Our main job here on the data team is understanding our product and traffic. It can be difficult: building systems to reliably monitor and track multiple sites with ever-changing content takes a lot of work. And that's before we even try to make sense of the numbers.

But sometimes making big improvements is as simple as leveraging tools that have long been available to us. This is one of those times.

Google News Editors' Picks

Google News has one feature, Editors' Picks, that we somehow hadn't been using. Effectively, Google lets us share a module on the right side of their news page. It looks like this:

This looked like a great chance to get additional traffic to our best articles, not just the ones which get shared on social nets*.

I was hoping that there would be two ways we'd see extra traffic:

  • Directly from Google News, when visitors clicked on any of our articles in the module
  • Indirectly from the Google Search news block (like the one below)


Let me be clear: Google doesn't say whether inclusion in Editors' Picks is a factor in your appearance in the news block. But I suspected that it would have an effect.

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The improvement in direct traffic from the news site would be great, but the real prize here was the placement on the search results page. Think about it- we get a link on the first page of results, linking to our best stuff. 30% of queries have a news block according to Moz, so the potential value is pretty huge.

The Rollout

Implementation of Editors' Picks was very easy: we already have a feature for editors which would easily include this use case, so it involved about a day of coding.

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We rolled out the feature with one site in the first week of the year, going live across all sites on January 13th. There was a little confusion on the part of the editorial staff about what the parameters were for inclusion, but they were open to trying it out.

It took a few days before we started seeing any of our articles in the Editors' Picks module, but within the week we had seen traffic through all of them.

Initial Results

I know I should probably wait a little longer & gather more data, but so far the results have been fairly clear.

  • The direct traffic we have been getting from the module has been low volume, but high quality, on the order of 10,000 visits per day (across all site). and those visitors are basically all new to GMG and spend 60% longer reading the articles than average visits.
  • More importantly, it looks like we are getting picked up by the news block with greater frequency. I looked at the weekly percentage of our traffic that is coming from organic search (from Google Analytics): the jump in the last two weeks is immediately noticeable.

Our overall traffic during the last two weeks has been slightly up, so it does seem like this is having the desired effect. I'm estimating this as a 2-3% bump in traffic.

There are, of course other possibilities that I've tried to consider: Google could be indexing more of our pages (I checked, they aren't) or an algorithm change could be ranking us more highly (there's no evidence of that).

The one alternate possibility that I think is credible is this: Google is likely increasing their use of the news block. So instead of getting a bigger share of the 'news block' pie, the pie is getting bigger because it's being included in more searches. If anyone knows any evidence of this, please let me know in the discussion.

Regardless, we are obviously hoping this bump in traffic continues. 2%! Not bad for a day's work.

[photo credit]

*Note to Google News users: if you want to make sure your favorite Gawker publication appears on your Google News page, go to Google news, click the 'personalize' button on the upper right and/or add us in the 'Adjust Sources' Module.