getting to your story from your website’s main page, you’ll want to consider how you can make valuable content more visible.

Chartbeat

Chartbeat is a content analytics tool that provides publishers with real-time analytics for websites, social media, and blogs.

Grant says Chartbeat provides more reliable engagements data such as how long a page has been opened for. For example, when a user opens a page and leaves it open for the rest of the day, this does not necessarily mean they are reading the content on the page so what Chartbeat does is track whether a mouse has been used on that page and how long someone has been scrolling on that page.

Picture: Chartbeat

Business Day digital editor Malgosia Kijko uses Chartbeat on a daily basis to get real-time data on stories and determine the performance of online articles and therefore make editorial decisions on the positions of the articles. 
Kijko says from the real-time data she can see which stories are doing well on social media which she will then “bump-up” on the website so the readers do not need to scroll down on the Business Day website to find a story. “For example, if we published something the day before and it’s doing well on our social media and driving traffic to our site I position it on top where it can be easily spotted by readers,” she says.

Usability

Kijko says Chartbeat is very user-friendly because everything is on the same page. “You can view almost everything on one page, Chartbeat is very intuitive, you can gain a lot of information from just looking at one page. Information such as how long people are spending on a story, where they originated from, how they got into the story, how social media is doing, how weeks compare in performance and where people are from, I really do think it’s one of the better products I have worked with compared to Google Analytics or Cxense.”

Advice

Kijko says other journalists regardless of newsroom size freelance or fully employed should consider Chartbeat for the real-time understanding on which stories are doing well, what topics people are interested in. She says even performance appraisals are done on how well a journalist’s article is doing. It’s a good way to incentivise and encourage reporters based on the Chartbeat reports.

There are many more analytics platforms or tools that can be used by independent journalists or in newsrooms and two we’ve reviewed are not exhaustive. There are Cxense, NewsWhip, ClickTale, Sprout Social, Amplitude Upsight and many others

Media Hack is a group of independent journalists who specialise in data-driven and narrative journalism and they also do audience monitoring and evaluation.

What are some of the other analytics platforms you have used? Let us know by emailing us at jamlab@journalism.co.za. We will update the article.


Want to stay up to date with the latest journalism and media innovation news from the African continent? Subscribe to our newsletter.