Blog : website design

Google Analytics: Getting Started

Google Analytics: Getting Started

This is a guest post from Lana Gibson, founder of analytics specialist, Lanalytics. Find out more at lanalytics.co.nz

Google Analytics (GA) is a powerful tool, and it’s becoming crucial to use it to understand your audience and improve your digital product. If you’re a product manager, or agency / website owner you need to bring GA into the heart of your team. In this post I’ll show you the value of GA, help you decide what’s best for you in terms of using it, and outline how to infuse it into your team.

Why use Google Analytics?

Because it can help you to understand your audience. And this insight will help you to meet your goals, increase your traffic, and show your clients and management how brilliant you and your team are. Here are some examples of how powerful GA can be:

Often a simple headline will be enough to show the value of your work. For example there were lots of people searching for ‘opening hours’ on the Te Papa site so the team put this information on every page. The graph below shows how searches including the term ‘hour’ dropped by 85%, because people didn’t need to search for it any more:

Putting opening hours on every page:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resulted in an 85% drop in searches containing ‘hour’:

What does it do?

Google Analytics shows how people use your website. It tracks hundreds of things like where they come from (e.g. Google, social, referral sites), what pages they visit, and what they search for on your site. If you need to set up GA Moz has a great guide on this, so go do that and then come back here so you can make the data useful.

 How can I use it?

People tend to approach GA with enthusiasm, thinking that pulling a few levers will make all the insights fall out. But understanding why things are happening and how to fix them is more like one of those frustrating claw arcade games where you never get the toy. The confusing terminology, number of reports, and the fact that a lot of useful stuff isn’t tracked automatically make it tricky. Below are some ideas about how you can use GA effectively.

Get specialist help

If you manage a big site you’ll want to consider a full-time GA specialist to get to grips with your data. If you can’t bring in a permanent employee consider getting time-boxed help from a consultant (such as Lanalytics!). Spend a bit of time working with them so that you can use their data – sit down with a question about your users and go through the data together. Ask them to explain anything you don’t understand, it’s their job to help you get results.

Learn it yourself: pair with specialist

If you want to learn GA yourself it’s ideal to have a specialist on-site. You’ll be able to get help with questions when they arise, such as ‘Are users actually clicking on that 6 pt link that’s 3 km down the bottom of the page?’. If you have someone at your work you can pester them relentlessly. Just be prepared to provide chocolate.

Training courses and online tutorials

If you don’t have the luxury of an on-site specialist, try a certified course or do online tutorials (if you’ve found useful ones please share them with us in the comments). Define the main things you’d like to find out about your site before you attend, and ask the trainer to help you track these because training is often very broad. Likewise find bite-sized online tutorials that meet your specific goals – you’ll get lost if you try to learn everything.

Assign site measurement to a team member

Consider training up a member of your team. They should be passionate about users, good with technology, and good communicators. Don’t rule out less-experienced team members – putting data to good use relies on knowledge of business, team and user needs, which are learnt on the job.

Infusing your team with data

Whatever route you decide to take, don’t let your data sit in a vacuum. Analytics works best when every team member can track what they’re interested in. For example designers will want to know whether their blue call-to-action button is being clicked, whereas content designers will want to know which of the pages they’ve written are popular.

Also define things that are important to your whole team, like are the right people finding your online form page? Work out your performance priorities as a team and build up to regular dashboard reporting (more on that in a later post) which reflects your goals and performance.

Google Analytics is a valuable source of insights to help you understand your users and improve your site. Whether you decide to learn Google Analytics yourself, assign it to a team member, or get a specialist in, make sure you build a performance culture within your team. GA will help you to help you increase traffic to your website, meet your goals, and prove the value of your work. Get started!

 

Digital Design, Meet Digital Strategy

Digital Design, Meet Digital Strategy

“If you devote significant time and attention to the very first order of business — your strategy — the foundation you build will be strong enough to withstand any weather as you move into design and coding.” – Joe Natoli, Think First

Now call me biased, but I think strategy is pretty important. So hearing this statement from a UX practitioner such as Joe Natoli, definitely struck a chord.

His most pertinent point, for me at least, is the idea that when projects encounter a problem, the tendency for designers is to jump to tactical solutions, rather than ask strategic questions.

It’s a natural response, right? If you’re a designer, you tend to focus on the issues most relevant to your world, rather than necessarily going back to strategic fundamentals, a process you may not have been involved with in the first place.

The result is an ongoing focus on what you’re doing, as opposed to why you’re doing it.

