boston-com-front-page

Identify opportunities within Boston.com to maximize page views

I stumbled upon a Content Producer job posting from Boston.com and was absolutely intrigued by the required skillset and set of responsibilities. There are no indicative surprises in the fifteen or so bullets, however, one item casually talks about an ability, and requirement for the front page editor to maximize page views.

“Ability to identify cross-promotional opportunities within Boston.com to maximize page views and content quality”

I am sure that one of the methods to achieve the asked for page-view-increase is, as described, an editor task, that includes updating the site’s homepage in a way that ensures maximum output, while ensuring that the homepage is kept inside the editorial tone and guidelines of the publication. Said differently; the editor is asked to look at, say, 150 current articles at any given point in time and position them in any of the some 130 Article Boxes that the homepage holds.

Think about that task for a second. Forget the obvious requirement of picking the most important news, and just do the simple maths on how many different permutations, or unique front page arrangements if you will, there are. The number of permutations is astronomical, and by any comparison equals the editor winning the lottery, if he is supposed to pick the best performing front page arrangement. What’s even more dramatic is the fact that whenever a new article arrives the editor is essentially supposed to set the perfect front page yet again, taking all variables into consideration.

Asking somebody to win the lottery 150 times a day is not realistic, it might even be an unfair task to commission a front page editor with the job of updating the homepage AND ask for a page view increase at the same time.

“The producer will be responsible for updating the site’s homepage”

The increase might be possible, but maximizing the front page opportunity is near impossible without technology. In regards to technology, I also believe it is reasonable to say that looking at the most-popular-pages-referred-from-your-front-page report in your e.g. Omniture Sitecatalyst or Google Analytics is not enough.

When you use traditional web analytics type reporting, you could easily end up generating a self-fulfilling prophecy, where the most popular articles are the most popular articles because they are in the most prominent positions.

Why am I intrigued? I am intrigued because finding the perfect front page arrangement in real-time is what I do for a living. :-)

We have the ability to predict the performance of an article on the front page into the future – and empowered with that information we generate real-time recommendations on what articles to place where on the front page. So, as below, the editor is provided with a recommendation to move the “Counterfeit …” article into position 1 in the Breaking News Zone – AND that there is a predicted Value of that action of $48.89 if he does so. Very interesting no?!

In conclusion; maximizing performance by setting the perfect front page 150 times a day is a nigh impossible task without a little hand holding from technology :-) – and it seems like an unfair ask of the front page editor without empowering her with any predictive support.

Cheers :-)
/ Dennis (@dennismortensen)

  • Alex Poon

    For those math geeks out there, the odds for winning a typical lottery is about one in 14 millions (1.4E+7). The odds of picking 130 articles out of 150 with the right order is 2.3E+244 (that’s 244 zeros), a number that some calculators can’t even handle. You actually have to win the lottery 1.7E+237 times to pick the 130 articles correctly ;)

  • http://ConversionWarfare.com Ryan Urban

    How are you guys going to overcome the major media obstacle?: EGO

    The homepage editor is going to believe that they are going to be much better than some “technology” that doesn’t “know” the audience nor the article trends. After all the articles they pick to be up top do get the most pageviews (naturally).

    This also would prompt say “Boston.com” to ask themselves why they need to spend 150k
    on an editor position, when they can spend 75k for an actionable data jockey (data jockey is the new DJ)?

    So the question is how do you overcome the push-back of ego + the potential of job shift/replacement with your technology?

  • http://visualrevenue.com/ Dennis R. Mortensen

    Hi Alex.

    Hereby retweeted (and is that even a word?) :-)
    http://twitter.com/DennisMortensen/status/24905599464513536

    d.

  • http://visualrevenue.com/ Dennis R. Mortensen

    Hi Ryan,

    You raise a very valid concern – and as we were conducting the initial product interviews, we worked extremely hard to tease out any potential resistance our type of technology might create. AND I honestly think we solved this for the most part by focusing on two items:

    - Creating a platform that can act as a decision support system (understanding that we cannot focus on full automation day one)
    - Creating a platform that has a language for Editorial Instructions (accepting that we cannot go for an optimum all the time)

    Cheers
    d. :-)

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