Hit me baby one more time

Web analytics are so much more than just “hits”, and so important for government.

Web analytics involves collecting and analyzing website usage data for a particular website. By looking at data on what users do on the site, web administrators can enhance the effectiveness of information available to citizens.

Why care about web analytics in government?

Managers can see what type of technology and software site visitors are using and can make informed decisions on site technology, content and layout. Managers can also learn where site visitors are coming from.

The information collected from web analytics is not only useful to web administrators, but to departments in determining what content is being accessed, and to City communications staff in determining what City messages are being consumed online.

It is recommended that government web managers install web analytics software and analyze data from at least two robust web analytics software programs.

The purpose of using two programs in tandem (such as Urchin, Webalizer, WebTrends or Google Analytics) is to verify the accuracy of the data. Web analytics is not an exact science, but usage data is an important starting point for assessing how many visitors access the site and what information they are accessing. The web-based Google Analytics tool is a no cost tool and is commonly used for public and private web traffic analysis.

Examples of use in government

How do you present web analytics data to management in a form they can ‘get’? Here is one example of how I did it for the City of Reno.

Exclude internal traffic

It is important that the Internet Protocol (IP) address for the City’s internal staff network be filtered from the traffic data, so as not to include the information from staff visiting the site at work. Otherwise, if staff accesses the site to update content or if your city domain is set as the browser homepage, those visits would not be distinguished from the collected data.

A note about “hits”

How many hits does my department’s webpages have? Many web managers get that question, and it’s up to us to make sure department management understands why counting hits isn’t very helpful. Don’t get stuck using the term hits. The measurement of hits (a count of requests to the web server) is not widely seen as an accurate measurement of website usage. One webpage with numerous photos could generate multiple requests to the web server, thereby limiting the value in reporting this number.

The Web Analytics Association identifies the three most important metrics as Unique Visitors, Visits/Sessions and Page Views. This data should be regularly collected and evaluated.

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