Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Debate Begins

Over at Uncharted, the debate has begun: How often should we update our homepage to keep attracting and retaining readers, and how should those updates take place?

Currently, we're updaing twice a week, a pace we've been at since our site launched in mid-December 2008. We seem to have fallen into a simple rhythm, one that's easily maintained and not, as far as I can tell, straining anyone involved. I brought up the question last night at our budget meeting, however, that given the backlog of stuff we ahve ready for the home page (as of alst night, we have enough new content to update the home page twice weekly for four months, and this is even before the big summer adventure season begins) we ought to be updating more frequently, perhaps switching to once every week.

My reasoning is this: I have taken a look at my Internet habits. I'm not a prolific surfer. I do, however, have certain sites that I visit frequently. In analyzing why I make these frequent visits, I realize it's because the content -- be it posts, videos, or even comments -- are fresh daily, sometimes several times a day.

I'm smart enough to know, however, that my behavior doesn't necessarily translate into everyone's behavior, but I don't think I'm too far from the norm here. I think as long as we've got the stuff, we may as well accelerate the frequency of our updates. If the time comes that the backlog is reduced, we can then slow down our frequency, going back to the twice a week.

We'll ruminate this for a while and decide what to do later. Alan, I think, is worried that we're strained at updating twice a month. He may have a better feeling for this than I do, so I trust his judgement.

I know more frequent updates isn't a cure-all. Over at the Cokesbury Party Blog, for instance, I've had a weekly update for a month now, and traffic there is abysmal. Not the Internet's fault; it's merely the fault of a guy (me) who got a wild hari to start a blog about a 1932 party book. I'm doing the updates as an exercise in writing more than anything else at the moment. If anyone ever visits the site and finds it useful or amusing, so much the better. But the site is an excellent example of the fact that it doesn't matter how frequently you update if you don't have anyone visiting.

At Uncharted, it's not the updates or even the stories that are most popular -- something I'm finding a little ego-crushing at the moment. What is most popular are the people pages -- where visitors can see who is involved witn Uncharted -- and the photo pages, where each photo is worth a thousand words -- though in Internet speak, the value of a photograph should probably be presented as 1,024 words. That demonstrates to me that we might be better off pushing photo updates with as much alacrity -- or even more -- than we are homepage updates, as it's the photos that are attracting people, and, hopefully, inviting them to go to the people page, sign up, and begin posting their own photos.

I like very much that we can look at our statistics and see what is drawing the most people in, and then use that data to better plan how we handle updates, site upgrades and the like in the future. It's very real-time, to use a worn-out phrase. Back when I worked for newspapers, the only way we knew people were reading our stories or looking at our photos was by the number of complaint calls we got -- hardly easy on the ego. Our site stats show us how many are visiting, where they're looking and how long they're staying, though there are still ego-crushers, including the 40 percent "bounce rate," which is the number of people who come into a page on our site and immediately leave. So we've got some work to do. Interesting nonetheless.

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