Tag Archives: web-analytics

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 fivesecondtest.com), 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: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kaysha/

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.

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.


My web analytics links on Delicious

My upcoming workshop on quality websites

Not all the resources I’ll be taking along to share at the workshop I’m leading at the Engage your community conference on Friday 13 November are actually finished.

My copy of a “Website owner’s manual: the secret to successful websites” by Paul Boag is available online as an unedited draft. It comes as an e-book from Manning Publications who specialise in a book publication process which engages a book’s audience in the creation process.

Through the early access program new chapters are made available as they are being written. I can interact with the author to ask questions and provide feedback which will actually feed into the final manuscript. Once finished I will receive the completed book in electronic format (with hardcopy also available). Somewhat ignominiously I printed out the 280 page ebook (on OfficeMax 100% post consumer recycled) as I was struggling to read it on screen.

Many of the topics I’m covering in my workshop are touched on the book by Boag, an experienced web designer, consultant and podcaster. Those that are particularly pertinent include: defining roles, setting objectives, planning and measuring, commissioning websites, working with designers and accessibility.

Rather than trying to teach people how to actually design a website, my workshop is for managers, coordinators and others with responsibility. We’ll take a helicopter view of the whole shebang then focus on a few critical areas in more depth. I’ll also be sharing a simple self-guided health check so participants can assess and improve their  website’s performance.

At the main EYC event conference there’s a presentation on “Putting your users first – ways to improve your website”, which looks to be a great overview of usability. Presenter Natasha Lambard is a founder of the Webstock conferences and was Head of User Experience at Trade Me, so she has lots insights into how you let ‘users’ needs drive development of your website.

I admit I’m biased as I’ve been involved on the organising team, but she’s just one of many top notch presenters on day one. Fundraising, community building, Second Life and communications strategies are some of the other topics being covered.

I look forward to sharing a few battered copies of some of the resources I have if you come to my workshop, along with enthusiasm for high quality websites. See you there.

In big letters: Places are still available to both the full-day EYC conference on Thursday 12 November (register here), and six half day workshops offered on Friday 13 November. The event is being in Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.