Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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The 2 in 100 who might matter most – your core web audience

December 4th, 2009 by Seb Chan

As some of you know I’ve been doing a series of deep dive web metrics workshops for various institutions around the world in the last couple of months and one thing I’ve been interested in is estimating the size of a ‘core museum website audience’.

Whilst we all like the big figures of casual visitors we get to our websites many institutions, having flirted with social media, we are beginning to realise that casual visitors, much like casual visitors through the door of a museum, aren’t so useful for building sustained co-creative relationships with.

This ‘core museum website audience’ is the one that is engaged enough with your online activities that they return frequently. The patterns and trends in how they behave in your website is likely to differ significantly from casual visitors, and these trends should be closely analysed for insights into which are your ‘stickiest’ and most ‘interesting’ content areas.

Obviously, in looking at ‘repeat visitation’, though, it is critical to exclude all internal traffic. (I’m always shocked at how many institutions neglect, often through oversight, to stop their web analytics tools from reporting internal traffic!)

If we are serious about ‘engagement’ then our websites need to be actively growing repeat visitation as a proportion of the total.

So, how are we at the Powerhouse doing?

Looking at the Powerhouse Museum traffic for the last 4 quarters (Q4 2008 to Q3 2009) I’ve seen a sizeable number of repeat visitors to our website. Like most websites the vast majority of our traffic is new visitors (80.41%), but I’m pleased to find some interesting figures in our repeat visitors – the other ~20%.

Over the last 8 quarters repeat online visitation noticeably different patterns emerge around our in-gallery exhibitions and around our online-only content.

The ‘2 or more visits in a quarter‘ segment fluctuates most with the blockbuster exhibitions (Diana and Star Wars) showing the impact of return visitors booking online tickets and checking public event information. Here we see a rise from 13.63% in Q4 2007 to a high of 21.45% in Q1 2009 (Star Wars) before dropping again to 18.54%.

The ‘5 or more visits in a quarter‘ segment has grown steadily from 2.11% in Q4 2007 to a high of 5.22% in Q2 2009 and now rests at 4.78% in Q3 2009. This segment contains semi-regular blog visitors and those engaging with our collection online for research and study, as well as some of our high school curriculum focussed content.

The ‘10 or more visits in a quarter‘ segment has grown consistently, unaffected by the seasonal blockbusters, from 0.79% in Q4 2007 to 2.10% of traffic in Q3 2009. This traffic is our most highly engaged – again predominantly around our most consistent blogs (Fresh & New, Photo of the Day, Object of the Week), certain areas of our collection, and very specific curriculum content.

This 2.10% is one that needs a lot more analysis as does the ‘5 or more’ category. How do they arrive at our site? What are they looking for? What do they spend most time looking at?

Just for the record, as I’m using Google Analytics this data excludes RSS subscription-based traffic (critical for blogs), and does contain a low level of error – those who actively clear cookies (who may not be well represented in a core museum audience – but would be on, say, Slashdot). Of course, this data is far more reliable that log-based analytics.

I’m digging much deeper into this for an upcoming paper at Museums and the Web 2010 in Denver and of course my metrics workshop there too.

I’d welcome others’ opinions on this sort of audience segmentation.

Tags: 7 Comments

  • Liking the semi-provocative title! It’s nice to see some meaningful thoughts on this subject Seb, and it’s great you’ve been bold enough to define a benchmark with your three levels of ‘deeper’ engagement. I haven’t come across much in the way of consistency in how museums & cultural institutions measure ROI/enagement, so very intrigued to read the depthes you dig with your upcoming paper…

  • Some interesting stats there Seb, but really aren’t stats without being linked to an objective just another bunch of numbers?

    Shouldn’t we be looking at the business objectives of the website and then looking at these stats, to really see if the site is performing and achieving our objectives? I.e. why do you want to generate repeat users?

    On a side note, with social media, I think that organisations need to move beyond the traditional metrics for success. We should be looking at simple, business objectives, like has the website helped in getting people through the doors, building greater brand awareness, etc.

    What you mention at the end is important – what are these people looking for and what are they doing online? With the changing needs of your audience, museums need to be asking these questions more often and asking how we can grow this core audience.

    Organisations also need to be looking at the bigger picture – how do their social media channels (twitter, facebook, blogs etc) sit in their overall digital strategy and help assist in achieving their vision & business objectives. The use of digital & online media as a way to engage with people needs to be aligned with purpose and strategy, without these we are just adding more noise.

    Also, of the 2.1% visitors, (for which you would have specific numbers through google analytics) it would be interesting to see how much this audience are really engaged (what are you defining as engagment) to those that regulary check out Object of the week or this blog for example, yet don’t actively participate in the ‘community’ through ways such as commenting etc.

  • Seb Chan

    @chris – of course it is about business objectives (well, organisational mission actually). the raw quantities don’t make a lot of sense outside of the organisation which is why I focus on proportions.

    the type of engagement we want varies by content type. not all blogs or even all blog posts on a certain blog are necessarily about soliciting comments. those objectives are the domain of individual institutions, programs and media.

    incorporation into a core digital strategy is essential and i think that getting to the heart of these sort of figures is key to understanding the appropriate ‘potential’ of an organisation.

    having looked at a *lot* of different museums analytics in quite a lot of depth, and knowing the capacity of museums to support ongoing content creation, I can say that most museums are doing well if they are getting a good proportion of people back to their websites more than once a month.

    I’d argue that 2 in 100 looking at your content ten or more times a quarter is a lot if you are in Sydney – especially if they are ‘out of sector’. You may want to get closer to 5 in 100 if you are in a bigger metropolis like London or New York. it is important to remember that on the whole, good museum websites are getting around 10 times the visitation that their buildings get each year.

    knowing that, you can then start building better targeted content and, hopefully deeper relationships with your visitors.

  • Seb Chan

    @hugh – the segments are not necessarily right for every museum – it depends a lot on the nature of their website. but i’m putting them out there to see how others feel about them.

    i published a paper around metrics and museums back in 2008 over at Archimuse.

  • Seb Chan

    Bilkis at the Museum of London has published some similar work investigating the impact of social media on the Museum of London website.

    http://mymuseumoflondon.org.uk/blogs/blog/museum-of-london-and-social-software-the-conclusion-of-effectiveness-social-software-on-museum/

    As she writes;

    However, as Newson argued, museums can only see benefits of using social software if they change their perception of social software to properly manage and take advantage of current knowledge and trends. “In other words, the value these tools offer depends on regular contributions, networked thinking and good levels of participation” rather than the actual social software themselves, therefore social software will only be effective if MOL takes a lead on it and uses it appropriately.

  • I’ll check out those articles Seb – thanks.

    Are there any museum in Australia or worldwide that you think are doing a good job in the social media arena? As well as their online web presence?

    I’d also be interested in any smaller regional museums as well, not just ‘city’ museums.

  • Good stuff as always Seb. One issue that occurred to me is how we are going with metrics to understand the cross over between the website repeat visitor, and the real visitor ( and repeat visitor). We do know that thanks to Google Analytics etc we know far more about web site use than real site use, but there is some interesting movement on the latter using mobile phone tracking technology. I seem to remember that you have blogged about this before, but cannot locate it in your archives.