How fast can you turn your ship?
When I look at many newspaper websites, I just can’t help but wonder why some stories are in a featured homepage slot and, even more so, why they remain there for so long.
I recognize that every market has it’s own issues and what is a popular story in say North Jersey, might not work in Ann Arbor, Michigan. So while I sometimes wonder if “Gardening to Extremes” deserves top billing, I will ultimately bow to the taste judgment of local editors. But what I will question is why that and many other stories keep that top billing throughout the day?
Looking at a variety of sites I see a couple of patterns at work: There are sites that keeps their top stories in place until there is breaking news. There are the sites that rotate content based on the time of day. There are the sites that don’t change anything and even breaking news is only treated as an update. And then there are those that appear to take an approach that I think all sites should emulate. The producers and editors at these news sites let their audience guide them.
It make little to no sense to me to keep a story in one of your prime spots if it’s not drawing an audience. Honestly, I don’t care if it was the top of 1A and you think it’s a hoot or the most important story “evah”, if it’s not bringing them in, then what are you achieving?
How do you deal with this at your newspaper? Do you pay attention to your analytics and let the numbers be your guide? I know that previous posts both here and elsewhere have caused readers to bristle over the use of analytics. But come on, can you argue that knowing what is or isn’t working or your site is really a bad thing? Newspapers spend a lot of money for analytics. Omniture, one of those more popular services starts at $20,000 and easily climbs from there. If all you are using it to find out what was popular before the morning meeting or on the previous day, then I would argue that you’re wasting good money.
So back to that nautical talk. I think you should be able to change the direction your site is going as frequently and as often as you find necessary, that you’re always offering your best content (whatever that may be). My suggestion is that you come to an agreement on a threshold for keeping or moving content based whichever metric you want use, and then, by golly, tack to the starboard or tack to the port, but turn your ship.