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Editor's Weekly: The more the merrier

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 8, 2010 - The Beacon's website has experienced something of a surge in traffic recently, and that both pleases and puzzles us.

We're not entirely sure why the traffic has grown -- rising to more than 55,000 unique visitors in November from a plateau earlier this year in the mid-30s. Interest in the election certainly drove some readers to our extensive political coverage. Improvements in our technology may have helped make the site easier to find and use. Plus we've gotten more diligent about outreach, looking for people who are interested in specific stories and topics.

Of course, we're happy that more people are visiting stlbeacon.org. That translates to a wider impact for our mission of delivering news that matters.

But counting unique monthly visitors is only one way to measure whether we are achieving what we set out to accomplish, and not necessarily the best way.

It's easy to count hits on a story, but also easy to see that some stories get hits for strange reasons. Once, we published a short blog item with the word Google in the headline. It got inordinate traffic, probably due to the mysterious workings of search engines.

Recently, among the stories drawing heavy traffic are those about puppy mills, Jeff Smith's release from prison and unemployment benefits. If Jeff Smith takes a stand on puppy mills and unemployment benefits, that story will no doubt be a blockbuster. But such news would hold little lasting significance. It would not be news that matters.

Rather than pursuing sheer volume of traffic, we're interested in improving the quality of the engagement we have with readers. For this, we need to understand much more about what they are interested in and how they interact with the Beacon -- whether through the website, in person, on Facebook, or in other ways.

We'd like to be able to gauge the depth of impact the Beacon has, not just the breadth. That kind of knowledge is hard to reduce to numbers, but it's essential to making the Beacon more useful and relevant to you and our region.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.