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TL v59n3: Tracking Visits to a Library Website Using Google Analytics: How This Free Service Can Be
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 59 Number 3
 

 2009

 

 Tracking Visits to a Library Website Using Google Analytics: How This Free Service Can Be Used to Improve Customer Service 

by

Michael N. Hooper, Electronic Resources Librarian

Austin Peay State University

 

 

 TLA 2009  Conference Program Abstract: Google Analytics is not just a method for measuring the number of visitors to a website. This service provides information about the visitors, reveals which software was used to access the website, and determines which content was viewed the most. Find out how to install it on your website.


 



 [Title - Slide 1]

Michael Hooper is the Electronic Resources Librarian and assistant professor at Austin Peay State University (APSU). He is the co-web administrator of the Felix G. Woodward Library website, along with his colleague Gina Garber.  Hooper and Garber created and implemented a website redesign for the library website in 2006.  Hooper installed Google Analytics in 2008 as a way to gather statistics concerning visits to the library website.  The following slides show how this free service can be used to improve customer service for libraries of all types.


[Overview - Slide 2]

This overview lists the topics that will be covered in this presentation.  The following slides will explain why Hooper decided to install Google Analytics, provide basic installation procedures, examine concerns about privacy, provide details concerning reports found in Google Analytics, explain how reports can be used to improve customer service, and list additional possibilities.


[Google - Slide 3]

The Google cartoon shown on this slide is a commentary on the fast rise of Google products such as Google Maps and Google Books.  While these products have proven very successful, concerns of privacy violation and copyright infringement have arisen.  Although Google certainly cannot predict what keywords a user will choose when utilizing the Google search engine, they have created a very effective product for tracking how a user finds a website and which pages are visited most upon arrival.

     
[History - Slide 4]

Google Analytics was installed on the Woodward Library website as a replacement for a previous service for collecting website statistics called Analog.  This service was no longer functional and the librarian responsible for installing it on the web server was no longer employed at APSU.  Instead of trying to repair the previous service, Hooper decided to install Google Analytics to satisfy a request for website statistics from the Library Director.


[History: Existing Research - Slide 5]

Before installing Google Analytics, Hooper did research to discover whether or not it had been installed on other library websites for the purpose of improving customer service.  Not much research had been published that was specific to library websites except for the following article in an online journal:

Using Google Analytics for Improving Library Website Content and Design: A
Case Study, Wei Fang. Retrieved March 12, 2009, from
http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/~mbolin/fang.htm.


[Why Google Analytics? - Slide 6]

After conducting research on several available products, there are a number of outstanding reasons why Hooper chose to install Google Analytics on the library website.  The main reasons were because it was free (as long as 5 million pageviews are not exceeded per month), it appeared easy to install, there were many positive reviews, and the interface appeared to be user-friendly.  Another reason Hooper chose Google Analytics was because it was previously installed on library websites at Ohio State and Duke University.  Most libraries should not be concerned about receiving over 5 million page views per month, as this would only apply to corporate and entertainment websites with an international audience.


[Installation - Slide 7]

Setting up Google Analytics to record statistics for a library website is relatively simple, considering it does not require installation of components on the web server where a library website is hosted.  Setting up tracking for a domain requires setting up an account and providing information about the website.  A unique script will then be provided for inserting into the pages of the library website.  An example of the script is provided on this slide.


[Installation - Slide 8]

The unique script provided by Google Analytics can be placed on each page of a website using a variety of methods.  If a website conations hundreds of pages, it would be wise to use the tools available from an HTML editor such as Microsoft Expression Web to install the script on multiple pages simultaneously.  The “find and replace” feature would be one way to insert the script before the closing tag on each page of a website.


[Privacy Concerns - Slide 9]

In recent years, there has been concern about the amount of private information collected by Google from users of their popular search engine.  Many concerns have involved the linking of IP addresses to searched terms and the sharing of that information with other companies. Since information about visitors to a website is collected by Google Analytics, this was something Hooper researched before adding the script to an academic library website.  According to the Google Privacy policy for Analytics, only “aggregated, non-personal” is collected.  


[Privacy Concerns - Slide 10]

The Google Analytics help pages also specified that it does not report on specific information such as an IP address for a personal computer.  This means the administrator for Google Analytics would not be able to determine which pages a specific user visited on a website.  To ensure additional privacy, the Google Analytics script was not installed on any web pages which required the submission of personal information such as a student identification number.  


 [Privacy Concerns - Slide 11]

Google Analytics provides an option to select whether or not you want to share any information collected through their product with them or other companies.


[Privacy Concerns - Slide12]

Some library websites, such as this example from the University of Florida Libraries, inform users that Google Analytics is installed on the web pages visited within the library website.  However, the majority of the websites Hooper researched did not make this information available to users.

