Category Archives: Measurement

Web analytics texts – free to good shelf

Two people in Google Analytics training session, reviewing reports by Viget LabsEarlier this year I was bitten by a web analytics bug. I wanted to learn all I could about how website stats could help me understand what visitors were doing on the websites I was working on.

The basic reasoning is thus: learn about how people are using a website then give them more of what they want. Reviewing analytics can also help to identify problem areas, which can then be addressed. Clues are available to show how effective marketing is, whether the website is showing up in search results, and ultimately whether it’s worth the effort being put in.

Fired up, I embarked on a stack of learning. Much was practical as I delved into the stats available from the Google Analytics package. Extra input came in the form of volunteers Michael and Pandu through a project I submitted to the Analysis Exchange. I almost completed an online course offered by Market Motive. And I read a lot. There is so much freely available on blogs it’s possible to drown in analytics.

Frustrated at the unstructured way my learning was going and worried I might miss something important, I bought some texts on web analytics. I wanted some experts to share tricks of the trade.

Now, much as I think this area of measurement, analysis and reporting is important, I’m not going to dig any deeper. A primary consideration is I’m less interested manipulating figures. This requires a fair amount of time staring at numbers/ graphs on a computer screen.

So, I’m giving away the three texts I bought.

The books are:

Google Analytics by Justin Cutroni (O’Reilly, 2010, 201 pages) [Taken]

Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics by Brian Clifton (Sybex, 2010, 501 pages) [Taken]

Web analytics 2.0: the art of online accountability & science of customer centricity, by Avinash Kaushik (Sybex, 2010, 475 pages) [Taken]

If you want to take one of these books off my shelf, all you need to tell me how you use analytics for your New Zealand based not-for-profit organisation. Send an email, or make a comment on this blog post. I’m limiting the give away to one per organisation. First in, first to get a book.

I’m hoping my quest to keep my bookshelf under control (and my mind uncluttered, come to think of it), will help someone out. And it means I can focus on the things I think are most important right now (which I won’t list for fear of running out of space).

Photo credit: Viget Labs

Book prize draw winners

Large white papermache mask with protruding red tounge, from festifools paradeAll that appears to be true on the Internet is not necessarily so. This is not news, but the real identities of people online can be easily hidden or real motives obscured. Sometimes this is out in the open, other times it’s done behind a guise of trickery and deception.

Look no further than coverage from earlier today of the fake identities of two bloggers. To quote the Guardian from 14 June 2011:

A second supposedly leading lesbian blogger was exposed as a man masquerading as a gay woman, a day after the Gay Girl in Damascus blog was revealed to be the fictional creation of a married male student from Edinburgh.

How do we know what is real?

I don’t have any easy answers (though knowing the person in person is a pretty sure safeguard). The example above might be far fetched but I would say this issue is relevant for not-for-profit organisations.

I’ll share a little example closer to home.

At the recent Connecting Up conferences I gave out brochures inviting people to sign-up to my email newsletter. As an incentive, I said anyone signing up by 10 June would go into the draw for one of three copies of The Networked Nonprofit book (see my book review).

Although a little underwhelmed by the 35 sign-ups, I was even more baffled by the number of people signing up who did not use an organisational address. Intrigued I searched for the unique URL ( I pointed people to and found the link listed on and gimme – a people powered guide to free stuff.

These are websites where anyone can add details of any give-away. It can be for anything: big, small, commercial, fun.

Noticing three of my new subscribers are from the same family and previously won prizes for nappies, books and movie tickets elsewhere, I have to wonder how many signed up to win the excellent book. And how many to receive my pearls of wisdom, ahem.

I will never know. But I do know that some of the recent sign-ups are probably not genuine. People added their details so they could go in the prize draw.

All this suggests that raw figures are too crude a way to record success. Having large numbers if an unknown percentage are not necessarily genuine is not terribly insightful. Better measures relate to interaction and engagement.

So, I’ve learnt my lesson: interpret raw figures with caution. Fortunately, I was not using the information collected to make a decision my business depends on.

Prize draw winners

Thanks to everyone who recently signed to my email newsletter after getting a brochure recently.

Winners of the 3 copies of The Networked Nonprofit book are:

Photo credit:

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.

Photo credit:

Diving into Google Analytics with the Analysis Exchange

One of the main things the New Zealand Drug Foundation is trying to do with the DrugHelp and MethHelp websites is tailor content for the main audience we’re trying to reach.

This audience isn’t people merely interested in drugs in an academic sense, for school projects or with moral agendas. The websites are primarily for people using drugs who want to change. Reaching family members, friends, whanau and others supporting about a drug user is also very important.

If you visit the websites you’ll find the emphasis is on creating empathy and connection, rather than bald facts and figures.

Communicating with people in a convincing way takes way more than a one off effort. The website contents were informed by around 20 interviews with drug users and others. Pre-launch we ran a series of user tests, and our door is open to feedback. Early next year we’ll run a structured process to obtain feedback from people visiting the website.

So, we’ve got a a few ways of feeding into our refinement/ enhancement cycles.

The one area that remains untapped is using web analytics. We’re garnering useful information about visit numbers and frequency, length of stay, popular pages, and loads more. But we’re not yet finding out much about what particular groups of visitors are doing.

The sprawling and deep Google Analytics package offers many options but it is not immediately clear how to match what is offered to our particular needs.

As well as reading Google’s online help, Justin Cutroni’s new book (“Google Analytics: Understanding Visitor Behaviour)”, and blog posts on Occam’s Razor by analytics expert Avinash Kaushik, I participated in NTEN’s Analytics Extravanganza.

After hearing Eric T Peterson (founder of Web Analytics Demystified) simplify the analytics tangle, and show case the Analysis Exchange, I was emboldened to ask the Exchange for help.

NGOs are invited to submit web analytics challenges to the Analysis Exchange. After a vetting process, students and mentors volunteer to help.

As a result I’m now working with Michael D Healy from San Francisco as mentor and Pandu Truhandito from Jakarta as a student. Kicking off next Tuesday, Pandu will be looking into what we can learn from Google Analytics about how key audiences are using DrugHelp and MethHelp.

I’m a bit overwhelmed by the support available from the Analysis Exchange: it’s very organised with highly qualified, motivated people offering to help. Already I’m enjoying the interaction with the two team members.

When I next write about this, I’ll share some of what we’ve learned. It may not be possible to answer my challenge, but I know we’ll definitely learn a lot.


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