I’d say there are two primary reasons why this happens:

  1. Many strategies are too vague for designers to easily work with
  2. Designers are not practiced in working with a strategy beside them throughout the process

Let’s look at this in more detail:

1. ‘Fluffy’ strategy

The highway of strategy is littered with the wrecks of phonebook-sized decks of fluff that offered little or no direction as to what actually happens next. Sure, they were filled with fancy exclamations around ‘compelling experiences’ or ‘driving innovation’, but that wasn’t much use to the guy who had to sit down and solve the problemA vague strategy will typically fail to identify exactly what you need to do and the reasons you need to do it. And if you don’t understand the reason you’re doing something, you end up trying to solve the wrong problems (credit: Joe Natoli).

So, strategists – ensure you’ve turned insights into a clear proposition and real actions, complemented with measurable goals. Give your design team something they can actually use.

Designers – insist your strategist delivers the above. And force your way in at the beginning of the strategic process, rather than playing catchup later on.

2. Strategy who?
As a strategist, there has been the odd occasion where I was involved up-front in a digital project, delivered the plan and was then out of the loop until the experience went live. The result was usually a disconnect between the final experience and the vision of the strategic plan, with it not quite delivering in the way the strategy said it should.

Now, I’m not pointing fingers at the design team here (when in doubt, blame the project manager!), but it was clear that working with the strategy was not habitual. And back to our earlier point, if you only get fluffy strategy, why would it be? But if you have good strategy, there’s no excuse.

The reason working with the strategy is so important is that a strategy is not a static, one-off piece of work. It’s a living idea – an hypothesis for testing – that should inform every aspect of the design process. Every time you test an experience with users, you are effectively testing the strategy. So how do you know what you’re really testing, unless you’re working with it? And back to this post’s central thesis, that problem you’ve just encountered may not be tactical.

Goals are tied to audiences tied to needs tied to experience – this stuff can’t, and shouldn’t, be separated.

There is (whisper it) also a client element here (disclaimer: this does not apply to Element clients. You are all wonderful.)

Let’s face it, watching a digital experience grow is more exciting than watching the strategy develop. And with the increasing homogenisation of web design, there can be a tendency to assume a strategy is barely necessary. Surely a version of whatever everyone else is doing will do the trick?

But business problems are unique, as is every strategy, so there’s a real danger in mimicking the approach taken by others (that’s another blog post).

It’s important for strategists and designers to be united in saying, “there’s a process here, with a very good rationale for it, and you’ll get the best results if you trust us on this.”

[Clients – you should hold us to account. Ensure what you’re getting is matching the goals and approach that were set.]

This won’t happen without strategists and designers being more proactive and more interested in each other’s disciplines, understanding how one informs the other and developing true partnerships.

If this is how we work, then the resolution of problems will naturally become a collaborative effort between strategy and design. And that will have better results for everyone.

So, in a nutshell:

  • Strategists: enough of the fluff!
  • Designers: work with the strategy!
  • Clients: trust the process!

The end. 

Website strategy: the forgotten factor

Website strategy: the forgotten factor

You know the drill. A website brief arrives and a familiar process swings in to action: identify business goals, identify audience goals, identify challenges and off we go.

It’s a valid approach. But does it ever feel like something is missing?

The initial discovery phase of a project is fundamental to its coherency. And that phase isn’t complete without considering not only the challenges, but also the opportunities that exist.

The most basic idea of strategy is strength applied against weakness. Substitute ‘opportunity’ for ‘strength’ and ‘challenge’ for ‘weakness’ – you get the idea. Yet in my experience, mapping opportunities is rarely applied to website strategy.

This may be because channel strategy tends to narrows our focus, even when the larger ecosystem is considered. We look at needs, we look at content, we look at details; but we overlook the wider opportunities that exist to realise those more effectively.

Opportunities can be internal – increased investment in content, a new hire with relevant skills or a sudden freeing up of resource; or they can be external – a weakness in a competitor’s approach or serendipitous timing related to the market or audience. Take advantage of these to heighten the project’s ambition, define a particular focus, iterate more quickly or plan for the future.

Opportunities broaden the context. This is important – while user needs are vital, a website is ultimately an interface for achieving business goals. So when preparing a website strategy, it makes sense to evaluate the advantages we have as a business, not just the obstacles we face.

Matching opportunities to challenges could provide the insight that takes your web strategy to the next level; and you may be surprised to find how many answers were hiding in plain sight.