 
[Analyze Reports - Slide 13]

Google Analytics tracks and records a wealth of information from each webpage where the script has been installed.  Access to this information is provided in reports that can be immediately viewed and filtered using a number of various categories such as date range.  The majority of these reports can be classified under three categories: how library users connect to the library website, what types of users access the library website, and what content users are accessing on the library website.  The following slides will provide screenshots of Google Analytics reports taken directly from the account established to track the Woodward Library domain “library.apsu.edu”.  Most reports modeled in this presentation show approximately one year of collected data.


[Connection Speeds - Slide 14]

This slide shows data from an Analytics report called Connection Speeds.  It shows what type of internet connection is used by visitors to a library website.  While the majority of visitors to the Woodward Library website used high-speed internet connections, less than one percent of visits (254 visits) came from a dial-up connection.


[Connection Speeds - Slide 15]

How can a library use the data from this report to improve customer service? A website with a large percentage of dial-up visits would need to offer a website with minimal graphics and multimedia options for users without broadband access.   Also, some users may be visiting the library to gain access to a broadband connection.  This would mean that the library needs to purchase more computers and laptops for public use.


[Operating Systems - Slide 16]

This slide shows data from an Analytics report called Operating Systems.  It shows what type of operating system is used by visitors to the library website.  The overwhelming majority of visitors to the Woodward Library website used Microsoft Windows.


[Operating Systems - Slide 17]

One of the most important factors that can be determined from the Operating Systems report is how many users are connecting from mobile devices such as the iPhone.  If many users are connecting to a library website through mobile devices, it may be necessary to create an additional website that is designed to be viewed on small screens.


 [Operating Systems - Slide 18]

Elmhurst College currently offers an additional website designed to meet the needs of mobile users on their library website (http://library.elmhurst.edu/m).  The appearance of a library website on mobile devices can be tested at online mobile device emulators such as http://www.testiphone.com/ and http://emulator.mtld.mobi/emulator.php.


[Key Words - Slide 19]

This slide shows data from an Analytics report called Keywords.  It shows the total number of visits sent by search engines, the total number of keywords searched, and the number of visits sent by each keyword. The phrase “apsu library” is the most popular keyword that brought visitors to the Woodward Library website.  


[Key Words - Slide 20]

This slide shows results from a search in Google Analytics for a specific keyword.  Woodward Library has a Robert Penn Warren collection, so this data proves that users are being led to the collection when searching for “Robert Penn Warren” in a search engine.


[Key Words - Slide 21]

Shown on this slide are the search engines which were used to bring visitors to the Woodward Library website from a specific keyword.  It also designates how many visitors came from each source.


[Key Words - Slide 22]

One of the most important ways that keywords can be used to improve customer service in libraries is by letting library administrators know which collection is bringing more users to the library website.  This data can be used to be used to improve advertising and guide promotion of services. It may also be used to make adjustments to the metadata elements used to describe the library website.


 [Key Words - Slide 23]

This slide shows results from a search at www.msn.com showing the Robert Penn Warren Collection as the sixth result from the top when searching for the keyword “Robert Penn Warren”.


[Traffic Sources - Slide 24]

This slide shows data from an Analytics report called Traffic Sources.  It shows which of three methods visitors used to connect to the tracked website.  The types of connection sources include direct, referral, and organic.  Direct means a user typed the URL of a tracked website in the address bar of a browser or opened a browser with the tracked webpage set as the homepage.  Organic means the tracked website was found through a search engine, and Referral means the visitor was directed to the tracked website from a link on another website.  Direct access is the most popular method of connection for the Woodward Library website, mainly because all the computers in the library computer labs and instruction rooms have http://library.apsu.edu set as the browser homepage.


[Traffic Sources - Slide 25]

It you are not getting many visits to a library website in each of the three connection sources on this page, you may need to make adjustments to improve in each area.  If a website receives few direct visits, you may need to make sure the library website is set as the homepage on all library computers. If you are not receiving many visits from search engines, you may need to adjust the metadata on your site.  Finally, if you are not receiving many referrals from other websites, you may want to consider advertising on a website such as Facebook or making sure a link to the website is included on all relevant websites.  For an academic library, this may include the website of the university.  For a public library, it may be the website for the Chamber of Commerce in the city where the library is located.  Modifications in these areas will improve customer service by making members of the community you serve more aware of services offered by the library.
 


[Traffic Sources - Slide 26]

Occasionally, you may receive referral visits from unexpected or unwanted websites.  That was the case for the Woodward Library website, in that many referrals were coming from a website where users post passwords for gaining access to library resources that should be limited to students and faculty.  Many of these websites exist and contain library access codes for libraries across the world.  Studying the list of referral visits in Google Analytics is one way to discover the URL address of these sites and determine the password that has been posted.  Based on this discovery, I was able to make modifications to prevent the majority of unauthorized users from bypassing the proxy server authentication method used by Woodward Library.  This improves customer service by speeding up database access for users and ensuring that database license agreements are followed.  Systemic downloading from unauthorized users can cause database access to be suspended when discovered by the vendor.


