Internet analytics

Numbers or it didn't happen

Chris Lawson

PSAC National/CALM

Measuring success in the internet era

  • Who are you, where are you from what would you like to get out of this workshop?
  • Why a workshop on statistics?
  • Web traffic
  • Conversions
  • Other media
  • Predictive

Numbers are angels

The whole basis of the internet is a collection of four (soon to be six) numbers, each between 0 and 254, strung together. Every bit of information transmitted is packaged up neatly and consistently with a number at the start that says where it's going, and a number at the end to say where it's from. It's a number nerd's dream.

There's a way of tracking every click, every page visit, every download.

And yet so much of what we do on the internet is ruled by folklore, inertia and the HIPPO syndrome.

The Highest Paid Person's Opinion Syndrome.

And since we're more than likely not an organization of web designers or content people, our Hippo might indeed have a very odd idea of what it is people are seeking when they come to their site.

Maybe the hippo is the secretary treasurer and his opinion is that people are mostly coming to the website to hold their elected leaders to account so naturally the most prominent content should in fact be the executive meeting minutes.

Or maybe it's the silly season and the Hippo wants to make sure everyone knows what he looks like for election day.

Whatever it is, your statistics can test these opinions and if necessary, suggest a more useful course of action.

Numbers reveal some depressing truths

What's the most sought after page on the site? What are you visitors just yearning to see? Well, your editorial for the last newsletter of course. Or perhaps the poster for your latest campaign, right?

Probably not. It's probably your jobs page. Your contact page.

It's not that your members are apathetic or self-serving. It's that stats are an aggregation of people's visits. Everyone from Molly Militant to Roger Rand checks the jobs page. Everyone at some point needs to contact the union.

It won't guide your content creation process, but it can guide your maintenance efforts. And if you think laterally, it can afford you some opportunities. Put a job ad for a volunteer to work on your campaign amid your job postings, for example.

They only tell you what people are doing

They don't tell you what they're not finding.

They don't score you on what's not there.

They don't tell you - necessarily - what people are looking for.

Web traffic

A lot of what I'm going to be showing you today revolves around the use of Google Analytics. Google Analytics is a web-based application that allows you to track every visit to your website.

It's free, simple to install, and mind blowingly powerful. It shows you page views, visits, unique visits, referals, search terms and a bajillion other things.

While it mostly tracks historical data, it does now also track data in real time, althought there's some controversy around the accuracy of its method.

Why is Google doing this? The tin foil hat people claim they're mining your data for clues to sell more ads to your visitors.

The company itself claims they offer this tool for free to help web site owners improve their sites and thus make the internet more useful, which in turn will boost Google's ad revenues.

The fact that it's in such widespread use allows us to speak a common language when we're comparing sites.

There are other analytics tools. See the "For further reading slide".

The button on the front page

The button on the front page

One of the classic arguments statistics can help solve is the "Button on the front page" one.

Maybe it's a coalition you're part of. Maybe it's a charity you support, a campaign that's got some fans in the union. They all want attention. They all want their space on the front page because, of course, like a book and its cover, everyone sees the home page, right?

In fact, no. People don't surf web sites like they read books. They might arrive on any one of the pages you have on your site. Because Google.

Take PSAC. Please. In the last 30 days our site has had 324,409 unique page views, including 82,901 to the front page. It's far and away the most commonly visited page on our site. But it's still attracts only a quarter of the site's visitors. Three in four visitors to our site never see the front page.

So the campaign people or the committee people come to you asking for their spot on the front page.

The problem is real. They're not getting enough visitors to their page. They hear anecdotally that members are not visiting their page. But they're barking up the wrong tree.

Where they should start is with the 75 per cent of traffic that isn't going to the front page. They need to examine their content, their linkscape and how they rank on Google for terms that relate to them.

Are there barriers to their content being indexed on Google? Are people on other sites linking to their content? Could they maybe do some email outreach?

Does your site's search engine suggest pages for certain queries?

Because front page real estate is not really all that precious.

Get them content. Get that content found. Drink that Koolaid

That's a lot more work than merely commissioning a button for the front page, but if it's results they're looking for, they're going to have to put some effort in to get something out. The web can be cruel that way.


Another classic argument against the "button on the front page" is the concept of banner blindness. Banners were the first form of advertising on the internet, and just as we learned to channel surf during commercials, we learned to ignore banners.

But you can test this. Using conversion tracking.

A conversion is Googlespeak for a user who goes to your site and does something important that you're hoping they do. For the most part they're thinking of someone buying something. But it can be someone filling out a survey, signing up for a conference or just reading a page.

You set it up by describing the Goal, supplying the goal URL and showing Google the steps someone takes to get to that goal.

Google Analytics does the rest.

If you find a problem with your 'funnel' you can set up an experiment where you set up two different versions of your page funnel to see which produces better results.

It allows you to bring some evidence to the anecdotocracy that often rules web design in a world where websites aren't run by web people:
  • I heard from someone they they couldn't find the form
  • We need to change the design because not everyone realizes that's a link.
  • People need those PDFs. They print them out and distribute them in the workplace.
Show equity conference registration

Other media

One could likely spend a lifetime trying to explore the ins and outs of Google Analytics, without ever reaching the end because of course Google keeps adding new features.

But there are other measures of statistics which are equally important these days, that aren't about traffic to your website, or rather are only tangentially about traffic to your website.

Email and social media come to mind.

To get reasonable feedback on who's reading your email, you really need to use a commercial email provider. I'm going to focus on Mailchimp because it's the one PSAC uses. Constant Contact, Campaign Monitor also do the same thing.

You're mostly tracking two things:

  • Open Rate
  • Click Rate

And you can use

  • A/B testing help you improve both.

A/B testing allows you to prepare two versions of your email. You send one version to ten per cent of your list, send the other to a different ten per cent. Mailchimp waits for the reaction and then, after four hours, a day or whatever, it determines which was the more successful message version and sends that version to the other 80 per cent of the list.

Demonstrate Mailchimp

Social Media

Facebook and Youtube have their own built-in analytics. And in fact for Facebook, this is the only real tool you have. Twitter does almost none of its own analytics and as a result a flurry of measurement web applications have shown up. All with stupid names. Klout. Kred. TwentyFeet.

Real time


Further reading: Analytics tools

  • Google Analytics
  • Chartbeat
  • Woopra
  • Seevolution
  • Mailchimp
  • Loop11
  • Chalkmark