Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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“Let’s make more crowns”, or, the danger of not looking closely at your web metrics

January 9th, 2010 by Seb Chan

Happy new year everyone.

I’ve got a bit of a backlog of posts but there is an ulterior motive for getting this out the door – and, well, it has been more than 18 months since I should have written about this.

Make-a-king's-crown---Play-at-Powerhouse screenshot

Over on our children’s website – Play at Powerhouse – we have a lot of content for children and parents to do at home either before or after they visit the Museum.

The website was launched in April 2007 as a way of segmenting off the ‘family’ audience from our main website and improving the user experience for that important group. Prior to its establishment, parents who just wanted to know what was on for their kids would have to navigate through exhibitions and events to figure out what was appropriate.

When the site was designed the main navigation was split into two halves – two very simple sections covering the practicalities of a museum visit, and two section for online and at home play.

And so in setting targets for the site we kept in mind that ideally we’d have a pool of casual visitors who we’d best serve by providing quick information that better helped them plan their visit to the museum; and a second group who we’d hope to build as ‘regular’ users of the site for craft activities, and to a far lesser extent, a few online games.

(Digressing briefly, we decided not to focus much on making ‘interactive games’ because there were already many established websites – in Australia the work of the national broadcaster the ABC especially – doing that as their main online focus and, frankly, far better than we could ever expect to do both in terms of design and also promotion).

The ‘craft’ section – Make & Do – was seen as a valuable resource that aligned with the Powerhouse’s reputation as a museum of ‘making things’ in a very crowded children’s web space. Importantly, too, we felt that it was good to support parents in giving them activities from the web that purposely meant doing things with paper and scissors, or out in the garden, anywhere away from a screen.

Over the past nearly three years the site has grown (and is on the schedule for a major UI overhaul!). It attracts a significant amount of traffic – peaking around school holidays as would be expected – and the craft activities, especially, are well linked by sites all over the world.

Internally the site has become integrated with the children’s programming as a whole to such an extent that the site’s Online Producer, Kate Lamerton, is moving over to join the unit responsible for general museum children’s programming. (In many ways this decentralising of content production is a sign of the maturity of the online product).

But that’s not the whole story.

As the site has developed we’ve tried to make user-led choices in the development of new content in the craft area. If the web is good at one thing it is data gathering. Very early on it the thinking of the site we felt that it was important to monitor what was popular and then use that as a means of thinking about what other content should be developed for the site.

Just to give you an idea of the resource burden of content generation – a single craft activity might take two to three full time weeks for Kate to conceptualise, prototype, and then create and instruction set for, photograph and upload. Some take considerably more, others, less.

So obviously we’d want to be choosing those craft activities wisely.

Now not every exhibition at the Powerhouse has obvious choices for craft activities for children, so Kate spends a fair bit of time thinking about ‘events’ to tie activities in with – obvious things like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day [1, 2].

And, because we care about web metrics, we are looking at what is popular and thinking about what I called ‘riffing’ on those – generally making ‘complementary’ thematic content.

But web metrics is a little more complex than that as I’ve said many times here (and in my workshops).

Here’s some data from the last two years.

Let’s first take a look at popular sections by page views for all visitors:

Content type % page views
Make & do (craft) 34.63%
What’s on (events & exhibitions) 24.16%
Play & interact (online games) 15.02%
Visiting (basic visiting information) 6.85%
Home page 15.85%

The first impression here is that the site is doing very much as planned.

The craft activities are generating the bulk of content views whilst the what’s on shows that site visitors are also more likely to be predisposed to visiting the physical museum. As expected with search driving most traffic on the web, the home page is less important as a single entity than each of the larger categories.

Let’s drilldown into Make & Do and see what is popular in there – the top ten by page views for all visitors.

Content type % page views
Craft index 24.63%
King’s crown 15.95%
Outback farm 6.02%
Easter index 3.72%
Knight helmet 3.34%
Princess hat 3.12%
Queen’s crown 3.07%
Masks for the ball 2.53%
Wizard’s hat 2.30%
Witch’s hat 2.14%

Here’s where things get interesting and where the initial thinking became skewed.

The clear leader – by far the most popular bit of craft – is the instructions and templates for making a King’s Crown. And appropriately we went along and made a fair amount of other types of ‘headwear’ – all of which have been popular too.

But are we serving our core audience? Who are these people who are coming to download the instructions for making a King’s Crown?

Let’s re-do those data tables again but this time let’s only look at traffic from Australia and then Sydney.

