Monthly Archives: April 2011

Questioning visitors – why are you here?

T-shirt with a bold, pink question mark With the unveiling this month of a new interface and features for the Google Analytics tool for measuring website traffic, the power of numbers is once brought to the forefront of the web analytics world.

There is something seductive about being able to try to understand what visitors to your website are doing just by looking at the stats. I’m not the first to realize this does not give the full picture.

For Avinash Kuashik, author of Web Analytics 2.0, blogger at Occam’s Razor and much more, actively listening to your customer is an imperative: “This way, you stay of top of their expectations, and you also gain the key context you need, the why, for making sense of your what, which is your clickstream data.”

In Web Analytics 2.0 Kuashik lists half a dozen methods for doing this. Some are on the emerging side, such as rapid usability testing (eg, virtual heatmaps and online cardsorting, whereas others are just plain expensive, particularly lab based user testing.

When it came to devising an approach to hear from visitors for one of the websites I’m working we’ve elected to look at another of the approaches described by Kaushik: online surveys.

In my quest to find the best tool to reach users, I’ve set aside one of the ways of prompting visitors for comments which are common now days. You’ll notice “Feedback” or “Comment” badges hovering on the margins of the page on many websites. However, these are easy to miss and passive as no explicit request to participate is made of the visitor. They’re really only good for highly motivated visitors.

More active approaches rely on those dreaded pop-up surveys. There seems to be no way around it if you actually want to directly ask people for feedback, rather than rely on a discrete feedback badge. I reckon if you’re going to use pop-ups it’s best feedback is collected in a way that minimises any pain for visitors.

Giving visitors the maximum amount of control over their web experience is critical. The key with pop-up surveys is offering people a clear choice of whether they participate, and exactly when (now, later or never). I also think it’s important to be able to link to privacy policies, and to display contact information of the organisation running the survey. As the survey appears magically, from thin air, people need to know the survey is legit.

When looking at whole range of the tools on offer I found they are not all equal. There are those that offer the world works, including a full survey solution and customized support, but as they don’t list prices I figure are in the high price category. These don’t meet the DIY and affordability criteria I’m currently working within.

Another option I’m not pursuing is building a collector from scratch as this is time consuming and development hours would likely add up. A user-friendly interface to manage feedback would take extra effort. For those this with in-house development skills and not requiring a polished interface to review and sort results, this is definitely an option.

Of the commercial options I’ve looked at there are some which are DIY and affordable. Typically you pay on a monthly basis, and can cancel without giving notice. The code for the pop-up needs to be embedded on all the pages you want it to appear, so some technical input is required. All the options described below have a dashboard of some sort for viewing responses.

The big online survey companies and wannabes are now offering the option of running pop-up surveys as a part of their standard packages. You can run a multi-question survey, using a full range of question types, using both SurveyMonkey and FluidSurveys. As these are add-ons to already comprehensive online survey tools, the appearance of the pop-up windows is simpler and less customizable than those offered by specialist pop-up providers. To get full control of pop-ups with FluidSurveys means you have to sign-up to the US$59 per month plan (which lets you also run an unlimited number of other surveys).

Kampyle and SimpleFeedback offer survey tools that give visitors a choice of categories for their feedback. To seek feedback or questions about products, technical support and general, each could be displayed on a tab, with a further subset of questions available on each tab. You can not run standard questionnaires. Kampyle offer a 50% discount off the monthly plan fees for not-for-profits, and have plugins for both Drupal and WordPress to simplify the implementation process.

I’ve been using SimpleFeedback on my blog and it’s definitely easy to use and implement (via a WordPress plugin). It’s cheap too – with prices staring at US$9 per month for 20 items of feedback.

The 4Q online survey tool offered by iPercpeptions also restricts the questions that can be asked. The underpinning logic for the questionnaire design is based on Kaushik’s experience – ask the three greatest questions ever!! These are: what is the purpose of your visit, were you able to complete your task, and if not, why not? At this stage you can’t customise the design of the pop-up window or add additional questions – perhaps a drawback of using a free tool. An expanded range of options is coming soon as part of a new 4Q suite being offered at relatively low prices.

Having looked in depth at all these tools, I’d have to say none are perfect. By that I mean, they are not a good match for my particular needs. They may well suit other situations and audiences.

This seems to be the key to it: determining exactly type of feedback is needed, the extras you need (eg displaying visual identity) then weighing up the options. Once again I turn to Kaushik, who shares some good tips when considering the best way to run a survey (see “Eight Tips For Choosing An Online Survey Provider”)

I suspect that you need a fair few visitors to generate feedback in any appreciable quantity. I haven’t seen anything about a rule of thumb, but I suspect the ratio of all visitors to those that give feedback is quite high.

Of course, the whole point of doing this is getting qualitative feedback rather than generating statistically significant amounts of feedback. Insight gained from visitors is about tuning yourself into the most important areas for improvement on your website. What incremental tweaks and additions can I make to the website to improve the visitor experience? The feedback can also be used as a new jumping off point for fresh analysis of the statistics. Which in turn leads to more questions and a need for refined testing.

So far I’ve just been setting things up and have yet to generate feedback, but I’m looking forward to seeing what people say.

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A good time for a webinar

Just as I was about to sign-up for an hour long session on the new Google web analytics package, it struck me that I couldn’t make it.

The presentation by Avinash Kaushik, a Google Analytics evangelist and trainer at Market Motive, will cover new features of the web statistics tool. He reckons the new customizable dashboards, changes to naming conventions, new ways to report and more, will mean “this tool is even more powerful and flexible”.

As the webinar is being run at 9am Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) I’m going to miss out – I’m not willing to make the sacrifice to get up at 4am on Thursday 21 April.

It’s not the first time I’ve missed a session that I thought would be really informative. Most of the webinars I’ve heard about are run in USA, or Europe.

I actually think the way of delivering presentations and informal training over the web makes a lot of sense in New Zealand. As people working in the same field are widely dispersed by geography and because of the relative high cost of travel not everybody who could benefit from face-to-face sessions can actually attend them.

The online webinar format is somewhat of a halfway house. People can access live content and participate without having to leave their desk. It’s not fully-fledged online learning, which is possible, but short interactive sessions on detailed topics. Short and to the point. It’s not as good as being their in person, but does enable knowledge transfer.

Of course, you can often watch or listen to recordings of presentations. But these lack the edginess of live events, and of course there’s no chance of joining in, or asking questions.

For anyone involved in using the web to engage their community, I’m planning to run webinars later in the year. Topics tumble off my lips: choosing and using CMSs, accessible design, content strategy, usability techniques, and more.

As well as deciding on content and speakers, I have to select a platform to run the webinar. Rather than opting for the big corporate ones, such as Webex or GoToMeeting, I’ll probably use ReadyTalk. It has all the necessary features, is easy to use and as a NTEN member I can use it for a very attractive price.

I’ll also be doing Andy Goodman’s “Webinar on webinars”, which promises to teach in one hour how to run a successful webinar. That’s if it’s not being run at some crazy hour.

What I don’t know just yet is the level of demand for learning about specialist topics around use of the web from community organisations in Aotearoa New Zealand. If you’re interested, leave a comment. Or fill in my uber short poll on the right or link here: what is a good time for you to join in a webinar?

Offering webinars at a convenient time might help people to see the potential of this way of learning and sharing. Perhaps I can even get someone like Avinash to get up early to share with people working in community groups in our time zone.

PS Sign-up to my newsletter to be notified of details of my first webinar.