The beginner's guide to audience analytics

March 05, 2018

Let us guide you through the five facets of implementing data into your workflow. These steps are meant to help you and your team make more informed editorial decisions based on what your audience is telling you through data.

Step 1: Know your audience

You're told you need to know your audience, but what questions can you ask that get to the bottom of who they are, and how they relate to you? Here's a list we've put together based on the original 5W's to get you started.

Who is reading your work?

Readership may vary widely within different channel segments at the same organization​. Here's how you can access ​more granular information about ​your readers:

  • Review content from the past week or month. Which stories did well? Which stories didn’t do well? Put yourself in your readers' shoes to try to imagine the person that would be attracted to these types of stories.
  • Create a contextual picture of your reader. Look at information beyond the individual posts, like sections, article tags​,​ or authors. What does this​ information​ say about readers, who they are, and what they care about?

What makes them act?

You ​probably ​want your readers to take an action: watch a video, share a link, or simply come back to your site again. ​ Think about what makes them more or less likely to take that action. Take a look at the articles getting the most traffic from social networks, the most-shared articles, and the articles that have the most returning visitors. Do they differ from other posts​?​ ​If so, in what ways?

When are they reading?

Understanding your readers’ habits allows you to make it as easy as possible for them to access your work at the times that are most convenient for them. Find out when your readers are most likely to be online and interested, and keep in mind that i​nterest levels​ may vary from topic to topic or author to author.

Where else do your readers live online?

How can you find out more specific details about where your readers are hanging out, so you can get them to come to your site consistently? You have to go to them! Check your posts’ referral information to identify the networks your readers use the most and the popular or influential groups, blogs, or Twitter accounts that are already driving traffic to your work.

Why do your readers care about certain things?

Why are there so many views on one post but not another? Why did a previously published article recently experience a new surge of popularity? Why did a just-posted piece receive a sudden spike in attention? The answers to these questions lie in the ability to merge analytics with the real world — and reporters know better than anyone else how to uncover hidden details and connect the dots.

How can you incorporate this data into your work?

If you have collected a significant amount of information about your audience but don’t use it as the basis for making any changes, what’s the point? It all only matters if you start to create content that incorporates these important aspects of their lives and form​s​ the basis for a connection.

Step 2: Pick your goals

To see the effectiveness of your editorial strategy, you'll first need a clear list of defined goals. In Lesson 1, you defined who your audience is, what makes them act, when they're reading, where they live online, and why they care about certain things. Now, it's time to implement the HOW - how you can incorporate that new information into your work. Let's get started!

Start by making a list

T​here are a few examples of goals based on the data discoveries you made in Lesson 1:

  • Did you find out that readers weren't reading as much of a section as you thought? Create a goal to grow that section's readership.
  • Did you find that Facebook was your biggest referrer? Create a goal to increase your Twitter referral traffic.
  • Did you find that most of your readers are new? Create a goal to increase your returning reader number.
  • Did you find that your article engaged time is less than 1 minute? Create a goal to up your engaged time.

Remember: It is unlikely for any two digital publishers to have the same ​ambitions​, so make sure that yours are specific to your organization​.

Then track key performance indicators (KPIs)

​​​​​​Once you've decided on your organization's unique goals, you need a way to track progress. Based on the goals you created above, answer questions like these and document and stay on top of performance:

  • What social network attracts the most visitors to your site?
  • What topics resonate most with your readers?
  • What percentage of your readers are coming back to your site?
  • How long are readers taking to read an article?

Step 3:Translate data

After you ​get to know your audience​​ and develop ​editorial ​goals based on ​their unique characteristics, you'll probably start noticing how much data you actually have at your disposal. ​So, what is the best way to make ​this ​data meaningful for you and your team​?​ Start by changing the way you collect and distribute data: stop just ​collecting and ​sharing numbers; translate them. ​

Here's one way to think about translating metrics for your team. Print this graphic and keep it next to your desk to reference any time you're tempted to only think in numbers:

content cheat sheet graphic

Here are some additional tips on how to translate data to your team:

  • Avoid Excel. Let’s be honest, not many people are reading that Excel file you sent out with “important” data. For data to become a priority at your organization, you need to turn those numbers into a story about your audience. Try creating a visualization instead of sending along raw numbers, or matching specific goals with the results.
  • Help your team think about what metrics mean in terms of ​your audience. Explain the goals that you came up with in Lesson 2 and discuss them to see if others have ideas on how to reach them.
  • Audit your current data sources. Make a spreadsheet of all the places you get data from, and list the metrics and things that are being tracked for each. Is it too much? Not enough? What sources do you really need to use to get the job done? Make sure that there isn’t duplicated work happening, or worse, two conflicting measurement methods.

Step 4: Democratize data

It's time to arm your team with data! Now that you'​r​e ​becoming more familiar with finding useful metrics about your audience and translat​ing​ ​them into actionable insights, it's time to think about how you can ​get the rest of your organization​ as excited about​ data as you are. Here​ are some ways you can democratize data at your ​organization:

  • Hold office hours or walk around the newsroom and talk to people about what they would like to know more about. You may find people are interested in questions that analytics could answer, but don’t even realize it!
  • Host an internal blog or send a weekly newsletter that highlights digestible updates with explainers. If you can tie in analytics to everyday discussions about goals or plans, people will start getting used to incorporating data into their workflow.
  • Host a pizza party, on What helps to get a team excited about analytics? Pizza! Get your team together for a working lunch to talk about how your team can use data to hit their goals. will send pizza to your office if you email!

This takes investment on your part, but it’s hardly an unselfish act. By getting to know what your colleagues need, you can get better ideas about the kinds of insights that will be helpful for the company as a whole — making your work more impactful.

Step 5: Act and analyze

You know your audience, picked your goals, learned how to translate data, and how to democratize data among your team. Now, what do you do? Act and analyze in your daily workflow by adopting the new writing cycle:

content creation graphic

Writers​ ​used to spen​d​ all of their time and resources focused on ​actually writing their stories​ -- ​the end goal was ​usually to press "publish" in their CMS. ​Today, ​the writing cycle ​ is a little more complex, as you can see in the graphic above.

Mobile devices, social networks, and search engines have changed how readers interact with news, content​,​ and video. Nothing remains static after it goes live online; through readers, it continues to evolve. If you are not ​taking an ​active ​role ​in ​the lifecycle of the content you are producing, ​then ​you’re ​probably ​n​​ot taking advantage of ​data that will help you to inform your own work​.​ Here are two quick projects to try now to start acting on your data:

  • Did you recently publish a piece that is receiving a lot of traction on Facebook? Post it several times with different headlines to help readers connect with the information. Create a follow-up video to extend the life of the story.
  • Are you getting a lot of comments on a particular piece? Interview some of the commenters as part of a follow-up piece that more clearly presents both sides of the story.

Knowing more about ​the preferences and needs of ​your readers can give you insight into the actions they are likely to take. Using this information to help you select ​topics, choose the medium or form of ​a story, and even decide which sources to consult​,​ makes it more likely that the audience will connect with the content.

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