Facts (or ‘fachts’, as Rafa Benitez would have it) – aren’t they fun? Well, no, not always. But do certain statistics offer evidence of performance? Yes. This is a concept that both editors and football scouts alike have had to incorporate into their roles.
Just like football scouts have the Opta Index to view how many shots, assists, passes, hops, skips and jumps a player has done since they were an infant, so editors have Google Analytics (or an equivalent tool), which tells them how many people are reading articles, what they do before and after they read them, and how they came to be there in the first place (among other useful bits of information) – great for working out which types of stories should be published in order to get the most engagement.
Where once both professions relied heavily on instinct and experience to judge which stories would engage/players would perform, the Big Data wave has crested and crashed down on their heads. Statistics show facts about past performance, which is a strong indicator when it comes to future success.
Suddenly instinct and experience – two subjective qualities that can be hard to argue with – can be challenged with hard figures. Anyone who has watched the based-on-a-true-story film Moneyball can see the potential for stat-driven success in sport (although the movie is clearly most memorable for the little girl’s rendition of ‘The Show’ – heart-breaking…), while the recently released ‘Trouble with the Curve’ provided a cinematic riposte, with Clint Eastwood showing there is still a place for the grizzled old-timers of this world.
What does it mean for an online news publisher?
So where does this leave editors and online news publishers? Well, there are three points to focus on:
- Explore the statistics
- Interpret their meaning
- Remember context
Just like the exhaustive (and often exhausting) Opta Index, Google Analytics has a hell of a lot of information available, so explore this world of numbers and see what jumps out. You might spot that a niche type of story is bringing in huge numbers of visitors for not much outlay in terms of resources – the football parallel would be picking up Michu for £2 million (hats off to Swansea for that coup).
Interpretation is key; what does it mean that a story has a low number of hits? Is the content not engaging or is there a different problem? Perhaps the news is not visible enough on the site and so it would be hard for anyone to spot. Shifting back to football, the fact that a goalkeeper has let in a lot of goals does not make them necessarily bad, it could be the team around him.
After finding significant statistics and interpreting what they mean, you must still remember to bear in mind the context of their success. A fun story on pancakes may have drawn lots of visitors to your site around Shrove Tuesday (February 12th this year, in case you were wondering), but that doesn’t mean you would want stories on pancakes all year round. Similarly, in spite of his outrageous scoring record in Holland (45 goals in 39 appearances), Brazilian striker Afonso Alves was terrible in the Premier League for Middlesbrough – great stats don’t always make a consistently great player.
Essentially, you – as a football scout or news editor – should be using statistics to drive your strategy as it gives you a solid base to work from, but make sure that your instinct and experience keeps final decisions in check. Combining the new and the old can help you notch up goals, whether in terms of website hits or in the back of the net.