Since Co.Labs launched, we’ve been obsessed with tracking things. We’ve added additional analytics to our site and begun comparing the performance of our best stories to try to ascertain what we’re doing right. We’ll do a more detailed analytics post later, but here are some hypotheses we’re trying out in the coming weeks, based on our first 45 days of data.
Stories may need to be more tightly related to one another than most news outlets (including us) make them. We found that even on days where we were getting terrific traffic, there were still few people moving between articles; instead they’d pop in, read, and leave again.
What we’re trying: Our new Tracking stories are like a slow live-blog of an ongoing story. As news rolls in, our writers update the article with new entries, adding context or original reporting as they go. When potential for a longer story makes itself apparent, a reporter can branch off and do a separate post. They link back to the Tracking story to give the new article context.
Addressing all the distribution channels individually should include your homepage. Only a small percentage of our total traffic arrives through the homepage, but it’s still an important showpiece. This is where people go to get an overall idea of what the site is about, and it’s our best showcase for our articles.
But because our homepage is essentially just another distribution channel (along with RSS, Twitter, Facebook, App.net, Tumblr and Google+) it can’t be allowed to take up too much of your time—there are much bigger audiences to court on the social networks, and traffic is still how we make our money. Because of quirks in our CMS, not everything that appears there can necessarily be put into another distribution channel; our news links, for example, don’t appear in RSS. This means we need someone to pay special attention to it.
What we’re trying: Clay Andes, our editor at large, will be managing the scheduling and slating of the homepage, along with our daily and weekly newsletters, since there is some overlap there. We’ve also hired a freelance producer to help with some of the redudant production work necessitated by the quirky behavior of some of our posts when they’re viewed in other channels. Myself and Gabe Stein, our News Hacker slash Technical Editor, will be manning Twitter, Facebook, App.net, Tumblr and Google+ with the help of BufferApp and Tweriod.
A tighter schedule may mean more freedom. When interesting news breaks, every outlet wants to make a clever addition to the story. That usually requires time to think and call sources. But if you’re bogged down in cranking out pre-scheduled stories, you miss the boat.
What we’re trying: Writers will be updating their Tracking stories several times per week, slowly building up background on what we believe to be the top 20 stories developers and software teams should know about. Since this workflow is regular, we can automate some parts of it and get very good at others. Ideally, that leaves us free time during the day to work on longer-lede pieces, sure—but also to dig into social and be ready for whatever pops up next.
Some new tools we’re trying: We’re using Trello to manage story ideas and we’ve begun trialing GroupTie for discussing news and ideas. We’ll let you know how it goes.