July 31, 2019
Using data-driven analysis to improve federal websites is the law … and it’s not as complicated as you might think.
In fact, metrics are a federal web practitioner’s best friend. They tell you what users are actually doing on a website, revealing patterns and trends that you can use to identify design, content, or navigation enhancements that meet their needs.
The 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA) requires federal agencies to review their websites and provide Congress with a list of those that need modernization to meet IDEA requirements by December. Here are six key metrics to pay attention to in evaluating and enhancing your websites:
Time on site can be a good or bad thing. If your website is meant to deliver quick-to-consume content or facilitate transactions, an average time on site of several minutes could indicate that users are having trouble finding what they need. The reverse can be said for sites that seek to educate visitors with a lot of content. If your users are spending less than a minute on one of those sites, you might want to consider reorganizing your information to draw them in.
Once you determine your average time on site, you can begin to think through optimizations to push it up or down, depending on your agency’s or program’s objectives.
This metric tells you which pages your visitors frequent. Understanding which of your pages draw the most traffic and how your users are engaging with them tells you which content is the most popular — and where enhancements can have the biggest effect.
A “bounce” is when a user lands on your site and leaves without visiting any other pages. A high bounce rate is the clearest indicator that a page needs a checkup and enhancement; this is especially true of pages with high traffic. The goal is to capitalize on a page’s traffic by driving visitors to additional webpages that appeal to their needs and interests.
If all your traffic is from new users, it can mean your visitors aren’t returning because they don’t find the website useful. But if your site traffic is only from return visitors, your audience isn’t growing, and the site is likely only penetrating a small segment of your intended audiences. In either case, gathering qualitative feedback from your target users and conducting keyword research to see what your audiences are searching for online can guide enhancements. Generally, a healthy balance of new vs. return traffic is ideal.
Your source medium metrics will tell you how users are getting to your site. Are they coming from a search engine? From a bookmark or direct URL? From a site or email that links to your site? Understanding how users gets to your site can tell you how to treat users once they get there and point to ways to prioritize user experience enhancements, search engine optimization, or even paid digital advertising.
To evaluate your digital landscape, you need to know how many of your visitors are using mobile phones, desktop or laptop computers, or tablets. This can help you start to prioritize which devices to optimize for. You should also be looking at average time on site and bounce rate by device. For example, if a significant portion of visitors use mobile devices but that traffic bounces at a rate of more than 80%, you may have usability issues to address.
These metrics are just the tip of the iceberg of the user data available through tools like Federated Analytics, but they can provide extremely useful insights into the quality of the experience your site is providing. They’ll help you answer pivotal questions about your site, paint a more holistic picture of your users and what they’re hoping to achieve, and ultimately direct you to valuable website improvements.
Data-driven decision-making is paramount to a successful web strategy, and it’s required to meet the 21st Century IDEA’s requirements. But beyond using web analytics to determine optimizations, you can track metrics to help maximize limited internal resources, justify enhancements, and show that you’re making an impact.
Mr. Bikowski's clients include the U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, the National Science Foundation, and leading private sector organizations.
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