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As a Google Analytics Premium Reseller for several government agencies, we’ve noticed that Web and mobile analytics is as important to government digital initiatives as it is for the private sector. Fundamentally, it’s about organizations leveraging digital media to offer products and services to a target audience or to communicate and connect with constituents.
Similar to their counterparts in the private sector, federal communication managers, webmasters and those in charge of digital initiatives (eGovernment, Digital Government, etc.) need to navigate through oceans of data to derive insights to impact the business. This is easier said than done with scarce financial and human resources, and the fast pace of innovations in digital analytics.
It’s As Easy As ABC.
With a couple of tips using the “ABC’s” of digital analytics, you can simplify the complexity a bit.
This post is intended to provide reporting tips and best practices for analytics relating to government websites. If you are looking for a comprehensive how-to implementation guide check out our other technical posts on our blog for implementation best practices and posts similar to our Universal Analytics Resource Kit.
The concepts presented apply to any analytics platform, but the naming convention and the sample reports are all taken from Google Analytics (GA), since it’s the most commonly and widely used analytics platform.
We will also leverage the “ABC” framework to highlight three important reporting aspects of every government digital program:
- A for Acquisition– how visitors came to the site.
- B for Behavior– what they did when they got there.
- C for Conversion– did they do what you wanted to them to.
In addition to and for each of the above sections, we will show how you can leverage Google Analytics’ recent demographic reports to better understand your audience (here is a link on how to enable demographics in Google Analytics reports).
*Disclaimer #1: There was no personally identifying information used for the examples provided; all are aggregated data and/or case studies.
*Disclaimer #2: Data in the reports below do not reflect any specific government site; reports/numbers are listed for illustration purposes only.
Acquisition – How Visitors Came to Your Site
Acquisition reports allow you to answer the following questions:
- Where is the traffic coming from?
- What social media networks are really working for the organization?
- Which defined campaigns are driving qualified traffic?
Let’s take a look at the Department of Education site as an example, specifically the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) office. Students and parents can submit the FAFSA forms through the Education Assistance Agencies or can submit the form online. Let’s say the application deadline has just ended and it’s time to analyze the traffic patterns to the online form section.
- Where did the traffic come from?
- What sorts of searches were made?
- Is most of the traffic organic or other sites referring traffic to the online form?
In the sample report below, Social is the second highest source of traffic. Perhaps specific universities had FAFSA awareness campaigns via social media and drove students to the site.
Knowing what drives the most traffic to your site (for example, the most effective social network) can help you know where to focus your attention and ad dollars in your next campaign. When we get into demographics, you can see that maybe the age group that is sharing the FAFSA information is a younger group, more inclined to use social media for communication.
Google Analytics traffic reports are available on the left side under Acquisition –> Channels
Google Analytics also offers mobile analytics capabilities. If you have a mobile app for one of the key user experiences/functions of the organization, you can easily track user adoption.
Under Acquisition –> New Users, the following report is available:
The report will show a count of:
• New Users (The number of first-time users during the selected date range.) as well overall new and returning users and the number of sessions for these users.
• A breakdown of new users by operating system (in the case above, there is an iOS app only, and if an Android version existed, it would show in this report)
• As well as New Users by App Version
Now that we see that forms have been filled out, we want to know the age range of those who have opted to filling out the online form. Perhaps there is a difference between older parents vs. younger students in using online paperwork. In Google Analytics we can apply “Age” as Second Dimension and break out the traffic data by age and see the trend for adoption between the generations.
In a case like this, it makes sense that that the most popular demographic is 18-24 (since FAFSA is typically for college students).
Now that you know your most valuable marketing channel is social and mostly younger students are filling out online forms, you can tailor the messaging/designs of your campaign to the younger crowd, and focus your marketing spend on social networks.
Behavior reports in Google Analytics allow you to understand what users are doing once they have come to your website.
Now that visitors are on the site, what are they doing? Downloading forms, how-to guides or videos?
Let’s look at the Teachers Loan Forgiveness Program, which is a program that encourages individuals to go into teaching by offering to forgive part of their student loan.
Say the University Career Center sends out an email to all students enrolled in the Teaching Credentials track about this particular program. In Google Analytics, you notice that there is a lot of traffic from that email. However, do you know what these visitors are interacting with on the site?
The benefit of these reports is not only can you see which pages have the most views or how much time they are spending on those pages, but you can also monitor “Event” interactions on the page, such as video “Play”, “Pause”, or “Watch to End” events (this does require custom code/event implementation). So if you’ve spent marketing dollars producing a video demonstrating how to apply for the program and want to know if it’s actually getting played or if they’re watching the video all the way through, you can see that here.
