By Christian Knox

Journalism is all about telling stories and informing the people, but sometimes quality online content can go largely unnoticed if consumers never come across it.

If content is not being consumed, then a site is not seeing traffic, which means a lack of profit.

On Tuesday, JJ Hensley gave a workshop on the metrics and analytics behind digital journalism, and how to use these tools to increase traffic, online subscriptions and profit.

Hensley, the digital director for the Tennessean and USA TODAY Network – Tennessee, said “data nerds” are an important part of online publications because they can provide important information such as where readers are coming from, when they come, and how to best target them to increase page views.

Hensley and his team analyzed data from the last three NFL Drafts in order to increase readership of their draft coverage.

“Obvious trends emerged. They were looking very specifically for teams. So, we decided to create draft files for all 32 teams. Which is insane, but it worked.” Hensley said.

Hensley said the Tennessean’s website drew in 5 million page views over four days thanks to their coverage of the 2019 draft. He also discussed how they used analytics to maximize profits from their draft coverage.

“These were search users. They weren’t going to be loyal Tennessean readers.” Hensley said. He did not anticipate that these search users, who made up 70 percent of NFL Draft traffic on the site, would pay for a subscription. Instead, more advertisements were added to the files, allowing the Tennessean to profit off the increased page views.

Hensley also discussed the importance of knowing where to place the pay-wall.

“The story files were metered, but the galleries weren’t, because we didn’t want people to hit the paywall when they were clicking through photos.”

This strategy allowed profits from the increased advertisements to be maximized, while also providing readers with a reason to subscribe.

To further increase subscriptions, Hensley suggested targeting “small-fish, but loyal fan bases” by convincing them that “you’re covering it better than anyone else.”

Hensley delved further into the data behind the Tennessean’s subscriptions, explaining that analysis revealed that visit frequency and “page views per visit” tend to increase the odds that a reader will become a subscriber.

To increase visit frequency, Hensley said to write breakout and follow-up stories, as well as focusing on search engine optimization.

To increase page views per visit, he suggested adding links to both the bottom of the story and in the top third of the story.

Increasing page views is important, because with more page views comes more readers hitting the paywall.

“One of the most important things you can do to get people to subscribe is to just get them to hit the damn paywall,” Hensley said. “They ain’t gonna pay unless someone says you got to.”


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