Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 1: Web Analytics Overview

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 1: Web Analytics Overview

Article excerpt


This chapter of Using Web Analytics in the Library provides an overview of Web Analytics, the types of services available, and the type of data that they can provide.


We live in an age of accountability. For libraries, that means it is no longer enough just to inform our stakeholders that the work we do is worthwhile, is good for the community, and is a responsible use of the taxpayers' (or owners') money. Instead, we must justify our services, from both financial and logistical points of view. Librarians must operate with a "return on investment" mindset, learning to demonstrate value offered for both public and private dollars.

At the same time, we have been shifting to a user-focused paradigm for the past decade. While our traditional way of conducting business has been one-directional, where we have made decisions for programs and services based on our own professional perspectives, we have recently become aware of the value of listening to patrons and of crafting programs and services based in large part on their input. With the growth of social networking tools being a major facilitator of societal change, users have become partners in numerous aspects of libraries' daily operations.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the library's digital branch, (1) or its Web presence. The library website has become vital as a community outreach tool and as an ongoing source of information to its users. However, rather than a one-directional, electronically posted version of a flyer or newsletter, the contemporary website is truly a place of community interaction among its users. The website can extend the services available at the brick and mortar library and offer a diverse set of interactive tools such as book discussions, live chat, print resources for download, video instruction and support for research, and blogs that invite user participation. All of these initiatives heighten engagement among the community.

Thus librarians are faced with the challenge of creating innovative tools in a changing society, while at the same documenting responsible use of our resources. In addition, we want to demonstrate within our own organizations that our website is constantly responding to trends and user needs. Finding tools to assist with these challenges is essential. Web analytics is just such a tool.

What Is Web Analytics?

Web analytics is a process through which statistics about website use are gathered and compiled electronically. An analytics program can be used as a tool to help you get to know your users--who they are, where they are coming from, and how they use your site. Ultimately, having access to information about your users helps you to make appropriate decisions about your site, whether those decisions apply to major redesigns of your site or to ongoing tweaking and minor changes reflective of shifts in customer usage or in your own current programs and services.

The origins of web analytics are from commercial website design, where tracking users' behaviors and actions directly relates to consumers' purchasing behavior. However, web analytics can be just as valuable for a nonprofit website as for an e-commerce site. One approach is to monetize your website goals, applying a dollar figure to certain activities such as user visits or online program registrations. Essentially, however, librarians should simply translate the theories of profit-based customer usage into the goals and situations that are specific to your organization. No matter the kind of organization, the website should seek to understand the visitors' experience and be responsive to their needs.

Combining Quantitative with Qualitative Data

Perhaps the best known name in the field of web analytics is Avinash Kaushik. In addition to two books, Kaushik writes an excellent blog, Occam's Razor, and has numerous videos online regarding best practices of web analytics use. …

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