Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Demand-side analytics, relative brand awareness, problematic user behaviour

July 23rd, 2007 by Seb Chan

Continuing the theme of web analytics, last week I took a look at the top 5000 search terms (the head of a long tail containing over 4 million terms) searched for by Australian internet users in a 4 week period through a paid analytics service. This data is generally gathered from ISP logs and is anonymous, but is revealing of trends.

This sort of data is very useful in determining the demand side of internet usage – what is the general public looking for, what are they trying to find? As such it can provide useful comparative data for examining brand awareness and potential “intent to visit” amongst the population. Much like using the various AdWords tools, it is possible to look at relative popularity of thematics, competitors and can identify market opportunities.

Here is an example – in the 4 week period only two museums, the Australian War Memorial, and one gallery appeared in the top 5000 search phrases – the Melbourne Museum at 1064th position, the Australian War Memorial at 1357th, Powerhouse Museum at 2306th and the National Gallery of Victoria at 4232nd. Of the libraries and archives, only Brisbane City Council library appeared in the top 5000 at 2294th and the National Archives at 3606th.

Obviously there will be irregularities – those institutions with easy to find and remember domain names will likely not get as many searches. Also, for some institutions whose major online audience is a more web savvy demographic, search may not be such an important traffic driver. There will also be fluctuations around real world advertising campaigns and overall ‘top of mind’ concerns amongst local audiences.

Others may find, when looking at their own site analytics, that their search traffic is predominantly content-based rather than institution-based – that is, the audience is coming to them because of what they have rather than who they are. The concern with this is that content-based, rather than brand-based audiences are fickle and prey, over time, to migration to other sites and services both commercial and non-commercial. Such a disconnect between institutional awareness (brand awareness) and user behaviour also weakens claims that institutional authority extends to online visitors.

For example, contrast two different users. The first visits the Powerhouse Museum website and searches for ‘Delta Goodrem dress’. The second searches in Google for ‘Delta Goodrem dress’ and ends up deep within the Powerhouse Museum website.

In the first case it is safe to assume that the user first is intentionally visiting a museum website, and second, that they will be taking the institution’s reputation, expertise and authority into consideration when looking at the search result – the Delta Goodrem dress. This would typically be a very small proportion of Internet users.

In the second case, however, these assumptions do not necessarily hold. Instead, the intentions of the user may, and probably do have, very little to do with the museum or museums in general. Even if they do visit the museum’s webpage about the dress, it is difficult to make the assumption that they are aware that they are even on a museum website.

It is much more likely that the first user can be converted to a real world visitor than the second, especially if their geographic location permits.

It is this lack of ability to transparently understand user intentions that makes an increasingly large proportion of museums’ web traffic problematic. On one hand we are all very excited to know that our content is being viewed, possibly even read, by millions of users. On the other hand, as our traffic increases, we need to be very mindful of the need to ensure that this traffic is, at least proportionally, being drawn back to, or made aware of the organisation’s brand – which is its marker of authority and expertise.

Spending some time looking at the demand side of the web can be a sobering experience. Our ‘serious’ content seems to be low down on the list of public concerns – particularly at the head of the curve.

Tags: 1 Comment

  • Thanks for sharing your findings with us. In many ways, I think the power of your collection database is its pull for the previously unitiated “second user,” who connects to the museum via the content rather than the brand. This person may be more likely to be a non-traditional museum user, who does not ordinarily think of him/herself as deriving any useful or entertaining experiences from museums. The more access points and uses there are for museum content, the more people will transition from being the second kind of user to the first. Functionally, it’s marketing to a wider audience than those who are already willing to approach the museum from the front door–both physically and virtually.