Lessons From the Tribune's First 6 Months

Last week we celebrated our six-month birthday (it's not too late to send a card — or a gift). It seems like only yesterday, blah, blah, cliché, blah — but, actually, it does seem like only yesterday that the Trib went live, even if doesn't feel like it (ow, my aching lack of sleep).

What we've learned from then until now is truly if predictably mind-blowing, and if you've heard one or another of us speechifying out in the world any time recently, you can probably recite the list: the importance of secondary distribution by way of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, pure referral sites like Reddit and Fark, and email alerts; the case for content partner promiscuity; the journalistic power of data and events.

But in some ways the most interesting and revealing takeaway has been the information we've gleaned about the size of our audience, where they come from, what areas of the site they go to and for how long, etc. So much of what we sold people on in the run up to launch was proof by assertion: "We're gonna do this..." Now it's proof by proof: We've actually done it. And we have real numbers we can cite. Through last Tuesday:

* More than 5.3 million page views since our debut on November 3, 2009. Our databases are responsible for just over a third of those views — a big wow that validates our data-as-journalism strategy. To put that percentage in context, data is getting nearly three times the amount of traffic of our stories. And the trend line on page views in general is hockey-sticking: more than 1 million in March and more than 2 million in April.

* More than 1.3 million visits from 190 countries and nearly 1,200 cities and towns in Texas. An in-your-face rebuttal to those who predicted we'd be an Austin-only play: a mere 22 percent of our traffic thus far has been from Austin. The remaining 78 percent is divided neatly among the other big cities in TX (20 percent), the rest of TX (31 percent), and outside of TX (27 percent). That last stat is important, because we'd hoped we'd quickly become a go-to source for Texas political and public policy news for people around the country and around the globe, and we're succeeding.

* Nearly 700,000 unique visitors, including about 200,000 in March and nearly 180,000 in April, when we expected the fall-off from primary season to sock us in the gut ... and it didn't. As I've noted before, our goal for monthly uniques at the end of 2010 was only 150,000.

* 17 percent of our visitors of have been back to the site more than 8 times. We're building not just an audience but a loyal audience.

* An average of 4.13 pages per visit, which compares favorably with the latest newspaper industry average (March 2010) of 5.4 pages per visit. In April, we blew well past our monthly best, with 7.4 page views per visit. As we add more and more data — clearly a page view driver — to our site, we see the pages-per-visit number only going up.

* More than 3 minutes on the site per visit. This is not an audience that leaves the car running at the curb; they're staying a while. Again, from a trend line standpoint, we're headed in the right direction: In April, users logged more than 4 minutes on the site per visit.

Have we got everything figured out after six months? No. Are we figuring more things out every day? Yes. Will we know more in six months than we do now? Can't imagine that we wouldn't. And we'll be sure to tell you all about it.

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