Newsvine started offering Google Analytics back in August in response to author requests for more data on the performance of user generated content. Given that Newsvine derives revenue from its author's contributions it seemed only logical that the rising social news site would seek to aid those authors in driving traffic.
Unfortunately, Google Analytics has always been a bit of a niche tool. The product has always been pitched towards more of a technical audience, even before Google acquired the technology in 2005 in its purchase of Urchin Software. Even so, the product is remarkably easy to use once users vault the first few hurdles and can provide a wealth of data that – for the price – just can't be beaten.
Step 1: Signing Up With Google Analytics
A.) If you already have a Google account of any sort (Gmail, Google Documents etc) skip this step. If you don't have a Gmail or other Google Account, signing up for one is free. Just go to http://www.google.com/accounts/NewAccount and sign up.
B.) If you already have a Gmail account or any other Google Account, you already have a Google Analytics account. Just go to analytics.google.com and click "sign up now." You'll be asked to log-in with your Google Account and just like that you're off to the races.
C.) Proceed through Google's New Account Signup process normally. Make sure you specify the web address of your Newsvine column when Google asks you for a website URL. For most Newsvine users that is
[your username].newsvine.com. Even though Newsvine's servers are on Pacific Time, you will want to configure Google Analytics to respond to your local time. Choose your time zone accordingly.
D.) Finish out the registration. The last step is called "Add Tracking" or "Analytics: Tracking Instructions." In either case there should be a box with a bunch of code in it that looks like this:
_uacct = "UA-8675309-1";
You'll need the contents of this box in a moment so either leave this browser window open or – better yet – copy that stuff into notepad or something like it and save it for later.
Step 2: Setting Up Newsvine
A.) Make sure you are logged into Newsvine and then open up the following link: http://www.newsvine.com/_tools/authors/tracking
B.) Paste the code you saved in step 1-D above into the box at left labeled "Paste your Google Analytics Code Below." Click "Save Changes" and Newsvine will update your column with the tracking codes.
Important Note: Google Analytics is not real time. In fact, it's not even punctual. One might go so far as to call it chronically late and easily distracted. Google Analytics may take up to a day to recognize the tracking code in your site and it may be even longer that that before you start getting data. Once you do, however, you can find out some worthwhile things.
Step 3: Understanding Google Analytics
The good news is that the step-by-step instructions aren't really needed any more. Google Analytics is not really sufficiently complex enough to warrant such detail. The bad news is that the step-by-step instructions are gone and that Google Analytics is sufficiently varied and diverse enough that no single path will worth for everyone. Experimentation is your best bet in this fight.
Once Google analytics is up and running, you'll be able to view a number of reports on the traffic going to and from your column. It is important to remember that Google Analytics is intended to allow webmasters to make the most of Google's Adwords advertising service. Since Newsvine does not make use of Adwords a lot of this functionality is useless to Newsvine authors though enterprising contributors could certainly attempt to launch an advertising program for a specific column.
Given that most contributors will not be making use of Adwords, Google Analytics features five key reports which can help authors to tune their work: the page-views report, the map overlay, the referring sites report, keywords, and the top content by title report.
Newsvine ad revenue is determined by two things: the value of Newsvine's ad buys and the number of page-views that a given column generates. Since Newsvine authors have no control over the ad buys, the only real way to influence earnings is to drive page-views.
Besides telling the author how the column as a whole performs on a day to day basis, the pageviews report also allows authors to see page-views on an hourly basis. Aggregated over a long period of time, this lets authors know – on the average – what time their column attracts the most traffic. This column, for example, begins a sharp rise at around 7:00 AM and peeks at around noon. Authors may find this useful when determining the best time to publish an article.
The page-views report is available by clicking "visitors" in the left menu bar and then clicking "Pageviews" in the Visitors Overview.
The map overlay report shows where your columns readers come from with a fair degree of precision. Besides being entertaining, this report gives a good idea of what regional interests a given readership is likely to have. For example, a large percentage of this column's US readership is from urban and sub-urban areas with comparatively little readership from more rural areas. Authors may find this information useful when determining what sort of focus to give stories, be it national, international, rural, urban, or some mix thereof.
The map overlay may be accessed by clicking "Visitors" in the left menu bar and then "Map Overlay" in the same menu bar.
Referring Sites Report
The overwhelming majority of the traffic to any given site on Newsvine will come from somewhere else. For most authors, that somewhere else is Newsvine itself, but a lot of traffic can be driven from other communities and areas of the internet. The referring sites report lets authors know who is sending them traffic and how. Unfortunately, it can be a little frustrating to use because Google doesn't play nicely with other dynamic sites when it tracks incoming links.
Most of the sites on the referring sites report will be Newsvine sites – either the front page or a given user's column; chalk those up to the conversation tracker. The remainder of the traffic should be from other sites. To see where that traffic is coming from use the "Find Source" dialog at the bottom of the report. Type in "Newsvine" and change the drop-down from "containing" to "excluding." The resulting report tells you what non-Newsvine sites are sending traffic to your column and gives valuable insight as to who might be interested in future articles.
The referring sites report may be found by clicking on "traffic sources" and then "referring sites" in the left menu bar.
Though most of the content produced for Newsvine sees the bulk of its views in the first day or so, the content remains accessible unless the author takes it down. Google can and will find this content and as a given columnists volume of work grows, Google can become a larger and larger contributor to the daily page views.
The keywords report gives a broad idea as to what distinct phrases are leading new users to a column. Google intends this report to be used in conjunction with Adwords to give webmasters an idea of how they stand in "organic" results and where they might consider investing in advertising. The low rate of return for each Newsvine page-view likely precludes such advertising, but the report does serve to illustrate what sorts of content have a long-term draw and continue to bring in new users after falling off of the front page. Keywords should offer guidance as to what sort of content contributes to the long-term productive value of a column.
The keywords report may be found by clicking "traffic sources" and then "keywords" in the left menu bar.
Content by Title
Newsvine uses variables passed in the URL to determine where in the comment thread a returning reader should go. Those variables make the conversation tracker work, but they cripple most attempts to work out how many page views a given article or seed has received. The Content by Title report neatly circumvents this problem, grouping the content not by the URL (which changes as the variables do) but by the title, which stays – for the most part – the same.
The Content by Title report is the real meat and potatoes of the Google Analytics tool. This report tells you how individual seeds and articles are performing and, in turn, lets the user know what does and does not have appeal – not just to the voting and commenting segments of Newsvine, but to the much larger block that "lurk" on the site, and avoid interaction with the community.
This report may be found by clicking "Content" and then "Content by title" in the left menu bar.
Google Analytics rolls most of this data up into your "Dashboard," a sort of "at a glance" summery of your traffic. A little customization can get most of these reports onto the Dashboard and thus eliminate a lot of unnecessary mouse clicks. While customization goes a long way in Google Analytics the overwhelming majority of it – at least with respect to Newsvine – is for convenience's sake only. The one exception is the ability to narrow the date-range of any given piece of data.
Because Google Analytics shows summary data, the front-end tries to avoid data from the present day, showing only information at least one day old. While the data is not up to the minute, the impatient can access preliminary information from today's traffic by changing the date range to include the present day. The date range control is available on every page in the upper right and can also – with a little experimentation – yield some fairly clever comparisons.
Of course pageviews and revenue are not – or should not be – the goal of a responsible citizen journalist. In the end it is informative and high quality content that should be its own reward and, if we have faith in the market-place of ideas, we must hold that such content will eventually reward those that provide it. For those seeking some idea as to what such content entails, however, Google Analytics may proffer a clue.