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?