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Overview of this campaign
The Age's homepage is the single most important route to our online audience.
Like most organisations we measure traffic performance in real time and so know whether we are doing better or worse than normal.
What is harder to tell is whether we could be doing better than we are. Whether different layouts, headlines or images are the single best option we have.
Luckily we have a sister website, smh.com.au, which has exactly the same tech stack, design options and, in many ways, the same news assets to choose from. It also has a similar audience and scale.
We cannot use straight traffic to compare performance on the two sites due to some structural advantages for the larger SMH site.
However we noticed that the SMH had a stronger click through rate performance than The Age. The difference was in the order of 2 - 2.5 per cent.
If the The Age achieved the same CTR as the SMH it would mean a seven figure readership increase into our articles.
CTR is not a volume measure and we decided there was no reason structural or technical reason why the SMH should be outperforming The Age on CTR. So we thought a new target for The Age homepage team focussed on this would be a way to sharpen story and image choice as well as headline writing.
The new target was simply to eradicate the gap and to get in front.
Together with the data team we built a pair of dashboards to measure progress.
One allowed us to quickly see in near to realtime if The Age was ahead of the SMH over the course of a day or defined chunks of hours.
The other allowed us to track CTR averages in a way that matched our daily editions and shift structures to identify longer term patterns and any performance issues on specific shifts.
Results for this campaign
At the start of the process in February the SMH led on every edition with CTR differential between the two sites ranging between 2.13 per cent and 3.07 per cent, depending on the edition, for an average of 2.61 per cent.
By the middle of the year that average differential had been sliced to 0.6 per cent and The Age had managed to win some time slots.
The gains were difficult to sustain but throughout the latter part of the year the gap was kept to an average of about 1.3 per cent - or half what it was. No other change was made to the site in terms of its function and there was not significant turnover in personnel.
That is, the realtime dashboard acted as a focussing performance tool where we were constantly checking to see if our sister site was doing a better job.
It introduced a way of measuring our opportunity costs on good days - 'look, they're doing even better than we are out of this story' - and a way of seeing who was making a better fist of things on a slow day.
The realtime and longer frame dashboards provoked empowered discussions between the homepage digital teams and the wider newsroom about what different approaches might be tried and an examination of the choices we are making.
We haven't, yet, got past the SMH but we are well on our way.