Just like many of you, I’ve emerged from the holidays with a little added padding and am now muffin-top-deep in spreadsheets, poring over results from 2012 and planning how to tackle the new year. I’m also making sure to find time to ramp up the endorphins at the gym.

While I’ve resolved to improve my physical fitness, we’re also taking inventory of where we can improve our discipline to better drive latimes.com’s audience. The same methods that work to shed a few pounds can be applied to increasing audience from search engines and ultimately, revenue.

  • Stick to a schedule and be relentless.

In the words of Tony Horton (fitness instructor from Beach Body’s P90x series), “Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was your body.” So it goes for the Web. It takes consistent effort to increase audience reach.

Developing a steady routine for monitoring zeitgiest Web conversations is crucial to keeping our editorial staff informed and armed to quickly post relevant coverage that will bring in a steady flood of readers.

The key is utilising the best tools to support a trend analysis system that works to identify content resonating across the social Web. There are literally hundreds of choices, many of which are free, and I particularly like:

  • Hootsuite: You can set up keyword searches to monitor trending topics of particular beats.

  • Google Trends and the trending section on Yahoo’s homepage: You won’t be first to scoop the story, but you can catch up fast. 

  • Social search engines like Topsy and SocialMention: Monitor specific topics or see what’s hot.

Since Google News launched its “Realtime Coverage” section, they have emphasised greater importance on freshness, making this strategy crucial to driving consistent traffic.

There might be limits to how many ways you can add meaningful value to a story like, “Justin Bieber caught smoking pot.” But less than 24 hours after that story broke, Google reported more than 500 versions of the news — and the “Realtime Coverage” section continued to refresh at seizure-inducing speeds. 

Spammers beware: Merely scrambling the text of someone else’s well written, reported, and edited story will not qualify it as a new version, or at least not for long. While search engines serve up the same syndicated story from various Web sites initially, the bots quickly determine and rank the originating source ... making a nice segue into my next point.

  • Build a network of support.

In fitness, it’s easy to fall off the wagon if you don’t have a support team. In an industry experiencing such dramatic disruption as news publishing, sharing a little love can have big payoffs.

As mentioned, search engines will sometimes pick up syndicated versions of an original story on a third-party site and rank them higher than the source. While this can be a cause for concern, it’s important to remember that one of search’s biggest-ranking factors are the links pointing to your site.

Even without an HTML link, the syndicating site is crediting you as the source, which might still have an impact on search rankings and certainly helps promote brand recognition. In short, content syndication can be a quick win for search audience and revenue development.

Another way to build support is by using Google’s standout tag when your story references another publisher’s example of high-quality, in-depth, exclusive, or investigative journalism. By being responsible and proactive to credit the other source, your use of the standout tag on your own content might carry more weight. 

  • When you hit a plateau, it’s time to try something new.

Fitness fanatics can attest that the best way to continue to get dramatic results is to switch up your routine. As the lines between search and social begin to blur, the volume of social shares and the activity within social circles are affecting rankings. Therefore, redefining the way a narrative is presented online is one way to encourage sharing.

Stories sustain social power longer when incorporating video and multi-media in visually rich and stunning ways, like LA Times’ series on prescription drug abuse or The New York Times project on the Tunnel Creek avalanche, Snow Fall, which received over 1,500 comments and continues to be shared frequently on Twitter.

As we crack open the door to 2013, what will you try to break through your plateaus? It’s only fitting (just like September’s jeans will soon be) that I close with some more words of wisdom from Tony Hunter, “Do your best and forget the rest!”