Data That Matters – Apartment Therapy

August 14th, 2012 by Lauryn

Data is everywhere. Big data, ambient data, real-time, benchmarking - there’s so much that there’s no one metric or one way of using it that works for every company or every industry. The data leaders are the ones who take risks, who look at all the information available and decide what matters right now. We’re spotlighting these innovators in this “Data that Matters” blog series. We’re talking to people in various roles across multiple industries to see how they collect, make sense of, and act on their data. Read the full series. Today we’re hearing from Apartment Therapy’s executive editor Janel Laban. Janel makes sure data is in the hands of those who are editing and marketing content to focus on publishing the best creative possible for the home design and lifestyle blog. We have one core mission at Apartment Therapy. It’s simply to help make people’s homes more beautiful, healthy and organized. That’s pretty broad, I know. We’re creating lots of content - around 40 posts every day across multiple channels, trying to cover the spectrum of everything related to life at home. The things we could talk about feels endless at times. But reader data has completely transformed our perspective on how to focus on exploring and showing how we really live now.

We’re writing an encyclopedia on home life.

So we need that data, the evidence, to back up our growing knowledge of what's important and meaningful to our readers. That’s what really helps us to better contextualize how we define home. And even the most minimal data matters, really. I learned to blog six or seven years ago looking at very simple analytics when we first launched our local Chicago site. I used to sit and compare the best and worst performing stories using Sitemeter  - which was a challenge, to say the least - and learned from those performances in real time and over time. It changed how I looked at content - to know that something is working helps to define everything. Now we have the ability to use data both to instantly understand the present and to better plan for the future. It keeps us constantly aware of what is working for our readers. When I first saw Chartbeat, I called my husband on his way home from work and told him:

“I need you to pick me up another monitor.”

Because I knew I’d need to have it up all the time. That doesn’t mean every single post we publish needs to perform to a certain expectation or be optimized in real time, though. Some posts are more reference-related, and so situation specific; those don’t always do as well in real time. That’s ok, that’s not their job. They can do much better than average over time, because people search for, for example, "how to hang artwork," and that sends them to our post on it.

That’s how we bring in new readers.

People will still be finding and visiting that post months down the road, and while that doesn’t necessarily get captured in real time, we have other data that shows its strong performance in the long term. The nature of our website doesn’t require us to break news. Actually, we never have to post anything in a certain time frame. We're able to flow out our content in ways that we have learned is best for our audience. So we have to consider both real-time and historical data, because our most popular content might not be popular the second it goes up.

Our data is a little more consistent than breaking news, but I find, more surprising. We’re always learning.

But like the more news-based sites, the hard part of our job, and what we also strive for, is finding the people who don’t know us or who don’t use us regularly and just happen upon us. We want to keep those readers and find a way to make them loyal regulars. So, it’s a balance of the more intimate posts about people’s homes that are very engaging to readers and provide the backbone of what we do, and the quicker posts that can go viral and introduce people to our site.

We aim for a balance of the more image-based and inspirational vs. more spur-of-the-moment and easily digestible content.

And I work to maintain that balance.

Believe it or not, we don’t regularly review the real-time data with the writers. 

What we’ve found over time is that writers really only need to focus on the quality of their posts. They shouldn’t have to pay so much attention to how their work is performing in the moment. I want them to be inspired, have a long term plan, and a passion and vision that builds their writing, not data they’re constantly looking at to mold their point of view on what content they feel they shouldbe writing. But that’s because our writers aren’t changing or adapting or marketing their own content. The writers generally deliver their work to us, we do some final edits and then queue them up across our channels, and then share them through social media and our email. Once the posts are live, real time changes are performed by the editors, not the writers, because we’re seeing the data and tweaking accordingly. To be honest, we don’t do a huge amount of real time edits to our posts, but rather look at the data in the context of how posts work within the entire flow of the day, and then, the week, month and year. We use the things we learn from performance data to brainstorm new ideas, as inspiration and planning for the staff and to shape the scheduling and flow of content on both the site and the social pages we run. We’re using the real time data less as a means for making direct content changes and more as a learning tool to discover the best practices of timing, packaging and promoting our content to better serve, inspire and engage readers.   We’ll be covering a new company each week – big & small, media & not, data junkies & analytics allergic – so let us know if there’s someone you want to see featured. Hit me up at lauryn@chartbeat.com.