Non-transactional Analytics, Part 1

I was leading a workshop on measuring Web effectiveness to people from different business sectors last week. Over time, I’ve observed that, at least here in the U.K., people’s expectations are changing. The audience’s breadth of existing knowledge is getting wider.

Not long ago, most people attending the workshop would be starting from about the same place. The most-cited reason they came to the workshop was they wanted to know what Web analytics was all about and how to get started in it.

These days, audiences are a bit more diverse in their objectives. Generally, people coming from organizations with some sort of online business model tend to have some knowledge of Web analytics. Those from organizations where the online channel doesn’t have any transactional elements, however, are still looking to get started.

People with heavier e-commerce backgrounds generally come to the workshops saying, “We’ve been doing Web analytics for a while now, and I want to understand how to take it to the next level.” Delegates from the public sector or nonprofits tend to be looking for fundamentals. Why is that? In the future, should we differentiate the workshops to meet these different groups’ needs? How would I change workshops for e-commerce delegates compared to non-transactional delegates?

The courses would look quite different. It would be a case of just tweaking some sections here and there. I’d probably need to change the structure and emphasis, because the tools you need and the way that you use them are very different in the two cases.

The reason the e-commerce type of delegates are usually further ahead is a lot of the reporting functionality in typical Web analytics systems tend to be oriented around defined outcomes. Functionalities such as campaign tracking and conversion funnels work best when there’s a defined conversion point, preferably with a value attached. When your core goal is to provide quality information rather than to sell something, these features have less utility.

There’s been some discussion recently on Web analytics forums and in blogs about measuring non-transactional Web sites using Web analytics tools. Increasingly, people talk about the notion of visitor engagement and how to measure it. Various methodologies and algorithms have been put to debate. Some challenges are around measurement complexity and even the ability to collect some of the data in the first place.

One major problem is recording what was clicked and when doesn’t provide informational or content sites with what they really want to know, usually whether visitors were able to find what they were looking for. We can measure how long people hang around, for example, but it’s difficult to interpret whether an average time on the site is good or bad and what, if anything, to do about it. We need more insight than that.

That insight will come from other data sources, from surveys and visitor feedback mechanisms in particular. As well as knowing what was clicked and when, we need to know who was visiting, why they were visiting, whether they found what they were looking for, and whether what they found gave them the information they were after. Try getting that lot out of a Web analytics tool!

I need to get on with some course design work. At the moment, I probably spend about 60 percent of my workshop time talking about site analytics and the rest talking about other tools, such as audience panels, performance data, and surveys. Probably at least half a workshop on measuring the effectiveness of non-transactional Web sites should be on visitor profiling and feedback, the other half on the rest.

Next, I’ll share some thoughts on measuring non-transactional Web sites. Till then….

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