Marketing and public outreach are invaluable for the public sector, and the best place to start is with a positive digital user experience. One of the best ways to determine if you have a successful user experience is through proactive analysis of website metrics and reporting with systems like Google Analytics or IBM Analytics. However, don’t make the mistake of separating the performance of your digital outreach from your engagement, as this can impede your ability to reach project goals or discover opportunities to grow your connection with the public.
You don’t need to be a statistician or data nerd to understand that results matter. Luckily, figuring out how your outreach through email, social media, or paid advertising is contributing to project goals doesn’t require an advanced degree. With some simple steps and little bit of planning, you can turn “We think this is working so let’s hope for the best” to “We can prove success and confidentially plan for the future.” Here’s how:
Step 1 – Connect With Website Analytics Tools
Before you can improve how the public interacts with you, the first step is to better understand how you’re performing today. Updating your website, content, or email strategy without a guide of what to improve can do more harm than good. Take these actions:
- If you aren’t already taking advantage of Google Analytics or IBM Analytics, it would be helpful to do so. Digitalgov.gov has plenty of guidance on government-wide analytics tools for government organizations.
- If you know your office is taking advantage of either, request “Read & Analyze” permissions to your office’s account.
Whether you have access or not, it’s helpful to understand some basics on what different data points mean. Get up to speed on definitions and how to look at reporting with easy tips from GovLoop or through Google’s Analytics Academy (both are free). After an hour or two, you’ll be well equipped with the knowledge needed to determine website success.
Step 2 – Determine Current Performance
The only way to improve is by analyzing how your organization is doing today. Below are some questions to ask when looking at your website data, starting with the past 12 months. These will help determine how people are finding your website, what they are interacting with, and their usual behaviors on your website:
- What is the average behavior of someone on your website (Pages/Session, Bounce Rate, Avg. Session Duration, Percent New Sessions)?
- What are your most popular webpages by page views and sessions?
- Who are your top referrals and the average behavior of traffic from those referrals?
- What webpages are people most often leaving or bouncing from?
There are no wrong answers to these questions. This data will set baselines for typical website interactions. If you want to know how you measure up with other websites, Google Analytics makes it easy to compare your performance with industry benchmarks and Digitalgov.gov provides guidance on how to best analyze your data.
Step 3 – Integrate Websites With Digital Outreach
Having an understanding of how people are interacting with your website is one thing. Understanding how your digital audiences are engaging with different public initiatives or marketing campaigns is a crucial piece of the puzzle. A high click rate in your email messages doesn’t matter if you can’t determine what actions your messages’ recipients are taking. All the retweets in the world won’t help you prove what piece of content is successful if you don’t know what your Twitter followers are doing after clicking a link.
When you’re reaching out through email, social media, or another digital channel, you almost always include a link directing people back to your website to take an action. Google Analytics’ “campaign parameters” allow to tag each of your links to allow you to follow your audience from click to an end goal on your website.
Website URL – The address for the website you are directing people to
Campaign Source – The tool you are pushing the link through (govdelivery, google, twitter)
Campaign Medium – The type of tool you are leveraging (email, social, cost per click)
Campaign Name – The name you want to identify this URL with (welcome-campaign, 2017annual event, veterans-newsletter)
Final Result: https://www.va.gov/VLER/vler-health-direct.asp? (website URL) utm_source=govdelivery (campaign source) &utm_medium=email (campaign medium) &utm_campaign=vler-promo2017 (campaign name)
Although there are other campaign parameters you can add to your URL, these are the basics that should be added to all of your outbound links. Google Analytics makes it simple to quickly build your URL with a Campaign URL Builder. Although there are industry standards for using different parameters, the important thing is to be consistent in how you use them. Standardize how you format your campaign names and ensure each piece of content pushed through email, social media, or paid advertising has its own URL to determine what is or isn’t convincing your audience to take action on your website.
Step 4 – Make Data-Based Decisions
Once you understand the behavior of your typical web visitor, you should compare it to the performance of your digital outreach tagged with campaign parameters. Holding your digital promotions accountable allows for you to determine which content, audience, and campaign is making the biggest impact.
- Here are some key questions to ask yourself to make sure you are effectively using data to influence future decisions:
- What are the key performance metrics for each piece of content we are publishing online?
- What is “success” for each piece of content (downloads, enrollments, feedback)?
- How does success track back to my available metrics?
- Which channels are leading to a higher amount of end-point conversions for a lower amount of time spent doing work?
- How are my different channels performing in the promotion of the same/different pieces of content?
- What metrics does leadership care about and how is it presented?
- How often are we implementing lessons learned from our analysis?
- Does our past performance lead to changes in our we are reaching out to the public?
Not every piece of data needs to be incorporated into your analysis. There is simply too much information so prioritizing what you review and when are key. It may not matter what type of browser your email recipients use or how many people around bouncing from your Site Map webpage. Focus on the metrics that correlate with your content’s definition for success and your audience’s behavior flow.
By following these steps, you will be able to determine if your current strategy is working, or if it could benefit from being further maximized.
For more information about digital engagement benchmarks in the public sector, check out our 2017 Benchmark Report.