Most editorial operations are approaching the Web today with a mix of scientific process and search engine voodoo. At b-to-b publisher Questex Media, manager of search Alison McPartland and her team have developed a strategy that includes defining key areas certain editors are good at, and trying to apply those lessons to other editors within the group.
"We want to show the particular strength or weakness in each editor," says McPartland. "There are different ways to focus on how they’re preparing content online and we want to highlight those differences. If someone is our top Optimization Editor, what is he or she doing that you could be doing?"
Below are four benchmark classifications for online editors that McPartland and her group developed:
Acquisition Expert: "We measure the amount of page views and unique views that a particular editor brought in regardless of source," says McPartland. "Regardless of whether it’s being pushed out via newsletter or they’re doing a great job with optimization or another site picked up the content and referred them in, what’s the readership of that particular editor? How much total audience is this person drawing in?"
Optimization Editor: "What we did here is look at who on the edit team is driving the most traffic via organic search. We looked at the whole data dump of the month for that editor-keywords, the topics driving interest and the articles that were keeping readers longer. If you work with more interlinked titles, you’re probably going to have a better opportunity for this to get picked up, and once it does get picked, up, now our audience is interested in those keywords and topics."
Getting editors to focus on SEO was a bit of a challenge at first. "When we first started working with the editorial team, they looked at it as, ‘Oh, SEO is something that Alison does," says McPartland. "We were trying to get editors to understand that yes, I help them set the foundation of the site-taxonomy and site structure-but at end of day it’s up to the edit teams and marketing teams to drive and retain those people. If I build the foundation, they hold the keys to really optimizing well and driving traffic. People don’t want to go to category pages, they want to go to editors’ articles."
Retention Writer: "This looks at the bounce rate and the average time readers spend on the site. This is tough because we have to look at overall metrics and make assumptions-yes, the bounce rate is low for this one, time on site is high-but what’s the quality of the interaction? Are they just trying to find something or are they intent on reading different articles? A quality interaction is the ability to keep readers on the site post-acquisition. Some editors did a good job getting people into the site via certain keywords but then had a high bounce rate. We want to see the audience spending a few minutes on each page and coming back again."
Engagement Enhancer: "Here we are looking at any kind of interaction with the site. Did the reader come in through a blog and comment or did they come in through a new story and register for an RSS feed? What are the editors doing that makes me want to comment or interact with them?
Identifying where specific editors are performing well (and where they are not) in reports the whole team can see raises the level of every editor’s game (and sparks some friendly internal competition).
"By creating these different ‘categories’ of editor, it’s easier for us to see why a particular story or author performs well month over month," says Stephanie Ricca, editor-in-chief of Questex Media’s HotelWorld Network. "We don’t use these categories as specific descriptors—meaning, we don’t say things like, ‘Stephanie is the Acquisition Expert because she does X and Y and Chris is the Optimization Editor because he does B and C;’ instead we use Alison’s reports to get better at all aspects of what gets a reader to our site and keeps them there."
For example, HotelWorld Network noticed from Alison’s reports that certain posting habits, like including related links with stories, make certain authors better at optimizing the content. "So we remind each other to include related links with every item we post, whether it’s a standard news release or a bylined article," says Ricca. "It’s useful for us to see which authors have high retention rates, because most of them are our regular columnists. If we know that these authors provide content that keeps readers on our site for a relatively long time, we will continue to link to those authors as related links in other stories."
Over the past few months, HotelWorld Network editors have made a strong effort to add all of the "bells and whistles" to all of the content they post. "We are aware of using strong keywords in headlines, we link within our stories (especially to other related stories we have written on the topic), we add related stories to every item we post, and we optimize the meta tags for everything we post," says Ricca. "Alison’s reports give us tangible proof that how we optimize our articles doesn’t change their content, it just makes it more visible, and therefore more useful. We love to see our names on her reports and it’s still a fierce competition!"