From the Editor: Moonshine and web traffic

Larry Johnson, the editor and publisher of the Cobb County Courier seated in an office chair in front of a small table with a laptop in article about Cobb County Courier Meet the Editor

The title of this editorial, “Moonshine and web traffic,” might seem a bit odd and confusing.

But it has two reasons. One of them is straightforward, the other is a bit sneaky.

I work long hours here at the Courier, and my hours run seven days a week. I’m not complaining. I love this work, and it’s varied enough between editorial production schedule, interacting with readers, ad sales, bookkeeping and accounting work, and all the other things that take my attention, that the 10-12 hours per day I put in don’t really seem to be that long. And I do take breaks.

We’re on track to turn a profit next year, which will be about on par for a small business (it will be the sixth year of operation at the Courier). So keeping up the pace is a necessity at this point.

One dilemma I have, which can explain both the “moonshine” and the “web traffic” in the title, is that I’ve recently set a production quota of six articles per day.

For a large publication, six articles would seem ridiculously low. But for one with exactly one full-time staffer (me), it creates a treadmill.

During the weekdays, it’s no problem. Reporters turn in articles, governments and companies send me press releases, and meetings take place, so filling six article slots is no problem.

Saturday and Sunday, though, all the usual sources dry up, and I scramble for material.

There are several ways I handle this. One is to look over the online videos of government meetings for the week and see if there are interesting short articles there. Another is to look at county and city news releases, and press releases from companies.

But one other thing I’ve begun doing is to look over past articles that are evergreen (articles readable at any time) that were published during the time that our web traffic was very low.

In 2016 and 2017, 200 visitors was a good day, and 500 visitors would be a cause for celebration. And some of those articles were really interesting and took a substantial amount of research.

So I’ve been looking through them, doing slight rewrites with new introductions, and publishing them now that our typical number of daily visitors is around 3,000 (and can go as high as 10,000).

One in particular that I posted yesterday had really good web traffic. It was called “Moonshine stills and the Opening of Six Flags Over Georgia.” The “moonshine” in the title was based on an article I found from the Atlanta Constitution, from April 9, 1967, that described a moonshine bust on property adjacent to the soon-to-be-opened Six Flags theme park. My guess is that county officials had ignored the moonshine operation until the prospect of visitors and tourists to the park made them more sensitive to Cobb County’s image.

I don’t know whether it was the reference to moonshine, or to Six Flags that drew traffic to that reworked article. But the sheer number of movies that have been produced about illegal whiskey, possibly the most well-known early one being Robert Mitchum’s “Thunder Road,” leads me to believe that putting “moonshine” in the title of an article is a good practice for Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

That’s the “sneaky” reason for the title of this editorial. I want to see if the inclusion of that word increases the traffic to this article.

About these “From the Editor” articles

For the first few years of the Courier’s existence we only ran opinion pieces and editorials about once every six months or so, even though opinion tends to draw good traffic.

But I think it’s about time for me to have more direct communication to readers.

Here I can explain what we’re doing, answer any questions that I get frequently, and allow readers who visit infrequently to get to know me a bit.

My plan at this point is to do a minimum of one per week, and more if I have more to say.

I also plan to do some writing about the local news business in general, including things like business models and editorial policies.

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