Using A/B testing to find story ideas

by Andy Boyle.

Earlier I read this post via Hacker News on testing startup ideas. It got me thinking about whether or not you could do something similar in your newsroom. I’ll call it A/B Testing for News Coverage.

The basic idea is this: Use the data of what people click on with Google AdWords/Microsoft’s adCenter to help you come up with coverage. First, you set up advertisements for a certain area of coverage, say an upcoming convention in your town, or maybe you’re trying to allocate resources between two not-as-often-covered sports teams and not sure which has a greater audience. Then you send those ads to a landing page or article you’ve already written about said topic.

You can then see how many people clicked through the ads, what the bounce rate was, how long they stayed on the article/landing page (using your own embedded analytics, of course) and whether or not they explored more of your website. Then you can deduce whether one subject or another received more page views than the other, all for maybe $100 in advertisement costs (plus the time it took to set up the pages).

Now, say you were planning on hiring a beat reporter to cover one subject over another, I would say that $100 is a cheap price to make sure you’ve made a good decision for your audience.

This may smack in the idea of what I’ve heard some people freak out about, which is catering too much to your audience. Giving them their chocolate cake instead of the peas and carrots they should (says we) be eating. Well, with dwindling resources at many media organizations, I can’t see why it’s a bad idea to gauge your audience before starting a new venture.

Our industry could use more analysis in making decisions, I believe, and thankfully we have a lot of tools at our disposal.

And if anyone is already doing this, I’d love to hear how it’s faired in the comments.

***edit at 10:51 a.m.***

Ted Han has pointed me to this post about how Homicide Watch uses analytics for coverage, which is totally rad. Laura Amico used her site’s analytics as a reporting tool. Awesome.