Using web stats to engage colleagues and improve performance

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(Not my choice of title)

I gave a presentation at Better Connected Live yesterday (25 May).The slidedeck is available online including a cheesy stock image that amused me (but, it would seem) no-one else. And a slide only included so I could make a “Why did the chicken cross the road” gag. Which I totally failed to do.

A talk of two halves

The first half of the talk was a rambling discourse of my, possibly ill-advised, research into the use of local government websites. I have written extensively around this research so I will spare the reader what I failed to spare the audience.

Engaging colleagues

First of all let me confess that I was never brilliant at engaging colleagues. My tactic of repeating “I don’t care what you think” was often not seen as an offer to collaborate.

However it did happen occasionally and since I’ve fled the shores of local government I have seen good examples of other people working closely with their colleagues.

Let’s not talk about data. Let’s talk about services.

The more I work with data the more I think it’s the wrong thing to talk about. No-one (apart from data-geeks) really cares about the data. They care about what the data tells them about their life or work. So let’s talk about that.

This also shifts the power dynamic. The web team “owns” the webstats. The service manager “owns” the service. So let’s talk about the service.

Who used your service? How did they get there?

My old friend Google Analytics (don’t forget Google Analytics is used by 89% of local authorities) is good at capturing and reporting referral headers. Referral headers, broadly, tell the stats engine which website the user was on before they arrived here.

Except referral headers are not passed by many email clients or by social media apps (though typically they are passed by social media platforms opened in web browsers). Which has the effect, for many organisations, of under-reporting referrals from social networks and emails.

There is a solution but I don’t see it widely implemented across local government: campaign tagging. Essentially manually appending extra information to the URL when you share it.

The Google URL Builder tool makes this easy and the process can be automated or semi-automated for enterprise use.

Referrals tell you not just what channel they used, but potentially infer some information about the user (if they clicked a link on the St Mary’s School website maybe they are a parent or pupil there). Device use, browser choice all help build a profile of who is visiting your content or accessing your service.

What did they do next?

One of the most powerful signals that your content or service is working well (or not working).

If people visit the missed bin page and then vanish from your site it suggests that they got what they were looking for. If people visit the missed bin page and then visit other pages in the waste area it suggests that page (or potentially the navigation leading to it) is failing the user.

What did you expect?

The killer question.

For the service manager .

This is your service. Who are you expecting to use it? Where are you expecting them to come from. What are you expecting them to do next?

It’s OK if this is a back of an envelope calculation but my golden rule of not getting hopelessly lost in analytics data is never to look at it without a question. The best question (at least to begin with) is “did this work the way we expected”.

The answer is almost certainly “No it did not work the way we expected”.

Why did it happen this way?

Your chosen webstats package can tell you what happened and when but it cannot tell you why.

The why is the interesting question of course. It’s probably because the service isn’t working for the user. The best way to fix it, of course, is to go and talk to some users.

But now you know what to talk to them about.

Use simple infographics

In the same way as the longer I spend working with data the less I talk about data the longer I spend with graphs (or infographics) the less I want them to do.

My favourite infographic is a single word.

Yes

(this worked as expected) or

No

(this did not work as expected)

Time series bar charts and scatter plots are terrifically useful for investigating “Why did it happen this way” but they are, in my humble opinion, largely rubbish for engaging colleagues.

Keep it nice and simple. Add complexity only when the user needs it.

The goal is your friend

Goal tracking is a very powerful tool in Google Analytics. It’s not expressed in language that resonates with local government (lot’s of stuff about ecommerce). But goals can be expressed flexibly and give you really powerful insights into how people are interacting with your site over multiple visits.

It can be a challenge to define goals for your website. But if you don’t know what the most important tasks are right now then what do you know?

The unit of delivery is the team

(As someone once said)

This stuff works well when everyone gets focused on the same task. I achieved most as a web manager when I worked alongside service managers looking at all of our data: web, calls, service levels together. I achieved least when I used data to try to win arguments (or service managers did the same with me).

In conclusion

There is mixed practice in local government around the use of webstats but I don’t think that can be broken out of the organisation’s practice around the use of data generally.

In fact data was a recurring theme at Better Connected Live. Which is good.

I find it helpful to remember that organisations don’t switch between binary states of “using data well” and “not using data well”. Instead data-sophistication is a journey.

In fact I’m involved in a data sophistication project in the voluntary sector called Data Evolution for just that reason.

(Photo credit: why by Art Siegel used under CC BY-NC 2.0)