Content type % page views (all) % page views (Australia) % page views (Sydney)
Make & do (craft) 34.63% 21.06% 15.86%
What’s on (events & exhibitions) 24.16% 30.83% 33.85%
Play & interact (online games) 15.02% 16.12% 16.20%
Visiting (basic visiting information) 6.85% 8.64% 9.38%
Home page 15.85% 19.46% 20.58%

A different story starts to emerge.

Those craft activities are viewed by a far smaller proportion of site visitors the closer we get to our Sydney-based visitors. In fact, for Sydney-based visitors craft activities are even less popular than the online games on a percentage of total page views basis. Not surprisingly, though, by being located in Sydney and thus able to physically visit the Museum, the What’s On section increases in popularity.

Here’s those top ten craft activities again.

Content type % page views (all) % page views (Australia) % page views (Sydney)
Craft index 24.63% 35.29% 41.49%
King’s crown 15.95% 3.31% 1.90%
Outback farm 6.02% 3.97% 4.48%
Easter index 3.72% 7.01% 4.47%
Knight helmet 3.34% n/a n/a
Princess hat 3.12% n/a n/a
Queen’s crown 3.07% n/a n/a
Masks for the ball 2.53% 2.68% 1.96%
Wizard’s hat 2.30% n/a n/a
Witch’s hat 2.14% n/a n/a
Science index n/a 2.83% 3.16%
Easter baskets n/a 2.58% n/a
Speace helmet n/a 2.49% n/a
Mascot colouring in n/a 2.18% 2.68%
Healthy living n/a 2.02% 2.56%
Space index n/a n/a 2.19%

Now this is where it gets really interesting and where the team realised the importance of geographic segmentation. That headwear – the crowns and helmets and hats – wasn’t popular amongst local audiences. In fact, the more local we go the less popular it gets!

So much for putting resources into designing and making instructions for them!

Where was all this traffic for the King’s Crown coming from then?

Here’s the answer.

Country % visits
USA 53.96%
UK 14.27%
Australia 9.14%
Canada 5.42%
Mexico 1.34%

I’m glad our King’s Crown has been popular with Americans – in fact, predominantly Californians and Texans – but without the geographic segmentation being picked up early on in the life of the website we could have continued down that path oblivious to the irrelevance of that content to our local audiences (and the taxpayers who fund the museum).

Have you checked your popular content recently?
Is it really reaching the site visitors you are intending it to?

(Incidentally, if you are intending to attend Museums & the Web 2010 in Denver and wish to do my Web Metrics workshop then book quickly as it is almost full!)

Tags: 5 Comments

  • Todd Baker

    Great story..

    I bet the referrers on the kings crown page tell even more of the story.

  • Thanks, Seb. This speaks to the interesting and occasionally uncomfortable political question of prioritizing audiences. You make the implicit point here that local audiences are more important than foreign ones when it comes to resource allocation. I believe it, but am also curious if that comes directly from mission/mandate or is more of a staff decision.

    And what’s the Easter Index? I want to know more about the craft activity that is most popular with Australians!

  • Seb Chan

    @nina, the Easter Index is a page that links to a range of different Easter activities. Like the Mothers and Fathers Day pages it is only linked up when it is seasonally appropriate.

    Local audiences, because of our funding source (roughly 70-75% State Government), are a clearly organisational priority. With a website like Play at Powerhouse we take this further because of the objectives of the site itself – which were broadly to provide pre and post-visit content for parents and children.

    That’s not to say we actively excluding, for example, the Texan monarchists who like to make crowns – but we certainly aren’t going to be dedicating resources to specifically making new content for them.

    As @todd says, I could have also segmented this data by referrer or traffic source. If I had done so the chart I’d have would show a clear differentiation between site visitors who were coming specifically for certain craft activities (for example, those who are Googling for ‘how to make a crown’) versus those who are brand searching ‘powerhouse museum’ and continue on to find the craft activities.

    It is this second group that is as important for us as those who find the craft activities but also live in Sydney, then our state (NSW), and then Australia as a whole.

    Also, it isn’t just about the mission.

    I’m a big proponent of the need to “put a face on your web visitors”. I’m far more likely to be able to go and meet the local site visitors face to face – and thus be better able to discover what really interests them.

    See, for example, the interview with Bob Meade [pt 1, pt 2].

  • Michael Van Tiel

    I actually find the Sydney results encouraging. I hope it is demonstrating that onsite Museum visitors are using the website as a post visit resource.

    The web address to the Space Index was heavily promoted during the Spring 2009 holiday program. The activities in the Science index are promoted during the weekend science show programs. We hope these two newish indexes will continue to grow (both local and total) in the same way as the craft index.

  • It would be interesting to know what steps you take in order to skew the traffic for the site towards an Australian audience. For one, being on a .com versus .com.ca domain already puts you at a disadvantage, but of course there are steps you can take to counteract that.