Analyzing Effort Effectiveness
As a logical follow up to yesterdays post about how we have been communicating with our constituencies, I wanted to mention one way we are trying to track effectiveness. I recently started using Google Analytics to get a better sense of the traffic on our website. The service is free, probably because Google is already collecting the information and all you are doing is asking them to share what they collect from the pages you mark with your unique code.
I tested it out on my blog for a couple months before applying it to my web pages at work. As I noted, you have to add a short bit of code to each web page that you want it to track. Since the blog has fewer distinct pages on it, I felt it was a better use of effort to monitor the viability there. The data is much more organized and easier to read than when using programs like Awstats. Analytics also theoretically weeds out visits from search engine spiders and other automatic processes so the numbers you see are more likely to represent real people.
Sooo Much Information
The service provides some interesting information. You can see what pages people visited, how often they visited, how they got to your page (direct address, search engine, referred by another web page), how long they stayed, from where they were visiting and what search terms brought them to your site. You can also see how often someone from an IP address returned to your page and how many new visitors you had. The default setting is to show you the visits over a month’s time but you can expand that to a longer period or focus in on just one day. If you are interested, you can even learn what sort of operating systems, monitor settings, browsers and Flash versions your visitors are using. If a lot of people are using older computers, you may want to reconsider optimizing your web pages for viewing on monitors with higher resolutions. As I see from the report, there are a couple people viewing our web pages on iPhones.
I Think They Like Us!
One of the things I have discovered using Google Analytics on our work pages is that people seem to read and act on the emails we send out. The number of visitors to our web page shot up a great deal the day we sent out our last email and remained higher for a few days after. The visits to the event we profiled also increased as you might imagine, but we also saw a bump in visits to the pages for later events. We also saw an increase in ticket sales though that is a separate system from what Google tracks for us.
Who is Watching Me?
There is an option to create your own custom reports from the information provided. Despite all the information available, there are a couple weaknesses with the data you collect. With my blog I noticed that often when I visited from my home computer, my visits wouldn’t register. However, there did appear to be visits from the nearby Air Force base in the same number and duration of my visits. My theory is that because cable modems shift traffic around to nodes with less traffic, sometimes my visits registered as my neighborhood, sometimes I was apparently on an air force base. To bolster my theory, on January 12 both my blog and work website registered two hits from the Air Force base. When checked Network Location on my blog report, there were a bunch of links from the local internet server. The Network Location report on my work site shows “DoD Network Information Center.” So I am pretty sure the Air Force isn’t monitoring my blog on a daily basis. (Or at least they are doing a better job covering their tracks.)
But I Wanna Know More!
The other aspect I find lacking is that the report maker is limited. I don’t know if this is just because it is a beta feature and they haven’t enabled cross referencing for everything or because the limits help protect the anonymity of the data. What I would love to do is cross reference hits on certain pages to neighborhoods. The neighborhood data might not be entirely accurate but there would still be some value in knowing certain shows were attracting interest from certain general areas.
There are definitely entire swaths of the county that are under served and granters are interested in having us reach. Because these are people who are least likely to order in advance, it is difficult to use ticket sales records to prove an event designed to appeal to them actually did. If I was able to show there was a lot of activity on the show specific page of our website from these areas, it would lend some veracity to our claims. I am hoping this capability emerges at some point.
Even though the vast majority of the Network Locations register as large providers like Time Warner, Comcast and Verizon, there is enough specific information to give you a hint at the type of people viewing your pages. In addition to the aforementioned members of the Air Force, there are a couple hits from various universities, the city, the state department of education, health care providers and insurance companies on the theatre website.
On the whole, Google Analytics’ data is both feast and famine. You learn a lot more than you did without it, but in some cases you have no idea how the data might be pertinent to your needs and activities or you can’t process the data as presented in a manner that is meaningful. This is probably actually comforting to many of us since this means the sites we visit can’t easily figure out a lot of stuff about us either. (Though I am sure there are some smart people out there for whom this data is more than sufficient to establish identities.)
Still, if you acknowledge and accept the limitations, it can be illuminating and fun to explore. I have certainly only scraped the surface. We probably haven’t been using and playing with Analytics long enough to discover its full potential. I would really love to learn how other organizations have made the data work for them.