(Today’s post is almost more of a question than anything else, so please post your thoughts in the comments. I’m genuinely interested.)
Most libraries have some form of web analytics, to measure at least the basics: page views, number of unique visitors, time spent on the site, and so forth. But those numbers are often largely meaningless. Sure, maybe your library’s site got more page views than last month, but so what? What does that translate into? More views don’t necessarily mean that your library will have more (for example) circs or more attendance at programs.
The relevant term here, used in web analytics, is conversions. A conversion is when a visitor comes to a website and then takes whatever action the owner of the website is hoping the visitor will take. For retail sites, defining a conversion is generally easy. Someone came to the site and then bought something. Even for other not-for-profits, figuring a conversion is relatively simple. Typically, they want you to donate money or take an advocacy-related action, such as writing your legislator. In both of these instances, there are clear actions that the site owners want visitors to take. The conversion is, essentially, the holy grail of web metrics. It’s the thing that really matters. Did the website help users take the desired action or not?
Now, back to libraries.
To measure a conversion, you have to first have at least one goal for site users. I’ve often seen goals like “helping users find what they want to do more easily.” Sure, that’s great. But how do you convert that to something the library wants users to do? Libraries often want to do things like circulate more items or increase program attendance. Both are offline actions. How can web analytics be connected to offline goals?
Metrics can help libraries tell stories, target specific audiences and better arrange their websites for users. In no way am I saying that metrics are unimportant. ( If you don’t have them, get them.) But, I’m truly curious about how libraries figure conversions, when conversions measure goals met. In other words, how can a library really calculate success via its website? The website is primarily an outreach function of the library, not the library itself. Metrics might tell you how easy to use or interesting your library’s site is, but I wonder how well they can tell us how successful the library is.
What am I missing? Folks who are heavily steeped in analytics–can you provide any insight?