At the April 26, 2021, Newtown Technology and Communications Committee (T&CC) Zoom meeting, several people complained that it was difficult to navigate the township website (www.newtownpa.gov) and find the information they were seeking (listen to the discussion).
Considering that the website is the main way that the township communicates with residents, it is crucial that its usability be improved. As Peter Drucker, who was arguably the world's greatest management consultant, famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
It just so happens that Google Analytics is one of the best tools available to “measure” the usability of websites – and it’s freely available. All that is required is a Google account and a special code to be inserted in every page, both of which are currently in use by the township.
The quest for a Google Analytics report for the township website goes back the June 13, 2018, BOS meeting. At that meeting, Josephine Vlastaris, who was then Chair of the Technology Committee, recommended using Google Analytics to monitor traffic and bounce rate for the township website, and make changes to pages as needed.
This issue was taken up recently by the revamped Newtown Township Technology & Communications Committee (T&CC), which requested a whole slew of analytics data. In response to that request, Beth Leone, Newtown Township Technology Director, ran Google Analytics on the township website for the period of Apr 1, 2021 through Sep 20, 2021. Several Reports were generated, which you can find in my DataBank.
This is my personal preliminary, non-expert analysis of the data submitted to the T&CC. A more definitive official report will be made in by T&CC experts in the near future and presented to the Board of Supervisors.
How Many Pages Are Visited?
Probably the most important parameter to keep track of is "pageviews." A pageview is an instance of an Internet user visiting a particular page on a site. A pageview is recorded whenever a full page of the website is viewed or refreshed. Unique Pageviews is the number of sessions during which the specified page was viewed at least once. Repeated views of a single page are not counted as unique views.
The Newtown website had 42,413 unique Pageviews from Apr 1, 2021 through Sep 20, 2021, which works out to 7,480 unique pageviews per month (divide 42,413 by 5.67 months). Compare that with my website, which averaged only 1,897 unique pageviews per month during the same period (read "Google Analytics and the Township’s Website").
Google Analytics can show you the Top 10, 25, 100, or whatever, pages viewed. Figure 1 shows data for the Top 10 township website pages viewed during the period Apr 1, 2021 through Sep 20, 2021. You can download the data for ALL of the 1395 pages.
To no-one's surprise, the home page (index.php) is the #1 paged viewed with 12,496 unique views. The other top pages include the municipal office contact page and permit applications page as well as other zoning related pages. The township police page surprisingly is #2 on the list. Also up there is the Board of Supervisors page and the Parks & Recreation page.
Obviously, many visitors are looking to contact the township regarding permits, zoning issues, and police matters. It seems to me that while many ordinary citizens may be accessing these pages, perhaps a majority of visitors are contractors, lawyers, etc. representing clients looking for specific information.
Why is the police department page so high on the list, especially since there is no direct link to it on the home page? I’ve heard that the police department gets many requests for arrest data either from lawyers or from people who are incarcerated. Or it could be that during this period the department was activity seeking to hire new officers and outside sites may have driven potential applicants to the police department to learn more about the department.
The minutes and agendas page is the 5th most visited page. On average, visitors spend more than 5 minutes on this page navigating through the menus trying to find what they are looking for. The time spent on most other pages is under one minute. See my lesson on how to access and download meeting agendas and minutes:
In July and August, 2021, committee members were asked to respond to a survey that asked: “Is your Committee using the Township Website?” To date, 12 responses have been received. When asked “If available, would your committee like to utilize the Township's website to post important committee and/or government topics?” all respondents chose “Yes, please.”
Unfortunately, many committee members were not aware that their committee can have useful information posted to its page on the township website. Consequently, these pages include just the bare minimum of information about the mission and members of the committee. Partially due to the lack of information on the page, most committee pages are not visited often as demonstrated by the data in Table 1.
Related data for other committees:
- Parks & Recreation Board: 4.1 sessions per month
- Human Relations Commission: 18.7 sessions per month
The dearth of useful information on a page is not the only reason for low pageviews. Another factor is how users are driven to the page. For more on that, see “Where Do Users Come From” at the end of this post.
Let’s look at the bounce rates. A “bounce” means that the visitor had no interaction with the page other than perhaps reading what was on it. They came and then left the site immediately without clicking on any link. As a rule of thumb, a bounce rate in the range of 26 to 40 percent is excellent. 41 to 55 percent is roughly average. You can see that most of the bounce rates for top pages is within the average range.
Bounce rates vary depending on the page. The bounce rate for the minutes and agendas page is 37.33% whereas for the Human Relations Commission page it is 74.53%. Perhaps many visitors think this is where they can find a well-paying township job!
I note that there are two conspicuous peaks in the pageviews chart; one on or about July 17, 2021 and another at the end of June 2021. I am not sure what caused these peaks. A deeper dive into the data might shed more light on this.
How Many Users Visit the Site?
A user is a unique person who has come to the website. A user can visit and leave the website multiple times per day. Each time they visit, do stuff, and leave is a “session.” The first time a person visits the site, a Google Analytics cookie will be set and a unique identifier will be assigned to that user. This then is used to distinguish the person as a “new user.”
Figure 2 below shows information about township website users and sessions for the period Apr 1, 2021 through Sep 20, 2021. Here “Users” is a total count of users during the report period, and “New Users” is just users in the report period that had only their first visit to the property during that period.
During the time period for the report, 85% of users were “new users.” I would have expected that the percent of “new users” would be lower. I am not an expert in interpreting these data and must leave it up to the experts to determine what this means.
What Day of the Week Do Users Visit the Website?
One more piece of data is the number of users by time of day, shown in the Figure 3 below.
It is obvious from this chart on the left that most visits to the township website occur during the work week and during normal business hours, This tells me that the majority of visits are business related – probably by lawyers, contractors, etc. This confirms what was interpreted from the top pages visited.
Just for the sake of comparison, the chart on the right shows the data for my website, which is geared more to the typical layperson/resident. It’s interesting that in both cases the peak day of the week is Wednesday – the “hump day!”
The majority (57%) of visitors to the township website use desktop computers to access the site while 40% use mobile phones and 2 % use tablets.
One of the most important pieces of information to gauge a website’s usefulness is the origin of visitors; i.e., referrers such as websites, search engines, etc. Figure 4 shows the referrers to my website (www.johnmacknewtown.info) during the month of April, 2021.
Unfortunately, this information was not included in the dataset presented to the T&CC. If we had these data, we may have discovered why certain pages, such as the police department page, received so many pageviews.
The goal of collecting and analyzing these data is to identify problems that can be fixed. Ultimately, the long-range goal is to make the site easier to use and to provide more useful information for Newtown residents. The T&CC discussed some ways to drive more visits to the website such as via social media, search engine optimization, etc. Committees should also update their pages often with useful information.
Whatever is done, we need to periodically run Google Analytics to measure the result.
Posted on 29 Sep 2021, 13:18 - Category: Communication