Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Web analytics – what are you using them for?

July 18th, 2007 by Seb Chan

Over the past few months I have been becoming more and more concerned about the use of web analytics in the museum sector. I’ve also been seriously re-considering the Powerhouse’s current anayltics tools.

Web analytics should be used to improve the ROI of online services; improve customer/user experiences; and drive traffic to the key areas of your site. Yet almost every museum I have spoken to uses them, largely, to simply report back simple metrics to funding bodies – visits (or sessions), page views and, in some cases even hits (!). Some still count robots, spiders and other non-human visitors in the figures they report to funders, and see no way out of doing this because, as a few people overseas have put it – ‘everyone else in the sector does and we are competing against them for funding’.

The problem I think is that we haven’t, ourselves, come up with a better way of doing things. What constitutes ‘success’ for a museum website? Surely it cannot be reduced to ‘visits’. Instead we need to start thinking about what constitutes, in web analytics terminology – a ‘conversion’ (or set of conversions).

In the ecommerce world a ‘conversion’ is when a user/customer successfully browses a catalogue, chooses an item, adds it to their cart, and then checks out making a payment. Running an ecommerce site means using web analytics to keep a careful watch on where and when users are dropping out of a conversion process – do they leave before they add to their cart (if so, why?). Overall visits vs sales don’t tell the whole picture – certainly not a useful picture – other than perhaps indicating the size of the ‘potential market’.

The closest thing to ecommerce that most of us have are online surveys. I wonder how many museums have tracked the number of users that start a survey but fail to complete it?

At the Powerhouse, one of the conversion measures I’ve been exploring is how many website visitors go to our home page at some point during their ‘visit’. Currently this is sitting at around 29% – which is good, given the volume of users and most importantly, the other statistic – that only about 5% actually start at the home page. That means 24% of users coming in through other entry points (including search) are coming to the home page to find out more about where they are (or perhaps, more cynically, some are lost?).

If these figures are combined with statistics about how many people visiting the site are using brand-related search terms (eg “Powerhouse”, “Powerhouse Museum”, “Sydney Powerhouse” and variants) it is possible to get an indication of market interest in the brand. It is also possible to explore the potential size of an online audience interested in a physical visit to the Museum; and the brand-awareness rub off that the 5% to 29% figures start to indicate.

It is extremely important to know the breakdown of your online audience, even if it is reduced to something as basic as –

– online only visitors (will never visit the physical site)
– potential physical visitors (local vs overseas/interstate)
– definite physical visitors (immediate vs soon)

Then you can start to build conversion measures around each type of user and improve your site architecture to cater for each in the best possible manner.

Can you ensure your online-only visitors who have probably come in via a search engine are spending significant useful time on your site fulfilling the information seeking needs they have?

Can you ensure that those wanting to visit your with their family in the next two hours can get everything they need to know about visiting quickly and all in the one place?

And can you attract those who have come in via search but also live locally, to potentially become a physical visitor as well?

Web analytics expert Avinash Kaushik has recently written an exploring blog entry exploring how certain elements of Google Analytics can be used to set up useful metrics on non-ecommerce websites. Even if you don’t use Google Analytics as a tool his suggestions apply broadly.

Kaushik zeros in four default Google Analytics metrics – Loyalty, Recency, Length of visit, and Depth of visit – as being of greatest importance to those who don’t fit the ecommerce mould (which is much of the web analytics market).

The first two of these – Loyalty and Recency – are important because they tell you what proportion of your userbase are regulars and how frequently they might expect to see new, expanded or enhanced content on your site. Every museum should be trying to increase the number of ‘regulars’ and convert casual visitors to regulars. Regulars are far more likely to engage deeply with your content – especially interactive content.

The last two of these – Length and Depth of visit – are useful because they tell you how far users go into your site. Most of us probably already took at, and perhaps even report, ‘average time on site’ or ‘median time on site’, but breaking this down further, and by user segment or areas of the site and entry points can give you a lot more information.

What do you measure and report?

Tags: 7 Comments

  • Good discussion. I’m very interested in this kind of pragmatic web stats and tracking real successes.

    One thing I’d always question is things like length of visit on the site. If the vast majority of people are visiting the site for directions to the museum/opening hours, and they’re already planning on going then you could see a very short time. In addition, a newspaper article, or mention on a radio show could increase that type of visitor, thus driving your visit length down. That could give the appearance of a “less successful” website, whilee the opposite could in fact be true.

  • Excellent questions. This is really important. At the Getty we do measure all of these things – Loyalty, Recency, Length of visit, and Depth of visit. But measuring is just the first step. Taking steps to apply the data to improve your site is easier said than done.

  • Seb Chan

    Kevin

    I think that is why it is really important to segment your online audience and analyse metrics on segmentation. That way you can know that your potential physical visitors increase after an advertising campaign, and that is why length of visit for that segment is down – indeed you might want to reduce the length of visit for that type of user because if you improve your information architecture you might expect to fulfil those users’ information needs quicker and more efficiently.

  • Seb Chan

    Susan

    I’m interested if those measures are used and communicated beyond the web team. Does the marketing team use them to improve their offline marketing? Or to create better synergies between offline/online campaigns for example.

  • Yes, our data is shared with others throughout the institution. Definitely. We have a web-based report site that anyone can get to and staff can also request reports for any online resources they are interested in.
    Using these measures to improve our services on-and off-line is where we falter, I think. I am not certain about how the marketing team uses this info. But the education staff, who I work with, do try and use this data to inform their online offerings. We could definitely do better. It’s something that is hard to focus on, perhaps because those online visitors are ‘invisible’ vis a vis the real visitors who come to us on-site.
    I am very interested in learning about how others are using analytics to create synergies between offline/online campaigns/programming! That would be magic…

  • AD

    We at our company have matured the process of web analytics over months.
    We started as amateurs and did not know what to do with the comprehensive web stats provided by GoStats.com. It had been a huge learning curve but I can see the returns now.

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