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So with the information on the site coming in, the next step is to redesign the site to capitalize on what patrons want. This is called website optimization. And the best way to create a optimized web page is with a multi-variate test.

Step 1: Develop Different Pages

The strategy in a multi-variate test is to create a couple of versions of the same webpage. For example we could change where the links are located on the page or  how much (or little) information is displayed on the frontpage. Change can be as little as a single picture.

Essentially, we are testing a series of hypotheses. For example, we may notice that many patrons come to our library’s youth services page using a search for “Storytime” but the bounce rate is high suggesting that they did not notice the calendar link.

3404009907_e4e27f44bc

We suspect that this information is too hidden. So one version of the page may add the link higher up in the hierarchy. Another version might par down the information so that high demand content (such as event schedule) is highly visible while other information is not yet presented.

Step 2: Test

748443511_e3b89339d2So after making a few changes to different pages, upload them to Google Website Optimizer. This tool will randomly send visitors to different versions of the page. Each different version of the page will have slightly different usage statistics.

As an example, check out how Tim Ferris of 4 hour workweek used the Google Website Optimizer to improve his page.

Step 3: Analyze

So with all the information gathered for different versions of the site, it is easy to determine which one is most useful. So for our storytime example, we may have noticed that promoting the link higher in the menu decreased the bounce rate for that site and increased the number of clicks to the calendar.

However, maybe still more people clicked schedule on the minimal site suggesting that our control site was leading to a paradox of choice where too many options and too much information sent people away.

Step 4: Update

This is the easy part. With the analysis in, you can turn off the optimizer and alter your site to use the best page.

Key Points to Rememer

  • Have a goal: The key to optimizing a page is that there needs to be a limited number of factors. With a focus on a specific goal (increasing the number of people who click on the events schedule), it is much easier to design alternatives
  • It’s easy: There’s no real trick. That best optimized sites are making subtle changes. Just tiny little changes in how information is presented can have big results. And since I know librarians love books. . .Check out the book Nudge for an example of the psychology of small pushes.
  • It’s efficient: Imagine if you could have every patron that walked into the library fill out a quick survey. That is the beauty part of optimization. Since it is automatic, patrons will give lots and lots of feedback without needing to be inconvenienced.

For more information on creating a optimzation strategy, check out this white paper.

Next week, I’ll start with the ever confusing problem of Social Network analytics. And, as always, drop me a ling in the comments or at twitter @joesmorgan.

Photos available under cc license:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/topekalibrary/3404009907/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/extraketchup/748443511
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Websites are Real Estate

As I’ve said before (and I’ll likely say again) websites are probably some of the most valuable real estate that libraries have. It is an intro point and main area of engagement for many many patrons. In the case of academic libraries it may even be the only point of engagement. 3171601721_478a5e2fcdWhy is it, then, that the amount of effort that goes into planning and developing websites is often less than buildings? When a building is going up, you know there will be management involvement. It is guaranteed that they will hire an outside consultant. The process takes years and lots and lots of time.

Granted, buildings are around a lot longer than websites, still a prime point of access for patrons should involve constant attention. The beauty part of websites is that there are so many tools that can help us analyze, understand, and test what works for patrons. Imagine if you could build a new library and then slide around the bathrooms or computer areas to find out what best works for patrons as if we were in some type of library Hogwarts. That would be pretty sweet.

So without further adieu, here’s a quick guide to web analytics for libraries.

Gathering Information and Understanding Visitors

The easiest and quickest way to begin analyzing a webpage is with Google Analytics. Do you have access to you pages html code? Can you copy and paste? Great, than you can begin to analyze visitors. With google analytics, you can paste a small piece of JavaScript into each page and it will gather information on visitors, where they are from, how long they stay, and so on.

Here’s a view of traffic sources at the limnology library.

Lim Sources

There are, of course, plenty of other analytics options out there. Many of them are free. This is just the one that I am most comfortable with. And it will have most of what a library needs to begin analyzing their website.

Bounce Rate and Conversion. A quick look at site efficiency

So there are plenty of different stats out there, but we’ll look quickly at a couple of the most revealing; Bounce Rate and Site Conversion.

The bounce rate is essentially the page from which users leave. This, of course, is not good. This means we’ve lost patrons. They aren’t engaging our site anymore and, in the worst case, left without the information they wanted in the first place.

