Five things corporate communications teams should know about their website.

Cloudy sky seen through the red net of a football goal
Soccer goal by ewiemann used under CC BY 2.0

It’s funny how often I find corporate comms people who are divorced from their organisation’s websites.

Sometimes it is clear that internal turf wars ensure that they are kept at arms length. Even when corporate comms teams are welcomed into the digital/webby fold or placed in charge of websites they still seem to miss out some of the fundamentals.

So here are my top five things they should know. As always I refer to Google Analytics because it is incredibly widespread and powerful but other website analytics tools exist..

1. How do people get to your website?

It’s a simple enough question and one that Google Analytics tries hard to answer. Left to its own devices Google Analytics will under estimate the number of people that come following links from social media and email (for more on this try this interactive story).

Crucially, of course, ask not just “how do people get to us?” But also “is that what we expected?”. If you are running a campaign focused on email marketing you would expect more people to visit you via email.

2. Which campaigns work best?

You are planning and delivering some of the finest, cutting edge multi-channel campaigns ever devised (possibly). But really: are they any good?

Some aspects of your campaigns are easy to capture in Analytics (there’s a nice integration with AdWords for example) but it’s a bit harder to align that radio ad alongside. But think a bit laterally: maybe give people a voucher code in this campaign, make the call to action a specific search on your site (I ran a radio ad like that once, I was able to establish that precisely one person searched as a result, we didn’t do that again).

Analytics has powerful reporting tools that allow you to draw a lot of this data together and, if that’s not enough, a beautiful API and more customisation than you can shake a stick at.

3. Are your goals being met?

I’m always surprised at how poorly understood the goals feature in Google Analytics is. It makes sense for organisations with a small number of clear goals (buy our stuff, buy as much as possible). But if the main feature of the site is to provide content (say) organisations can struggle to see how to describe goals usefully.

This has to be a challenge back to the organisation. If you can’t define the goals of your website that’s a problem. If your website has 300 goals all equally important that’s almost as bad.

Right now some things have to be more important to the organisation than others. That’s prioritisation. It’s something corporate comms teams should be on top of anyway.

So now you have some priority goals you can test

4. Which channels are working best for our goals?

So we really want people to sign up for this new service. We’ve done a groundbreaking and massively successful multi-channel campaign. Loads of people signed up. Job done. Have a cigar (not really, smoking’s really bad for you).

Hang on a minute though. Was the Facebook Campaign worth the effort? That blogger outreach campaign got us loads of mentions but did it actually get people to our service?

Luckily Google Analytics has the answer to these questions.

5. What does an effective multi-channel campaign really look like?

Maybe the blogger outreach got people to have a peek at your site but they only signed up when they saw a Facebook ad? That’s important data. If you ditched the blog work for your next campaign you might see a drop in success even if you spend more on Facebook.

If only there were some way of working out the contribution that each channel made to the final goal.

Wait, there is? Wow. That’s great.

As so often when dealing with metrics and analytics the challenge is not with the technology and the tools.

The challenge is to ask the right questions.


One analytics site to rule them all

All tomorrow’s data

I love website usage data. Can’t get enough of it. I love it so much that last August I asked every council in the country to send me some.

And they did (well nearly all of them did). And I poured it all into a big beautiful spreadsheet and put it on the web. The usage of local government websites in Great Britain.

Which was nice.

Unfortunately my love for website usage data is such that it was not enough. I want to know more. What are the annual trends and the seasonal trends. Do areas with significant tourism industries get more interest in the summer (or the winter)? What areas of websites are getting the most traffic?

More FOIA, more hassle

Now I could just ask for this data. That worked tolerably well last time but it’s a pretty unsatisfactory idea. Each FOIA request generates work in each council and when the data comes in, it creates work for me. And, though I love website usage data, that is work time that might be better spent doing things for paying clients so that I can afford to feed my dog.

And also, you know, it’s the 21st century: machines are supposed to do this sort of thing. Some (surprisingly few) councils already publish their website usage data. Getting more of them to do so would be a start but unless we can get the data marked-up against an agreed standard is still going to take a human being a distressingly long time to collate.

The Americans will solve it

In the USA there is a project that could provide a nice model. Its called the Data Analytics Programme.

Participating departments and agencies insert an additional tracking script in their webpages. This sends packets of data back to the project server, and this is then available to anyone who shares my website stats interests.

We could do that here couldn’t we? It would be easy for councils to implement and should ensure that people like me cease to trouble them with FOIA requests in this area. And it will provide really rich benchmarking and research data. If we included mobile app use tracking that would provide really useful evidence in the “I want an app” “No-one will use your app” arguments.

It wouldn’t be entirely free. We’d need some server capacity and some support to maintain the analytics tool. But it would be very low cost.

What’s not to love?

This is not the only way

I know what you’re thinking (no, not that). You’re thinking: couldn’t we just use Google Analytics for this? And the answer is yes, partially.

In principle we could set up a new Google Analytics property for “All council websites” and harvest that data but the combined traffic would significantly exceed the maximum allowed in the Google Analytics free tool.

All but one council already uses an analytics tool so, as an alternative, we could automate the collection of data from their existing tools. Overwhelmingly they use Google Analytics which has a beautiful API so that is certainly feasible. Feasible but practically complex. That means each council will have to manage user credentials and those will also have to be managed by the central datastore. If the council switches analytics tool that will create an additional (and little used so easily forgotten) admin load.

Good idea / bad idea

Who’s with me?

What would be the best tool?

Why is this not the best idea you’ll hear about all day?