Use case: weekly performance overview & identifying content unicorns with SZ’s Philipp Bojen

When we talk about the evolution of editorial analytics, the issue that surfaces time and time again is how they’re incorporated into the workflows of newsrooms and publishers.   

Among the leading lights of publishing, there’s a consensus: ‘The reporting line is important’ said Juan Senor at this year’s Digital Innovators’ Summit, ‘[analytics] should report to editorial. Not to marketing. Not to sales.’

It’s no coincidence that successful newsrooms are often the ones that have worked hard to integrate editorial tools into their day-to-day routines – and the right editorial tools at that. The New York Times’ Dean Baquet spoke about these challenges in a BBC documentary this year: ‘I think the biggest change [during the digital transition] was convincing the newsroom that you could think about audience and you could think about how many people read your story without selling your soul’.

Süddeutsche Zeitung belongs to a small group of publications which have managed to smoothly navigate through this transition. They’ve developed a clear routine and strong channels of communication between the good folks in the analytics department and newsroom.

Content Insights is one tool which fits into this mix – and it’s a vital one, which serves a distinct purpose. As Philipp Bojen, SZ’s Head of SEO and Analytics, told us: ‘other tools give me the basic overview, but Content Insights gives me the why. You can’t say fairer than that.

Eager to get a little deeper into what he meant exactly, we sat down with Philipp as he went through the Monday morning routine at SZ to get a sense of how it all fits together.

 

Overviews, oddities & outliers

OK, Philipp. Talk us through what’s happening here. I can see you’ve got a couple of tools on the go. What are you using these for?

Well, one of the first things I regularly do on Mondays when I come to the office is to check the organic visibility of SZ.de, which I do with the tools Sistrix and Searchmetrics. The main purpose of those tools is to find out how well SZ.de ranks in Google’s search and how people find our content. I start with this general information to get an overview and get into more detail.

So you’re able to track whether this visibility is going up or down? What if things aren’t going particularly well?

If I’m aware of a technical issue and the results are going down then obviously it’s less of a concern than if something happens out of the blue with no explanation. This week, for instance, we had an issue where the server went down, so it’s little wonder that the figures reflect that. Since then, the figures have recovered back to where we’d expect to find them, so there’s no cause for concern: it was just a blip.

And if they’re going up…?

If something’s really performing out of the limits of expected, then I’ll investigate just the same. Obviously we like to see things doing well, but it still benefits us to know why.

Getting deeper into the analytics

Much like scanning a contents page, these overviews can be a useful tool to determine what the broad trends are in a given week, and ensure that Philipp and his team are getting the whole picture before they get into specifics. They also flag up any obvious problems.

Philipp told us that the World Cup served as a good example of this. Engagement and interest with such a huge sporting event should be a given, so when they aren’t – and when the number of articles written about the topic appear to be lower than expected, it’s enough to start investigating.

If I want to find out why [the amount of] football-related content is going down, I’m not going to be able to find out why by just looking at page sessions or page impressions – they’re no indicator of quality, and that’s what I need to look for.

At one point during the World Cup there was a 20% drop in the number of articles being published, which didn’t make sense. Philipp had checked this by looking at the website performance, and then manually via the data selector in each section. Based on this finding he contacted the relevant editorial team to see if that was actually the case.

What this investigation showed was that some articles about the World Cup had been published in a different section – in politics. There had been a story about Swiss-Turkish player, Mesut Ozil, who had caused some controversy when he was pictured shaking hands with the Turkish President, and this story (and its ramifications) was widely reported beyond the sports section of the newspaper – great for broad coverage, not so good if you’re a reader searching by tags.

Tagging: important for organization and discoverability

There’s a good deal of communication here, both among the analytics team, but also between Philipp and other section editors (like Audience Editor, Christopher Pramstaller, with whom we spoke recently). Upon finding this problem (and another, which Philipp identifies as being an issue with the Google teaser and the language, which he says ‘reads like something from a bygone print era – nobody online writes like this now’) he’s straight onto Slack and communicating with the relevant section editors about his findings. It’s an agile way of working that gets the information (actionable insights) to the people who need it, fast.

You mentioned there a problem with the Ozil articles and tagging. Is this something you look at as a matter of course?

Yes, especially with the CI tool. It’s partly experience, partly the software which drives this: knowing the news landscape as I do, I can scan the tags for ones which might be noticeably absent. This year, for example we should have found NSU featuring quite heavily because that has been a big story in Munich.

That hasn’t always been the case. Over the summer I remember looking for ‘NSU’, because I know there should be something there, but there wasn’t…

And that was in the tags section?

Yes. Because I know this tool inside out, I was also able to double check by searching articles, rather than tags, but I still wasn’t able to see anything under that search term over the past months, which was really strange. What this told me was that people weren’t using the tagging system properly.

Now, I know how to search around this, but would readers? We can’t be sure, but we have to assume they’re after the easiest, most logical route to the information they’re looking for. If that’s not there, they’re going to think that we haven’t covered the issue.

In this case I found out that the problem was that people were using a hyphen instead of an underscore – so now we know that we can feedback to the teams to suggest they change this approach.

CI as motivating force

Obviously we like to see things doing well, but it still benefits us to know why.

It’s great to see how Content Insights functions in the newsroom environment, and how seamlessly it works with other applications in the real world.

As a means to sound the alarm, it’s effective at highlighting underperforming content, but Philipp is quick to point out that’s not its sole purpose:

I don’t only use the tool to point out problems – I also use CI to identify the beautiful unicorn that’s made a lot of sessions, and – because CI enables me to get the ‘why’ – I can notify our Editorial SEO and explain how this article has made not only a great result for Google, but for the customers too. Demonstrating how an article harnesses engagement and loyalty is great for the editorial team and helps everyone improve their output.

 

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