On Autumn and Analytics

Here’s a fun fact: No film with the word “autumn” in its title has ever won an Academy Award. The other three seasons — spring, summer, and winter — are represented among winning film titles. But not autumn.

Does this tidbit of information discourage filmmakers from including the word “autumn” in their film titles, or does it inspire them to defy the odds?

Believe it or not, digital publishers face a similar dilemma every time they log in to an analytics platform to gather information that could help them to better understand their audience. Analytics assist us in making better decisions by allowing us to see patterns that we otherwise would never have seen — but how we put them to use is up to us.

Are Digital Publishers Discouraged by Data?

In his book, The Signal and the Noise, statistician and writer Nate Silver said we live in an age where the volume of data available to us has vastly outpaced our knowledge of what to do with it. In no industry is this more evident than web publishing. Between pageviews, reader engagement, clicks, shares, and numerous other metrics, publishers today have a lot of data to choose from when measuring success.

However, many newsrooms fall into the trap of glorifying certain metrics (such as pageviews), and ignoring others. Too often, this causes morale among writers to plummet when they realize that there is only one metric being used to measure their success. And, because data rarely tells the whole story, we can’t blame them.

How Can Analytics Buoy Digital Newsrooms?

The beauty of an analytics platform is that it enables digital publishers to use data to tap into previously unrealized insights. And when editorial teams use analytics in new ways, the trends and patterns underlying the numbers help them to learn more about their readers and expand their definition of success.

Being fully aware of how best to harness the capabilities of analytics allows digital publishers to make better editorial decisions — and often connects writers to insight that will encourage them to reach for greater heights. For example, data can help writers decide what format their article should take, the tone of the piece, whether the post should include a photo or video, and more.

(See more about this topic in Parse.ly’s Editor’s Guide.)

We opened this post by asking whether access to, or awareness of, certain information would discourage someone from trying to reach a goal — or if it would inspire them to tackle it head-on. The answer, of course, depends on what you know, what your goals are, and how you plan to attack the challenge. For example, knowing that a movie title with the word “autumn” has never won an Oscar is a neat piece of trivia, but it probably won’t influence the title of your own film or your chances of winning an Academy Award. In the same way, looking at a single metric in your analytics platform may be interesting, but it won’t help you to reach your business goals unless you look at it in the context of the other data you have available to you.

Don’t believe us? To prove our point, we’re A/B testing the headline of this post right now and it seems that the word “autumn” is working in our favor, despite conventional film-titling wisdom. Happy Autumn!

May your posts be as successful as the data you use (or don’t use) to write them.