The prime cause of bounce rates, according to analytics guru and Google’s analytics evangelist Avinash Kaushik, is a disconnect between customer intent and webpage purpose. So pages with a high bounce rate mean the patron came expecting to find something and left because they could not find/do what they intended.

mismatch_customer_intent_webpage_purposeOur goal in optimizing our web site is to align our webpage purpose with customer intent (of course figuring that out is hard).

slight_match_customer_intent_website_purposeThe more we can align, the better our webpage. An overlap like this is good, but can be made better.

How Do We Lower Bounce Rate: A Solution

So how can we make that match? Well, here’s a quick and dirty solution proposed by Galen DeYoung of Search Engine Land.

In short, we find the keywords patrons use to land on our site, and multiply the bounce rate of each keyword with the number of visits using that word. This will give us a list in order of importance of what users expect.

keywords better

Here’s an example from the (admittedly low traffic limnology library). Click to the larger image shows that, not surprisingly, ‘limnology library’ does not bounce while ‘thesis binding’ has a high bounce rate. This suggests that I should make information about thesis binding more prevalent and easy to use.

Galen suggests that on top landing pages we can use the keyword information to make a targeted piece of information available to encourage users to stay and click through to another page.

What’s Next

Of course, gathering statistics is only so helpful. It is necessary to turn these statistics into actions. Next week I’ll talk a little more about turning stats into change through web optimization.

Comments, Suggestions?

So, did I leave anything out? Does your library have an analytics program? How does it work? Drop a line in the comments or hit me on twitter @joesmorgan.

See you next week.

Photos from http://www.flickr.com/photos/kk/3171601721/

New Media vs. Old

1218994391_13fce9e808One of the greatest challenges libraries, or any organization, has with social media is recognizing how it’s so fundamentally different than what we are used to. Most noticeably, many library blogs, twitter accounts, etc. read like an extended marketing efforts. The posts are mere announcements and serve only as a broadcast of information, not a conversation. But that’ missing the best part, the social nature of the web. Don’t feel too bad, it’s easy to forget how social always trumps technological. Even Yahoo missed out on this one. And history is full of other examples. Alexander Graham Bell thought the telephone would be a great way to broadcast symphonies. Here are a few easy ways to actively engage patrons.

Always (always, always!) invite feedback

This is probably the fundamental difference between “newsletter” type writing and active engagement. Sure most, if not all, blogs have space for comments, but actively asking for feedback does a couple of things. It lets patrons know that you really are interested in their feedback, that you are listening (in addition, its best to respond to comments). And it creates an opportunity for patrons to talk to each other via our space. So we are, in essence, creating a new social sphere. Never doubt the value of the third place.

Use Ideas from Patrons

Probably my favorite form of user engagement lately is Starbuck’s “my starbucks idea” campaign. Its brilliant, a simple place for users to upload their ideas to make Starbucks better. Users can submit something simple (bring back the walnut scone) and other users can vote, comment on, and share these ideas. It’s a simple idea. After all, its merely an extension of the comment box, right? Well, the big difference is that users can see their ideas in action. They aren’t dropped off and then forgotten forever. Its a form of active listening. The best part. Starbucks will actually use ideas and the users have seen the full circle of their engagement. 280789933_193dc40036

This is an easy and very simple way to engage patrons. There can be suggestions for speakers, reading programs, events, “book of the week”, anything really. The point is not to mine ideas from patrons, but to create an opportunity for people to engage a project and shape it from start to finish.

Incorporate All Aspects of The Library

Its important to work as much as possible with all departments and programs in the library. A colleague of mine was sending around this article from the Boston Globe about a private school that is getting rid of its books and replacing the library with a multimedia learning space. The sad fact is that many librarians think this is the end result of social media and the web. Its important than to keep web engagement and space engagement (such a speakers) entwined. In many ways the value of the library in the public mind is tied to the buildings. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Active promotion can work both ways. Promote web resources at events. Promote events from the web.

Edit: D’oh. Way to not follow your own advice. Please, leave me a comment let me know what you think! Or hit me on twitter @joesmorgan

photo credits:http://www.flickr.com/photos/p_kirn/1218994391/sizes/m/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulgi/280789933/sizes/m/