Five web analytics metrics for technical writers

By using Google Analytics technical writers can discover what content they write is popular, how long users read their content, and where their customers live. This blog post is a summary of the main points I discussed at my recent presentation at the WritersUA writing conference in Long Beach, California.

What is Web Analytics?

First off, web analytics enables technical writers to see how users access your intranet, support web sites, and even help systems that are hosted on a web server. Some writers that I’ve talked to seem to think that web analytics is complicated to set up and use. Actually, setting it up is pretty simple, assuming you’re comfortable with adding a bit of Google’s code to your HTML page. Analyzing your data is also pretty simple for our purposes.

Why It’s Important for Technical Writers

I believe web analytics is important for two reasons.

First, it provides insights into how your users are finding your site, how they explored it, and how technical writers can enhance their experience. Most of us work in organizations where there are limited resources and a large of queue of work. With web analytics, you can quickly discover the number of people reviewing your content for a given period (monthly, quarterly, or even daily), and which documents are popular and which documents are largely ignored.

Second, with web analytics, I think that it’s quite possible that our writing will be monitored—even scrutinized—in certain organizations that are interested in seeing the effectiveness of each document and support topic we write.

Tristan Bishop, a blogger and senior content strategist, wrote about the use of web analytics and how it will change our jobs:

“It won’t be long before you’ll know which of your topics are making a positive difference, which need some help and which can simply disappear. It will soon be painfully obvious which team members are writing the high-impact topics, which are writing the unintelligible topics and which are writing the irrelevant topics.” Ouch.

What Can You Measure

For a free technology, it’s amazing what you can discover using Google Analytics. You can monitor the number of visitors coming to your site or help system for a specified period, the number of new visitors versus returning visitors, the average length of time users spend on your site, the keywords they use in a search field, the country they live in, the browser they use to access your content, and much more. In fact, if you’re interested, you can keep tabs on dozens of metrics. But for technical writers, I think there are just a handful of metrics you might want to keep an eye on.

1. Overall traffic volumes. This is important because it gives you a sense how many people are reading the content you write and support. You can start performing comparisons of this month’s traffic versus the previous month’s traffic. Are numbers going up? How is it related to support calls?

2. Visit duration. In general, the longer a person spends on your site, the more likely he or she will return. In contrast, if a person stays only a few seconds, you may deduce that there is nothing of value to the user.

3. Bounce rates. Strictly speaking, a bounce occurs when a visitor looks at just one page of your help or web site and then leaves the site quickly. If a visitor comes to your intranet or support site and then immediately clicks the Back button, it’s considered a bounce. If your bounce rate is high (expressed as a percentage such as 50 percent), you may be drawing the wrong type of person to your intranet/site.

4. Search keywords. Using analytics, you can track the most common keywords that users search for while using your support web site or help system, providing insight into the content that customers want. So this may help you understand:

•What are customers looking for and struggling with?

•What are the most common phrases when people are searching?

•As a writer, do you need to change the way you describe a procedure or concept so it’s more in line with the way customers think of it?

5. Top pages and content. Knowing what visitors are seeking out can help you tailor content for them and help you prune the content that isn’t being used. This may help you focus your efforts when it comes to understanding the best way to spend your time.

Setting Up Google Analytics

Google has done a good job of explaining how to set up web analytics on your web site or online help. For more information, see http://www.google.com/analytics/discover_analytics.html

Other resources worth reviewing:

•Web Analytics: An Hour a Day by Avinash Kaushik

•Kaushik’s blog: http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/

•Web Analytics Demystified by Eric T Peterson

•Author Anne Gentle’s blog entry on web analytics:
http://justwriteclick.com/2010/09/01/web-analytics-for-technical-documen…

•Google Analytics by Jerri L. Ledford

Check out Robert Desprez’s blog: http://www.robertdesprez.com/Site_3/Blog/Blog.html


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