[Languages - Slide 27]

This slide shows data from an Analytics report called Languages.  It shows the total number of visits based upon the language each visitor has designated on his or her computer operating system.  English-United States is the language type designated for a large majority of visitors to the Woodward Library website.  Chinese PRC is the language behind English in number of visitors. The languages representing the language codes listed are provided in the Google Analytics help pages.


[Languages - Slide 28]

Some options for improving customer service based on the results in the Google Analytics languages report are to make the text on the library website (http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/index-e.html) and OPAC (http://mulopac.lib.ryukoku.ac.jp/cgi-bin/mopac/basic-query-e?smode=1&key)  available in multiple languages.  These results could also be used to guide collection development decisions concerning foreign-language collections.


[Languages - Slide 29]

Electronic database interfaces such as those provided by EBSCO offer options for viewing the interface text in multiple languages.


[Languages - Slide 30]

Electronic database interfaces such as these provided by Cengage Gale offer options for viewing the contained journal articles in multiple languages.


[Geographic Locations - Slide 31]

This slide shows data from an Analytics report called Geographic Locations.  It shows the number of visits sent to the tracked website from specific geographic locations. The geographic locations in this report can be viewed by country, region, and city.  For most library websites, the country where the library is located will provide the most visits to the website.


[Geographic Locations - Slide 32]

For library websites that are provided by libraries with a physical presence from which visitors can borrow print materials and videos, it makes sense that the highest number of website visitors would come from the same state where the library is located.  This would also be the case for academic libraries because most offer access to purchased electronic resources through IP address authentication.  This means that faculty and students can access resources without log-in from computers inside the library or other locations on campus.
 


[Geographic Locations - Slide 33]

In the state of Tennessee, Clarksville and the nearby city of Nashville are the locations where the majority of visitors to the Woodard Library website reside.  Since Google Analytics does not record individual IP addresses, it is impossible to narrow visits for a tracked website to a specific computer.


[Geographic Locations - 34]

Knowing the geographic location of visitors to the library website can help improve customer service by helping administrators determine where to focus advertising efforts.  It could also be used to help determine where a new branch library should be opened for public libraries and where a satellite campus should be created for an academic institution.


[Top Content - 35]

The previous slides have shown reports that reveal how library users connect to a website and what types of users are accessing a tracked website.  This slide contains an example of a report from Google Analytics called Top Content which shows the number of times each page within a website has been accessed during a specified time period.  It reveals what content users are viewing on your website.  The most visited webpage for most library websites should be the homepage, as is the case for the Woodward Library website.  The homepage for a website is listed as a forward slash in the Top Content report.  As expected, the next most visited webpage in the Woodward Library website was the page containing an alphabetical list and subject index for all the electronic resources provided by Woodward Library.


[Top Content - 36]

Entrance Paths can be viewed for each webpage listed on the Top Content report.  This option provides a detailed report showing the webpage users visited immediately after the selected webpage along with the following webpage that was visited.  It gives the webmaster the ability to see which links are being visited the most on a certain webpage.  


[Top Content - 37]

The reports provided under Top Content can help improve customer service by giving library administrators an idea of which services are most popular among visitors to the library website and where to place links for services that need to be advertised.


[Other Features - 38]

This slide features an example of a tool available in Google Analytics called Site Overlay.  This feature allows users to view statistics from Google Analytics directly from a chosen webpage within the website.   It factors in all the links available on a webpage and provides a percentage for each link based on the number of times it has been clicked.  Placing your cursor of a link shows the number of times each link has been clicked within the specified time period.


[Other Features - 39]

The export options available in Google Analytics truly increase the value of the product.  Each individual report or a combination of reports can be exported in a variety of formats, including PDF (which can be viewed with Adobe Reader) and CSV (which can be viewed with Microsoft Excel).  This feature makes it easy to share selected reports with other employees.  Reports can also be scheduled to run at a designated time and sent through e-mail to selected recipients.  Many other valuable reports and tools are available in Google Analytics.  Only selected reports and tools were featured in this presentation.


[Looking Ahead - 40]

A new Google Analytics feature already available in beta release is called Advanced Segments.  This option provides the ability to directly compare various sections of the available data. For example, the total number of visitors for a website can be compared in the same graph with the number of new visitors for a specified time period.  


[Looking Ahead - 41]

As shown on in the presentation abstract on this slide, some libraries have installed Google Analytics in their online public access catalog to help administrators determine how to make it more efficient for users.  The presentation that provides information about this process is titled “Using Google Analytics in the Proprietary OPAC.”  It was presented by Rebekah Kilzer and the slides can be viewed online at https://kb.osu.edu/dspace/handle/1811/31951.



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