In this post, the second in a series, we discuss some of the most useful numbers that can be gleaned from Google Analytics and Jetpack (see Part I here). Use these statistics to to determine how people are using your Commons site, make it more user friendly, and encourage folks to interact with your site in ways that facilitate your site’s purpose.
Most important stats to track
Every time someone access your website it is called a “hit” or a “view.” If I navigate to the Commons homepage, analytics tools register one hit.
Hits are the most basic statistic to track–it’s also often the most personally gratifying. If you’re trying to drive traffic to your website, you want to be measuring how many hits you receive each week or each month. If the number of hits are increasing, than you know people are increasingly engaging with your content by at least accessing it. Returning to an example above, if you deliver a conference paper, you may see a rise in hits in the days or weeks afterward. As social media fellows we track hits as one measure of the size of the community using our sites (more hits suggests a larger community).
We may also use the statistic to measure the success of promotional efforts. So if we’ve recently tweeted about information available on one of our sites, we would hope to see an increase in hits, indicating that we successfully drove traffic to our site.
Tracking data overtime can help to recognize trends. For example, a quick look at the analytics for the main GC homepage shows that in the weeks before admissions deadlines the website receives significantly more hits than other weeks. We can assume this is a result of people who are considering applying to the GC. The same is usually true before each semester begins as students prepare for classes.
A personal website may usually only get one or two hits a day. But an organization may receive many more. It’s likely that the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, housed here on the Commons, receives most of its hits just after a new issue is released. Counting the number of hits in the month after each issue would given an indication of the increase or decrease of the audience, too or of the popularity of a particular subject.
Hits can often be used to track the popularity of particular pages. While the GC homepage may receive an increased number of hits prior to admissions deadlines, to confirm that this is a result of possible applicants, I might check to see if the number hits on the Admissions page in particular increased.
This statistic is related to hits and can look useful, but it is much less concrete and you should probably ignore it. The analytic tool you use attempts to determine how many of the hits were a single person accessing a page or site, usually by using the IP information from the computer in use. However, there are many reasons why this may not be accurate. For example, your Internet Service Provide likely changes your IP address from time to time, so a user who has to regularly access your site might be counted as multiple users over a period of months or years. Public computers also will often appear as single user. This matters for sites such as a program’s Commons site because many users may be using a library computer.
Jetpack and Google Analytics will list the pages with the most hits, suggesting the content on those pages are the most popular. It’s unsurprising that at the beginning of each semester, most program sites see the most hits on the page with the course descriptions and locations. But JITP might use these statistics to identify particularly popular content or authors, suggesting to administrators and editors that perhaps more content about that subject or by that author would be of interest to visitors.
Time on Page/Session Duration
These two statistics are some of the more nitt-gritty statistics that can help determine how useful your content is. Time On Page (Google Analytics) attempts to measure how long someone spends on a particular page of your site. Session Duration attempts to measure how long someone spends browsing your whole site (across multiple pages). Both of these measurements are fuzzy, though, and you need to take them with a grain of salt.
These measurements can be slightly inaccurate because Google doesn’t have a stopwatch ticking away as you read a page. Instead it registers the time you access a page and then the time you access another page on the site. So if you spend five minutes on the homepage and then leave, that information is lost. If you spend time on the homepage and then click on an article, then Google can calculate how much time you spent on the homepage. If after reading that article you leave the site, Google doesn’t know how long you spent on that article. As a result, Session Duration will always be less than the time people actually spend on your site, there is always time that cannot be measured. Google also doesn’t know that you’re actually reading the information on a site that you’ve accessed. So if you open a website and then get up to do something else, come back and then start clicking around, the time spent on the page or site will not reflect the actual time you spent reading.
Still, you can often make use of this information based on the content of your site.
If you have a basic profile, perhaps just your CV, you wouldn’t expect people to spend much time on your site. It could appear as only a matter of seconds. But if you host a journal or blog, you would expect people to dwell longer, suggesting they actually took the time to read the article. Because these statistics are averages, the times will always look shorter than probably seem reasonable. For every person who reads an article there are more who decided it wasn’t what they wanted, skimmed it, or simply reached it by accident. What’s important is to pay attention to the times in relation to each other and depending on the content.
This can be an incredibly useful tool to determine how user-friendly your website is. Most of the time when you’re working on your Commons site, you’re using a desktop computer or a laptop. But it may turn out that most of the people who are actually looking at your site are using their phones. If that’s the case, you may want to make sure that your site is mobile-friendly. You can use a Chrome browser to inspect your site and see how it appears on various devices or you can use your own phone. Some themes work better with mobile devices than others and there are various plugins which you can use to improve the mobile-adaptivity of your device (one is Jetpack!).