Google Analytics Events are available in Behavior –> Top Events –> Videos:
In this example report, 2,326 users have watched through the end! That’s about 40% of those who pressed play. Impressive! Seems like the video is engaging and getting the necessary information across, so it was a good investment. Maybe you’d want to invest in more instructional videos.
Note: for Mobile Apps, all user interactions within the app (buttons, clicks, navigation, etc.) can be tracked in Events.
Are older users more likely to watch the video or younger users? By segmenting the engagement by demographics, you get deeper insights and can once again can narrow your efforts – tailor your messaging, wording, and visuals to the users you know are more likely to engage.
You can also see what demographic is lacking in engagement and maybe place an alternative focus on them. For example, if you find that only younger users are playing the video, you may want to have the instructions in text for older users who aren’t so inclined to play it.
While segmenting by age and gender, we can also throw social in the mix. How is this information shared across social networks? Perhaps the younger age bracket prefers sharing your page (by clicking on the “share” event you’ve created) on one social network, while an older age range prefers another. Again, knowing which age/gender comes from which social networks can help you tailor and target your paid ads and even organic postings.
Ultimately, this is the goal of your site or app. Traffic and even engagement have little value if your visitors aren’t converting. Conversions happens when users complete a task you want them to complete, which you can define and trigger in Google Analytics as a Conversion Goal. For example, this may include submitting and completing a form/application (such as FAFSA), downloading a pdf, even purchasing a product or making a payment/donation.
You’re a communication manager for a governmental agency in Dubai, UAE. You want to know how many people are leveraging the eServices applications on the site to acquire permits, doing business in the UAE or process online payments.
Let’s cover a common use case that this site can leverage. People traveling to Dubai typically want to know more about the entry visa process, what’s involved to enter the country, and better, apply for the entry visa online. One of the “goals” in Google Analytics can be set up to measure how many visitors go to your eServices section and apply for visa online. By setting up this “goal” in Google Analytics, you can now measure the conversion rate (i.e. the completion rate) of the site visitors who applied for an entry visa.
Just like any other good analyst or marketer, you heed the advice and set up this “goal” and you see that your online application completion rate is 2%. We now have numbers, let’s get some insights. You start to see a steady increase in this number, you go from 2% to 3% to %4.5. Great, what can this data tell us? The increase in completion rate, could be a good indicator of visitors’ adoption of this new eService (which means cost savings over the manual visa application). Or it could be an indicator of increased interest in visiting the country. There are other factors that could contribute to the fluctuation of the goal complete rate (such as seasonality, major business/sports events, etc..) but at least you now have a baseline that you can leverage in gaining additional insights.
Let’s pull an example from a relatively recent political event. Say you are in charge of communication in the new Ukraine government, and the country is undergoing drastic governmental changes. One of the government goals is to communicate directly with constituents. You intend on doing so by building up a large database of email addresses. You set up “email list subscription” as a Google Analytics Goal and track conversion by the various demographics segments.
What age/gender is subscribing to your newsletter? This could be a political indication of many things – it could indicate who is politically concerned or active, who is being politically neglected, or which group you might need to find other ways to communicate with.
Again, segment by demographics and you might find that majority of email subscribers are middle-aged men. As the Ukraine government, you now can tailor your email information to that demographic, but you also might want to figure out how to reach the other demographics, such as younger adults and women.
Bonus: Advanced Data Visualization Tip for Content-Rich Government Sites
All the reports we’ve shown in the post so far are from within the Google Analytics interface. They are easy to access and easy to share. For advanced users and those who are stitching data from different sources, leveraging a data visualization platform such as Tableau might be the way to go, so this tip is for you! With powerful visualization tools like this, you can quickly and easily tell a story that raw numbers just can’t.
For example, many government sites have a lot of informational pages. A common reporting request is to quickly trend all pageview data in a month-over-month format. Tableau can do just that! Once you pull in the data and organize it by content categories, you can easily see which content is popular compared to others, or which has more views and at what times.
In the sample report below, and for Category #2, notice how those pages have the most views consistently than all the other pages, especially in 2014 (The darker the green the more views you have). Thus Tableau makes it easy for to see how pages (or any metric) are doing with just a quick glance.
Keep an eye out for the next post on how to create Advanced Segments to drill down and find actionable insights from the various audiences we discussed in the post above!
Have other ideas, metrics or reports that work for your government site? Share and comment below.
About the Author
President & Co-Founder
“Work Hard. Play Hard.” This personal motto sums it up for Feras. When he’s not consulting and spearheading E-Nor’s growth, you’ll find Feras speaking at a conference, writing an article, or learning a new tool or helpful tip. Outside of work (yes, Feras eventually learned to unplug), he enjoys volunteering, listening to audiobooks, skiing, training in Aikido, in which he earned a 3rd degree black belt, and spending quality time with his wife and three children. Feras received a Master of Engineering Management from the University of South Florida and a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Tulsa University.