Readers of the online version of the San Diego Union-Tribune (SignOnSanDiego.com) may be greeted by very different electronic versions of the publication, depending on when they log in to the site, how they click around, as well as the actions of other site visitors. For example, in March, one of the newspaper's writers, who works for the print and online editions, wrote an article on a local angler who caught a record-size freshwater bass. When the article first appeared in the online edition, it was relatively low on the front page, but the big catch quickly caught the attention of readers. As the article received more clicks, it moved higher on the page, which typically results in even more readership. The article kept climbing in popularity, which led to it eventually being picked up by other epublications, which in turn generated more readership and more revenue for SignOnSanDiego.com.
According to Chris Jennewien, the Union-Tribune Publishing Co.'s VP of internet operations, the ability to target content to reader interests has immediate impact on the bottom line. "National advertising revenues are based on the number of impressions, so more traffic means more revenue." Though the rates are established only twice a year, the enterprise earns more immediate revenue when popular stories are picked up by other econtent providers, as this one was.
The article itself delivered 400,000 page views, compared to one-tenth of that for the coverage of a typical San Diego Chargers football game, according to Jennewien. As a result of the initial interest, the reporter was assigned to do some follow-up articles, which were also popular. If the initial article had been dismissed by the readership, there wouldn't have been subsequent coverage, according to Jennewien. "Editorial judgment plays an important role in news coverage, but that judgment can change based on traffic," Jennewien says. "This brings a scientific approach to news judgment. We use real-time data to make changes."
SignOnSanDiego.com tracks hits using HBX web analytics software from WebSideStory, a provider of on-demand digital marketing services, including web analytics and website statistics. The WebSideStory, Inc. software is one of many tools that econtent providers and users are employing today to ensure that they are getting the desired ROI of their econtent investments.
Accurate reporting from HBX has helped SignOnSanDiego.com improve efficiency in renewing advertising sales and achieving profitability. Jennewien says it is significant that the technology automatically filters false hits created by search engine robots and spiders. SignOnSanDiego.com quickly found that advertisers respect this method of data collection and trust the accuracy of the reports because the issue of false hits has been a big one among internet advertisers. Reports about false hits have caused fluctuations in the value of online search engines like Google and Yahoo!, so accurate measurement of all types of econtent is at the top of the minds of providers and the financial supporters, both advertisers and internal users.