If you’re going to improve the experience of your users and customers, knowledge of what they're doing on your site is vital. Tools like Google Analytics can provide insights, but you need to know how to get the data and you need time to understand the story behind the data.
I’ve been an ad hoc user of Google Analytics for a while now, and usually when I create reports for site managers and content owners, the report typically focuses on ‘pageviews’ or ‘number of visits’ to the site. These measures are useful — but only to a point. They show trends, but looking at pageviews and visits alone doesn’t dig deep enough. It doesn't reveal what users are doing on our websites.
Finding out how agencies manage web analytics reporting
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been working with Nathan Wall in the Digital Engagement team at the Department of Internal Affairs. We’ve talked to a range of agencies about how they manage their web analytics reporting, and what their information needs are. The issues and challenges faced by agencies are really common:
- There’s a knowledge and skills gap. Many of the people who are setting up analytics reporting, or running reports and interpreting the data, aren’t always sure they’re doing the right thing.
- There’s growing demand for easier to understand ‘dashboard reports’. Some agencies can already see a growing demand from users to make some analytics data available publicly.
- Time is tight. Agencies have told us even routine reporting takes time and the amount of data they have to deal with can be overwhelming.
So we've been looking at how we can help increase knowledge and skills. We want to create easy-to-understand automated dashboards to improve knowledge about what website users are doing.
Need to increase web analytics reporting knowledge and skills
To find out more about people’s experience with Google Analytics and to pass on some of our knowledge, we have been running some web analytics clinics. These clinics have proven to us that the skills gap is wide in government and that there is huge demand for more knowledge. There is a definite demand for more clinics and online training. There's also a keen interest in a web analytics community of practice, or some such forum, where interested parties can get together to discuss their lessons and frustrations. A future blog post will share in more detail what we have learned in this space.
Need for easy-to-understand dashboard reporting
We’ve been playing with dashboard reporting and thinking about:
- The level of reporting. The reporting needs to be useful to agencies so that they can improve the customer experience.
- A common approach to web analytics reporting. Is there a consistent way of reporting? Can we re-use and share code? Can the approach be used across government?
- Making it easy. Automating dashboard production and where the dashboards could be hosted.
We've talked to our government colleagues overseas to find out what they are doing in this space. The US Government analytics dashboards and the UK Government analytics dashboards are moving towards publishing web analytics data and making it publicly available. Closer to home, the Digital Transformation Office in Australia is also building some dashboards — which we’re told should go live soon.
Here in New Zealand, we’re experimenting with something a little different to improve the user experience. Instead of aggregating data from across the government domain, or focusing specifically on online transactions, we want to tell a story about user engagement and about specific user journeys through content. We know that this information can help content owners review their sites and measure user experience improvements over time.
To test our ideas we've built several dashboards using the Common Web Platform, reusing code and pulling data in from the free Google Analytics tool. We've shown that there is a consistent way to report across many government websites and automate the process.
The response we’ve had so far from site owners and our digital colleagues has been energising. The demand for better analytics reports, dashboards and support for agencies is already high. We’d love to know what you think about the concept. Would a more common approach to web analytics reporting help you in your role? How would you like to see an all-of-government service like this work? You can comment below or email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next steps are to think about how we can map user journeys across government websites and where we could host the data. We’ll share what we have learned in a future blog post — watch this space.