Here’s what The Lens did when a single story attracted 81,000 web visits

Louisiana’s state prison officials were not being forthcoming when acquiring drugs from a hospital, so on August 6 The Lens published this investigative story as part of its series on the state’s execution methods.

The story alone is impressive. And in terms of web traffic, it went viral.

As of Monday, The Lens editor Steve Beatty says the site has had 81,000 unique visitors with an average of almost four minutes spent per visitor on the site. All thanks, in part, to the Huffington Post which picked up the story and directed its large audience to The Lens website.

“We pay $10 a month for Chartbeat. As soon as HuffPost picked up our story and started sending traffic, we got an alert about spiking traffic and were able to react accordingly,” Beatty told INN in an email. “This is worth the $10 investment; otherwise, it may have taken us a while to see the trend, if at all.”

How did The Lens staff react? Beatty explains:

“The secrecy surrounding death-penalty drugs is a topic we’ve been covering, so we picked out the five stories we’d done that had the most impact or broke news. We put them in an aside near the top of the story. Of course, Largo puts related stories at the bottom, but we wanted new readers to see that this was a beat we’ve staked out and have been covering.”

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“We also changed the fly-out box that a reader sees when approaching the bottom of the story. We made it clear that we are a nonprofit and rely on donations. Unfortunately, we did not see an uptick in donations, but we tried.”

Beatty says the Lens story was the second leading story on The Huffington Post for most of Thursday afternoon, and The Slate picked it up by 5 p.m. that afternoon.