Web analytics clinics — learning more about what you needed to learn

Connecting with a community of digital analysts

Interest in applying web analytics to get a better understanding of how users interact with your website is growing. In June this year, I ran a series of web analytics clinics to get a better understanding of what the challenges are for government agencies. I wanted to know what sorts of information they wanted to collect, and I wanted to learn more about the barriers they faced. People from a wide range of agencies attended — 19 agencies in total.

Wow was that an enlightening experience for me. If you were one of the attendees, then I owe you a huge “thanks”. Some of you were just starting out, others were tackling really tricky “analytics” questions. Everyone wanted to make their sites and services better for their users and customers. This came through just from the energy and enthusiasm people in each clinic had.

What the clinics got me thinking about…

Here’s some of the things I learned from running the sessions.

  • For most people this isn’t their full-time job. We need to find ways to help make reporting easier, faster. Giving people access to more information and expertise will help this.
  • The level of skill and experience people in agencies have varies. We need to support agencies in different ways and at different levels. Building their capability means reusing the pockets of expertise where it already exists.
  • A lot of agencies have the same kinds of questions and challenges. The need for dashboards was a common theme as was basic account management. That means we have an opportunity to share and learn off each other. We can leverage resources like this blog, and tools like screencasts too. Stay tuned, I’ve got some things already in the pipeline for this…
  • Some agencies are already at the limit of what their (free) tools can do. Other agencies are only doing the basics. There’s an opportunity for government to take a strategic view of web analytics. Perhaps we could take an all of government approach and leverage some of the enterprise level tools that are available. To maximise the benefits though, agencies will need to explore ways to share the costs to make it more affordable. It’s not just about the tools though. Many of the people I spoke to recently agreed they’d also need support from expert resources, either for a few hours a month, or in blocks throughout the year. Many agencies said they couldn't really justify a full-time resource, so we need to get creative about how we share a pool of resources across government.

Meeting the growing demand for better analytics

Is your manager asking you for more data about your website? That’s fantastic. Are they asking about pageviews, or something that brings out more insights about your customer experience? Getting actionable data relies on two things. First we have to collect the right data, and second, we need to be able to access that data easily and consistently.

For many sites, there are usually gaps, or something broken that would stop the site collecting the additional data the agency needed. The most common issue was not having event tracking installed. This measures interactions like how many users downloaded something from your site, or how many times links to other websites from your site are clicked. This data isn’t personal data about individuals and doesn't track users in a way that makes them identifiable. What it does show is patterns of behaviour across groups of users.

I wonder if shared expertise could be made available to agencies, a bit like a flying squad, to work with site owners and agency managers for short periods of time. The "squad" could review how sites are set up and help them get any technical changes done. Do you think this would be useful for your agency?

There are government sites where the traffic is high and the free Google Analytics tool  doesn’t give them access to all the data they’ve collected.

Do we need to invest in enterprise tools? I think we probably do.

How would we fund this?

You mean this isn’t your full time job?

I’m an information architect; I spend a lot of time looking at the data DIA collects. I also get involved with a range of other activities. Given a chance, I could spend *all* my time exploring the data-identifying opportunities to improve our services.

Based on what I've been hearing, many of the people attending the clinics are in the same situation. They agreed analytics wasn’t a full-time job, but they spent a lot time creating reports. It was common for people to say it takes them up to 20 hours per week to get all their reporting done.

It turns out many of these reports are also basic:

  • “We’ve had [x] pageviews this month”
  • “These are our most commonly downloaded PDFs”
  • “Our site bounce rate is now 35.5%”.

Are these sorts of figures useful? Well yes, but only up to a point.

What I found encouraging was that analysts had already recognised the demand for more relevant information and wanted to make their reports better. Digital teams wanted to provide better information to their managers so they could make more informed decisions about where to focus effort and resources to improve services, but didn’t know how to go about it.

In a recent blog post we talked about the dashboards we’ve created for the ‘Common Web Analytics Reporting’ proof of concept. Here are 2 of the possible actions the proof of concept identified:

  • What if we were to work with agencies and help them setup the dashboards they need? They wouldn't need to do any development themselves.
  • What if the dashboards were hosted and supported centrally, and the process was automated as much as possible? Could this free up time? Agency analysts could focus on interpreting their data. They wouldn't need to spend time collating basic data and reports with less value.

How much time do you spend creating reports?

Creating a community support group

One of the themes that emerged in the clinics was the need for ongoing support. More than once someone said, “These sorts of sessions are great, it’s so good to know you’re not alone dealing with this”. We have a thriving government web community sharing information-using tools like:

  • this blog
  • the GWC Yammer group
  • lunchtime briefings
  • agency meetings.

But is this enough?

I think we could do some “meet-up” sessions and get people in agencies talking about the work they’re doing. They could share the things they’ve learned and the changes their site owners have been able to do as a response.

If this is something that appeals to you, leave a comment below, or email me and we can start something.

I’ll need help from others to do this.

Access to training materials and resources

For me the clinic sessions were an invaluable research tool.  I've looked through the notes taken during the sessions. These were the common sorts of themes and topics that we covered:

  • Dashboards (everyone wants dashboards!) and custom reports
  • How to better use analytics to understand content effectiveness
  • How to get keywords — what are users searching for when they find content?
  • How to setup and use event tracking
  • Demographics reports — can (and should) agencies use them?
  • Goals – when to use them and when not to
  • Basic account management — different ways of setting up profiles and views — what are the pros and cons?
  • How to connect Google Webmaster Tools (now called Google Search Console)?
  • Filters and segments — best ways to slice 'n' dice data to make it more meaningful
  • Measuring the need, and impact of mobile devices. How could agencies create the case for implementing responsive web design techniques?

That’s some list of things!

I asked people if they’d looked for training resources elsewhere. There's a big gap in the information that’s targeted at commercial websites, and the technical guides that don’t explain things in a simple way. So, we’re going to put together some screencasts and share small snippets of information. Using screen recording software I can also demonstrate how to do various things in the Google Analytics tool. I’m writing the list of possible topics to cover now.

If there’s something specific you’d like to see covered get in touch.

And apologies in advance, I’ll try and keep my Aussie accent to a minimum.

What next?

The Digital Engagement Team is working closely with Result 10 looking at how we can give analytics the right focus and attention over the coming months.

Access to high quality web analytics is vital if we’re going to measure the impact of programmes like web consolidation and federated service delivery. We’re starting to look at the different funding and operating models we could use — but we don’t have all the answers yet.

We don't have to wait for all the answers. Right now I think we can:

  • take steps to ensure we’re tracking the right data in the right way — get in touch if this is something you think you need help to do
  • create some training materials and resources and increase the amount of information we’re sharing with other — let me know if there’s something specific you want to see a screencast about
  • get together more often and share our experiences, questions and challenges — maybe a monthly session? If you can volunteer some time to help get these setup get in touch

What do you think?

If you’re in Wellington and working on analytics for government, come along to the lunchtime Government Web Community session on Tuesday 28 July. I’m talking in more detail about the work we’ve been doing, and I’m looking forward to meeting more of you and hearing your thoughts on what support you need.

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