Analyzing the Analytics
Sometimes, I like to take a look at the Google Analytics page for the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas and see what sort of entries people are reading right then. If we look at a whole month’s statistics, we often find the usual suspects, such as the Little Rock Nine and the desegregation of Central High School.
But these can often crowd out the field of more than 6,000 entries we have online, and so sometimes it is both fun and rewarding to take a glimpse at what people are reading—right now.
At the very moment when I write this, among the entries being read include businessman Ernest Parnell Joshua, the Waldron War, singer Al Green, artist Barbara Ann Higgins Bond, the Crossett Light, the geographical feature known as Big Rock, the Fourche Mountain Salamander, Gillam Park, the movie I’m from Arkansas, and Jim Crow Laws.
It’s a rather diverse assemblage, but one can make some assumptions about the motivation underlying the readership. For example, I am writing this at the tail end of Black History Month, which might be the reason some people are reading the Joshua, Green, Bond, Gillam Park, and Jim Crow entries.
However, that’s just a guess. The fact is, unless something rather newsworthy happens, it can be difficult to determine why people are reading the entries they are.
Well, on February 17, 2020, something major did happen. Charles Portis, one of the most well-known writers from Arkansas, author of the bestseller True Grit, died that day. As far as I can tell, the Arkansas Times was the first outlet to break the story. After that came Arkansas Business and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and then the story went national, with the New York Times and Washington Post picking up the story. CNN’s coverage even linked back to our entry. By the end of the day, even overseas outlets like Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter had picked up the story.
(Many people have written eloquently about Portis and his work, and I’ve added links to some of those to the bibliography of the Portis entry. I will only contribute this fact to the broader field of such writing: my personal favorite Portis novel is Masters of Atlantis.)
Once we had our own entry on Portis updated, I went about my usual work day, but I kept a window open in the background so that I could check the analytics occasionally. Sure enough, early in the day, readership of the Portis entry started to rise, and I imagined that journalists in newsrooms across America were quickly searching for some reliable source of information as they tried to hammer out their own obituaries of the man.
Near the end of the day, as more and more obituaries began to appear online, our own traffic slowed down a little bit. And then, interestingly, around day’s end, more people were reading our entry on the Negro Boys Industrial School Fire of 1959 than they were the entry in Charles Portis. Indeed, at one point, nearly one-fifth of our readership at that time had that particular entry open, perhaps researching the tragic Wrightsville fire that would be the subject of a play showing at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center the last two days of February.
Or perhaps that, too, was for a Black History Month project. One can never tell just by a glance at the analytics, though it is always tempting to try to make a story from this data.
And so it goes. Events both big and small, both national and the local, drive readers to the CALS EOA. We appreciate all our readers, whatever they read and wherever they are.
(As I was finishing writing this article, I went to close my analytics window and saw that the entry on the parasitic Opalinids was being read…)
By Guy Lancaster, editor of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas