Google Analytics 101 for Municipal Clerks
If you’re wondering how to engage more with your online visitors, Google Analytics could hold the key. This type of analysis will help you understand your community and what they need from your website. Not only does Town Web Design provide clients with a fresh, professional and easy-to-maintain website, but we also give them an Analytics account.
The free online program provides comprehensive statistics regarding visitors to your website. Google Analytics allows you to see the amount of traffic you get on a daily basis, what page attracts the most visitors and what keywords they use to find your site. In fact, this popular analytics package can do so much more; the information it gives you about demographics, average time spent on site, device usage, and website referrals is invaluable to town clerks. Quite simply, Google Analytics gives you more control in managing your website’s content.
What can Google Analytics tell you about your website?
As a Town Web Design client, you are undoubtedly aware that your website is one of the most important tools you have to keep your community engaged and informed. By checking the statistics of your site, you have the power to make better data-driven decisions in delivering what your visitors want to see.
These are just some of the questions that Google Analytics can help you answer:
- How many people are visiting our website?
- Where do our visitors live?
- Which pages on our website are the most popular?
- How long do visitors stay on our website?
- What keywords do they use to find our website?
- Did the traffic come from a desktop or mobile device?
The data can only tell you what a visitor did on your site, not why they did it, and yet sometimes it is easy to make the connections and understand their online behavior.
Let’s take a more detailed look at a few of the ways Google Analytics can show you how your municipal website is performing.
Web page analyses can be divided into three subsections: visits, visitors and page views.
Analytics can show you how many people are visiting your site and of that number, how many are unique visitors. For example, if one person visits your website five times in a week and another visits it just once, you will only have two visitors although they may have generated 10 page views between them. Of course, it’s also possible that one person may use different devices and search your website from different locations. But generally, the ‘visitors’ metric will usually be smaller than the number of visits.
The page view function allows you to see the number of pages viewed over a set amount of time either by one person or as an average of all visitors. If a visitor only views one page during a visit, Google reports this as a ‘bounce’. If a visitor views a page twice during one visit it counts as two page views but only one unique page view. The average page views per visit function can be useful in telling you how engaged people are with your site. It’s also possible to see who is visiting your website in real-time.
If a certain page seems to be more popular than others, it might be a good idea to figure out why; and determine if it’s the content, a keyword, or something else. If a topic is popular, keep posting new information or updating the existing page to bring in more readers.
As you can see in the screenshot below, the town of Delavan’s second most popular page is dedicated to the police department.
Analyzing why some pages get more views than others can give you a better understanding of what your viewers are looking for when they come to your site. By optimizing the most popular pages, you can help visitors find what they’re looking for or encourage them on towards a specific point of action on the page.
Time Spent On the Website
Google Analytics can calculate the amount of time spent on a website from the first page view to the last. It can also calculate the average time on a page (excluding bounces) and the average amount of time on the site (including bounces) by dividing the total time by the number of visits.
If you notice that visitors are viewing more pages and spending an increasing amount of time on your website, it can signal that your website content is well-targeted and visitors are more likely to recommend the site to friends and colleagues. On the other hand, if the viewing time is noticeably short for each page but visitors spend a long time on the website, it could demonstrate frustration in trying to find the information they need.
Knowing the keywords people use to search for your website is invaluable. It can help you to understand what your visitors are looking for and which issues are important to your town’s residents. For example, the screenshot below consolidates the fact that the people of Delavan are very keen to find the police department based on the number of organic keyword searches as well as being the second most visited page (as highlighted above).
Town Web Design’s municipal websites are created to be mobile-friendly, which is a good thing considering how huge mobile usage has become. People are inherently lazy, and will usually choose the convenience of a mobile or tablet to quickly look up some information about their town when the need arises.
The standard mobile statistics page includes an Overview Report. This report breaks down the total traffic to your site into the categories of desktop, mobile and tablet over a specified amount of time. The ‘Summary’ option is a useful way of finding out the most important information regarding the percentage of visitors on different devices and how long they spend on your site.
Again we’ll use the town of Delavan as an example. For the sake of simplicity, we will define ‘mobile’ as including both mobile phones and tablets. As you can see from the picture below 35% of traffic comes from mobile alone and the majority of new sessions also comes from cell phone use.
This is a big change from the times before iPhones and Android phones were prevalent. The next screenshot also highlights the huge increase in mobile usage. In 5 years, the site’s desktop-only traffic decreased by about 10%. What happened? More people switched to mobile and traffic grew by over 1300%!
The report also contains a ‘Devices’ section which allows you to see which brands and models are generating the most traffic. The most common devices are usually iPhones, and this could suggest that the majority of mobile optimization efforts should be focused on iOS.
The average daily mobile usage for Delavan is usually 35%, but on February 16th, 2016, it spiked to over 45%. The clue to this sudden surge of visits can be found on the page view report, which shows that the election and voting page was the most visited page that day. In fact, that day was the Spring Primary and the election page got more visits than the homepage, which is a rare occurrence but makes sense based on the current activity for the town during that timeframe.
What is even more noteworthy is that on the actual election day in April, the traffic to the Town of Delavan site was more than two times to three times busier than other days. Lots of people are visiting the website on Election Day to get updates for the Election Results.
Organic Search vs Social Media
Another helpful function of Google Analytics is its ability to show you where your traffic is originating. Traffic can come from direct URL, search engines, social media or referrals.
Organic searches can highlight what people want from your website and if you’re providing it. If these search results are low it might be time for you to start using some keywords and looking into Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Referral traffic is generated when another website links to your site and can be a strong indicator of which external sources are most valuable in helping your town. Social media referrals allow you to see how effective your social presence is on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
In the case of Delavan, organic searches make up the vast majority of traffic to the town’s website. Social is very small – just two clicks from Facebook, one from LinkedIn (the clerk has a LinkedIn profile). Further investigation reveals that the two visits from Facebook were mobile-only.
Google Analytics not only shows where your traffic is coming from virtually but also shows your visitors’ geographic locations. There is a map overlay that provides a particularly useful glance at where your visitors are located, both across the country and on a local level.
This map of Delavan shows an obvious concentration of visitors from Wisconsin, but it is also interesting to see where else visitors are geographically based. Around 40 states visited the website in a 3-month period.
It’s interesting to see visitors coming from out of state if your town is known to have a percentage of the population who own a second property or even hunting land. By knowing what out-of-town visitors are looking for, you can help make their visit, to both your website and town, better.
A Demographic Comparison
Some towns are more rural than others and it’s particularly useful to follow user engagement to see whether urban and rural residents are both equally engaged on the website. If not, it’s time to try some new tactics.
In this respect, it’s helpful to compare two towns to give a better understanding of how contrasting demographics can affect Analytics results. We’ll compare two Wisconsin towns: Delavan and Phelps.
The Town of Delavan is located in South Wisconsin and most web traffic reflects its popularity with locals.
However, in the town of Phelps, traffic not only originates from the locality but also includes bunches of traffic coming from Wausau, Madison and Milwaukee Metro area.
So why do the results for two Wisconsin towns show such contradictory results?
Well, Phelps is known as an outdoor winter destination which attracts people who enjoy things like ice fishing and snowmobiling. Whereas Delavan is more of an urban, summer outdoors location. These two towns provide good insight for a town board to see how a municipal town site is being used and you can also draw conclusions as to who is using it. You can see how the town of Phelps differs from the town of Delavan based on the visitor’s profile, and see that the former attracts an outdoors crowd.
Get Started with Google Analytics Today
Google Analytics can seem a little daunting when you first start using it. However, once you have the data, you should really make the most of it by optimizing your content and delivering what your citizens want to see. It’s important to interpret the data in context and only focus on the things that are actionable. The days of simple but dated and tacky hit counters are long gone, and Google Analytics can provide you with valuable information that enables you to better serve your visitors.