It is important to realise that to deliver more effective websites we need to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach not only when designing sites but also when evaluating and measuring their success. We know that some online projects are specifically intended to target specialist audiences – a site telling the histories of recent migrants might require translation tools, and a site aimed at teenagers might, by design, specifically discourage older and younger audiences in order to better attract teenage usage.
Remembering, too, that some key museum audiences (regional, remote, socially disadvantaged) may have no online representation in online visit figures, and others may have limited and sporadic online interactions, because of unequal internet access, it is important to look at the overall picture of museum service delivery. Some audiences cannot be effectively engaged online. Others still may only feel confident engaging in online conversations about the museum using non-museum services – as I’ve written before – on their own blogs, websites, and social media sites.
If we acknowledge ‘threshold fear’ in our physical institutions, then we need to realise this applies online as well. The difference being that in the online world there are many many more less ‘fearful’ options to which potential visitors and users can easily flee. The ‘back’ button is just a click away.
The measure of the ‘value’ of visitors therefore need to differ across parts of the same website. We may need to form different measures for a user in the ‘visiting the museum’ part of the website to the ‘tell us your story’ section, even though in one visit they might explore both areas. Likewise, a museum visitor who blogs about their positive experience of a real world visit on their own family blog might be considered. Or a regionally-oriented microsite that gets discussed on a specialist forum might be more valuable – to that particular project – than a posting on a more diffused national discussion list.
Visit-oriented parts of the the website should be designed and created with known target audiences in mind, understanding that not everyone can visit the museum, and their success measured accordingly. It might be sensible to attempt to address ‘threshold fear’ by using images of the museum that are more people-oriented rather than object-oriented in order to promote the notion that the museum is explicitly a place for people.
When we were building our children’s website we specifically decided against creating a resource for ‘all’ children – that would have resulted in a too generic site – and targeted the pre- and post- visit needs of a known subset of visitors with children. We don’t actively exclude other visitors (other than through language choice, visual design, and bandwidth requirements), but we have actively attempted to better meet the needs of a subset of visitors. This subset will necessarily diversify over time, but we also understand that out on the internet there are plenty of other options for children.
The problem with traditional measurements are that every visitor to our online resources is homogenised into single figures – visits, time spent, pages viewed. Not only does this reduce the value of the web analytics, it does the visitor a great disservice. Instead, good analytics is about segmentation. This can be segmentation based on task completion and conversions, and understanding visit intentions.
So who is a ‘valuable’ visitor?
It depends on context.
For our children’s site we place a greater internal value on those who complete one of two main site conversions – spending a particular amount of time on the visit information areas; and second, those who browse, find, and most critically, download an offsite activity. Focussing in on these subsets of users allows us to implement evaluation and tracking. For those who complete the visit-related tasks we might offer discount coupons for visiting and track virtual to real-world conversions. What proportion of online visitors who look at visit information actually convert their online interest to a real world action? And in what time frame (today, this week, this month?). Of the second group we may conduct evaluation of downloader satisfaction – did they make they craft activity they downloaded? Was it too hard, too easy? Did they enjoy the experience?
What of the others who visit the children’s site? They are a potential audience who have shown an interest but for many reasons haven’t ‘converted’ their online visit. We can segment this group by geography and origin – drill down deeper and really begin to examine the potential for them to ever ‘convert’.
Other parts of our website – say our SoundHouse VectorLab pages – we may see as valuable users who simply use and linkback to our ‘tip of the day’ resources. Despite being primarily an advertisement for onsite courses run in the teaching labs, we do see a great value in having our ‘tip of the day’ resources widely read, the RSS feed subscribed to, and articles linked back to. However this has to be a secondary objective to actually taking online bookings for courses.
Postscript – I’d also suggest reading the 2004 Demos report ‘Capturing Cultural Value’ for some important philosophical and practical caveats.