Dear Journalists, Numbers Are Cool

I’ve always liked statistics.

Yes, I’m one of those journalists who actually likes math (OK, math before imaginary numbers, integrals and whatever else we learned and I subsequently forgot in AP Calculus). Percentages, distributions and averages can reveal a lot and lead us to important conclusions. From a media outlet’s standpoint, numbers are crucial in identifying audience demographics, topic popularity and reader loyalty.

I’d actually been introduced to the wonderful world of Google Analytics before Monday’s lecture. The Maneater’s online development editor lectured everyone on the editorial board about how to use Google Analytics before giving us access to The Maneater’s analytics on our Maneater email accounts powered by Google. Since then, we’ve been tracking our viewership weekly and have been using these statistics to analyze how (and perhaps why) certain articles become so widely read and how social media referrals impact that. (Our newspaper consistently follows the national trends in terms of Twitter vs. Facebook, and we’ve even had several appearances on StumbleUpon.)

One of my most interesting experiences with Google Analytics occurred Oct. 5, 2012 — the day after The Maneater broke the national news story about freshman wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham’s arrest. Despite the website crashing several times (sending our online development editor into a frenzy), USA Today’s reference to us as “The Manheater” (and to think the University of Missouri even has a J-School building donated by and named for its parent company …)  and several other misattributions from national media outlets, approximately 18,900 people visited our website, with the DGB story getting a whopping 17,633 views. (That day’s visitor count was definitely an outlier.) People on every continent viewed the story, with the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Germany and India as the five countries with the most visitors. Missouri, understandably, had the most visitors of the 50 states, but I thought it was interesting my home state of Georgia had more than 500, with my home city of Atlanta comprising about half of those views.

There was no overwhelming majority in terms of source traffic — about 40 percent came from referrals, with about 15 percent each coming from search traffic and direct traffic. The ways in which people were referred were different than usual — Facebook usually draws more viewers than Twitter, but Twitter triumphed that day, drawing about 7,000 visits compared to Facebook’s roughly 2,500 (perhaps a sign the tides are changing for breaking news traffic referrals?). Top referrers also included subsidies, Southeastern Conference sports news websites and media outlets such as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, ESPN and CBS News.

We spent the full half-hour budget meeting that Friday discussing the implications of these statistics — what the duration periods might mean, the timeline of our article might have spread and what this might mean in terms of attracting visitors in the future. Did this attract attention to our publication and The Maneater brand? Certainly. Will this change the way people view The Maneater as a student newspaper? Possibly. Has this increased our credibility in the sports journalism and breaking news world? There’s definitely a chance. Will readers trust us enough to return to us for more updates and new breaking news? Time will tell.

In the meantime, I’ve gotten Google Analytics for this website and am fascinated with how it works — my page views spike the days I tweet links to my blog, and the one time I posted a link on Facebook, my views exponentially increased. It’s cool to know I’ll still be able to experiment with Google Analytics and look at these kinds of statistics even after I leave The Maneater’s editorial board at the end of next week.

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