So here are some of the biggest lessons from Stry.us. In short: Publish more. Engage often. Tell great stories. And above all: Put together a great team.
story by Dan Oshinsky / photos by Dan Oshinsky
published October 9, 2012
Back in April, I wrote these words on our homepage: “We see Stry.us as a lab for storytelling, community building and experimentation. We’re trying a lot of new stuff.”
So here’s how we did:
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Inside The Numbers.
Measuring the impact of the project isn’t easy. But going into Google Analytics, I can report that from May 1 to Aug 31, we had some strong numbers.
- Visits: 36,603
- Unique visitors: 30,537
- Pageviews: 57,012
- Average time on site: 1 minute, 21 seconds
- Bounce rate: 75.37%
Our no. 1 source of traffic: Springfield, Mo., which accounted for 8.27% of visits. This was also encouraging:
- Average time on site for Springfield readers: 3 minutes, 13 seconds
- Bounce rate: 55.22%
So our core readers spent more time on our stories, and they were more likely to visit multiple stories/pages during their visits.
That’s a very good sign.
Let’s go a little deeper into the numbers:
- 5.16% of our traffic came from search engines — more than 91% of that from Google
- 76.19% of traffic came from referrals, including blogs and social media
Of that, 5,534 people came to the site because of social media.
And of that, 70.22% came via Facebook. 25.47% came via Twitter. 2.28% came via Tumblr. We found that of the social media sites, Facebook had the most potential to drive a story.
- “The Factory Town That Lost Its Factory” — 1,402 visits came from Facebook
- “They Couldn’t Light It So They Tried To Fight It” — 242 visits from Facebook
- Stry.us’ Joplin homepage — 171 visits from Facebook
In all, we had nine stories in which 100+ clicks came via Facebook.
Twitter did not drive 100 people to a story even a single time. Over the course of the summer, though, 748 people came to the Stry.us hompage via Twitter. And our analytics indicate that a good number of those shares came from people checking out our redesign — not our stories.
Overall, we found that Twitter is a more powerful tool for making connections, but Facebook is much more powerful when it comes to sharing.
I also want to address the impact of services like Instapaper, Pocket and Readability. We built “read later” links into each story, and we know that many of our readers often used those services.
However, we don’t know how many readers used them. We also don’t know how long those readers spent on our stories within those services. Those services do not share their data with publishers like Stry.us.
It is my belief that many of our Instapaper/Pocket/Readability readers are our most loyal, but I have no data to back that up — only anecdotal evidence.
As for our live events: We received several dozen letters — about 40, I believe, though I don’t have an exact number — from our “Letters to Springfield” campaign. We also had about a dozen attendees for our live event, and a few dozen more watching the live stream. Several local media outlets helped us promote the event in the 72 hours leading up to the event, but that didn’t lead to significant turnout.
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Our News Experiments.
-We changed the branding on our topic pages. Here’s why.
–We partnered with both news and non-news outlets — and saw great success with many of our partnerships.
–We created a bucket list on Twitter to kickstart our social media outreach.
-We also tried to use Instagram to get involved in the community.
-When sharing on Facebook, we borrowed an idea from Daniel Victor and tried to use big images with each share. That was a big success for us. Two of our posts generated more than 15 shares each due to this strategy.
-We sent out a weekly email blast to readers. 55% of our subscribers opened the email every week, and another 11% clicked through to the site with each email. It also created a certain rhythm with readers — many told me they only went to the site after an email showed up in their inbox.
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Big Questions We Asked This Summer.
- What other ways can we measure impact?
- Who are the stakeholders in our community?
- Whose story are we telling? And what values do we hold as reporters?
- Who is our audience?
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Where We Could Have Done More.
Lowering that bounce rate — We needed some sort of tool to encourage further clicks. When you finish reading a story on our site, there’s nothing there to direct you to the next story. When building out Stry.us, I made this a low priority — I just didn’t have the money to build out the additional functionality. Several of the plugins I tried didn’t work with our responsive design, so I scrapped them. But what it meant was that readers got through a single story and left. That was a big flaw in our site design.
Building more conversation — Social media isn’t about tools like Twitter or Facebook. It’s about conversation. I thought our outreach during this city council meeting was a really strong example of how we could have done more to insert ourselves — and our expertise — into the story. We found that the more we joined conversations in progress, the better the response we got from the community.
And we tried to do this at live events that weren’t ours, too. We had tables at live events across the city, and I spoke at several Rotary Club meetings. These IRL appearances also helped us get feedback directly from our core audience — just talking to our readers helped us shape the “Letters” campaign. We did a lot of this, but we could have done more.
Creating more content — We set an informal goal at the start of the summer: Produce three stories per week. At that pace, we would’ve written 48 stories this summer. We came up 11 short of that number. And looking at Google Analytics throughout the summer, it was easy to see that readers stopped coming when we went a day or two without publishing a story. Readers weren’t sure when they should expect stories, so many of them stopped coming at all. We needed to publish more, and we needed to make it clearer to readers when we would publish stories.
Writing for Google — Our SEO was not very good, and that’s entirely my fault. I didn’t make SEO a priority from the start, and certain pages — like our individual author pages — really need to be updated and improved. One in 20 readers came to the site via Google, and that number should have been much higher. Unfortunately, readers couldn’t always find our stories, even when they were searching for them.
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Ultimately, one thing above all sticks out with Stry.us: Ideas are good, but it’s execution that matters. And to execute on big ideas, it takes an incredible team.
To build an awesome future for journalism, we have to start with amazing teams. Nothing short of that will do.