Google Analytics and the Catholic Portal

Through my experimentation with Google Analytics, it has proven to be a rather useful tool for tracking usage patterns for the Catholic Portal. However, it is only effective if one knows where to look for information. To that end, I have compiled a quick guide about where to find the answers to all sorts of questions about website usage. While I use the Catholic Portal for these examples, the instructions here should be applicable for any site set up to use Google Analytics.

 

Note: Images in this article can be clicked on to get a full-size image

 

Overview of where to find user information:

 

Peak periods of use and hits per day/month/year:

This can be found in the Visitors Overview screen, under the Audience section. On this screen, there is a line graph of unique visits for a given time period (by default, it shows visits per day for a one month period). The time unit for the x-axis (hour, day, week, or month) can be adjusted with the buttons in the top-right corner immediately above the graph, and the total amount of time shown in the graph can be adjusted using the date settings drop-down menu above the time unit buttons. Hits recorded by Google Analytics do not include bots or crawlers, as they are unlikely to trigger the JavaScript code that Google Analytics uses to record usage statistics (alternatively, Google may just automatically exclude counting bots through its own methods).

 

Visitors Overview screen

To find the peak periods of use for the Catholic Portal from August 1 to October 31, the first thing to do is to set the desired period of time by clicking the calendar settings in the top-right corner and selecting the desired date range.

Date range selection

After selecting the desired date range, the graph can be set up to use hours, days, weeks, or months as units. For this example, the default (days) will be used.

Highest usage (mid-week)

Lowest usage (weekends)

Overall, the periods of highest use tended to be during the middle of the week, with peaks tending to occur on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Usage dropped to its lowest point during the weekends.

Search strings entered:

There are two sources on Google Analytics for strings entered by users for searches. The first is in the Traffic Sources section overview, which shows keywords that are entered in the search engines (Google, Bing, etc.) which referred those users to the Catholic Portal. The other source is in the Site Search section of the Content section. Instead of giving keywords from external search engines, this gives the keywords entered in a search box on the website itself. However, Site Search tracking must be configured to track a particular search box. In the case of the Catholic Portal, Site Search is set up to track entries in the search box on the Catholic Portal’s main page.

Both types of sources for strings entered are shown in the pictures below. The top picture displays the list of top keywords in the Traffic Sources section from August 1, 2012 to October 31, 2012. The bottom picture, on the other hand, displays the top searches entered using the Catholic Portal’s search feature from August 1, 2012 to October 31, 2012.

 

Traffic Sources (strings entered on search engines)

Site Search (strings entered using a web site’s search features)

Use of Web 2.0 features:

The use of Web 2.0 features (e-mail, cite, etc.) can be tracked by checking for hits to their corresponding links. For the use of the “cite” option, for example, the pattern for such links is “http://www.catholicresearch.net/Record/[record ID]/Cite”. E-mail, export, and text use the same pattern, with “Cite” replaced by “Email”, “Export”, and “SMS”, respectively. To find the number of hits for, say, email links, first go to Site Content (under the Content section) and then All Pages. In the search box above the list of links, enter “/Email” (without quotes), and a list of hits to the email links will be produced. Be sure to enter the slash, as false positives can be returned without it (in particular, “SMS” without the slash will return results with “Catechisms” in the string.

 

Use of the “Email” feature on the Catholic Portal from Aug. 1 2012 – Oct. 31, 2012

Use of the “Cite” feature on the Catholic Portal from Aug. 1 2012 – Oct. 31, 2012

Use of the “SMS” feature on the Catholic Portal from Aug. 1 2012 – Oct. 31, 2012

Use of the “Export” feature on the Catholic Portal from Aug. 1 2012 – Oct. 31, 2012

For the period between August 1, 2012 and October 31, 2012, there was very little usage of the Web 2.0 features.

Field searches vs. general searches:

Finding statistics on the use of field or general searches is dependent on how the searching method for the site is set up. For the Catholic Portal, the type of search is indicated in the URL with “type=[Search Type].” For example, general searches are indicated with “type=AllFields” and field searches can have “tag,” “ISN,” “CallNumber,” “Subject,” “Author,” or “Title” in place of “AllFields.” To find the number of searches for a given type of search, go to Site Content (under the Content section) and then All Pages. In the search box above the list of links, enter “type=[Search Type]” (without quotes, where [Search Type] is the value of whichever search type for which you want to find statistics), and a list of searches performed for that given type will be produced. The ability to do this for the Catholic Portal is only possible because the search result pages have individual URLs due to the way search is set up on the site. For web sites which do not have URLs for each search result page, or which do not indicate the type of search in the URL, tracking such statistics may not be possible without another form of tracking (e.g., server-side scripts).

 

“General” (All fields) search results

“Subject” search results

“Author” search results

“Title” search results

“Call Number” search results

“ISN” search results

“Tag” search results

For the period between August 1, 2012 and October 31, 2012, the use of general and subject searches (2,361 and 2,329 hits respectively) greatly outnumbered the use of author (84 hits), title (286 hits), ISN (6 hits), call number (13 hits), and tag searches (5 hits).

Use of the tabs at the top:

For the Catholic Portal, these pages are under the About directory (e.g., “http://www.catholicresearch.net/About/Council” is the account login page). To find the number of hits for these pages, first go to Site Content (under the Content section) and then All Pages. In the search box above the list of links, enter “/About/” (without quotes), and a list of hits to the tabs at the top will be produced. For any site which is set up to use Google Analytics, the usage statistics of pages under a particular sub-directory can be found with this search box.

Use of the tabs at the top from August 1, 2012 to October 31, 2012

User account usage information:

While this cannot be determined directly via Google Analytics, a reasonable guess can be made for account usage based on how often the pages associated with user account management are accessed. For the Catholic Portal, these pages are under the MyResearch directory (e.g., “http://www.catholicresearch.net/MyResearch/Home” is the account login page). To find the number of hits for these pages, first go to Site Content (under the Content section) and then All Pages. In the search box above the list of links, enter “/MyResearch” (without quotes), and a list of hits to the tabs at the top will be produced.

Use of pages related to user accounts on the Catholic Portal from August 1, 2012 to October 31, 2012

 

Based on the low usage of pages under the “MyResearch” directory, it is likely that user account usage on the Catholic Portal was low for the period between August 1, 2012 and October 31, 2012.

Language and Country/territory:

The language and location of users and be found in Google Analytics, under Audience / Overview or Audience / Demographics, and is based on host and IP data.
For the Catholic Portal, most visitors are from the United States, with English as the most commonly reported language. For the period between August 1, 2012 and October 31, 2012, Italy comes in second place, and there are a few other countries with significant Catholic populations in the top ten results such as the Philippines, Poland, and Spain.

Country of origin for visitors from August 1, 2012 to October 31, 2012

Reported language/locale for visitors from August 1, 2012 to October 31, 2012

 

Browser, Operating System, and ISP:

The browser, OS, and ISP of the users can be found through different options under the Audience tab. The users’ browser and OS can be found under Browser & OS, which is in the Technology subsection of Audience, and the ISP can be found under Network, which is also in the Technology subsection.
In the case of the Catholic Portal about 74% of visitors use Windows, 15.8% use Macintosh, and the remainder is divided between Linux and a variety of mobile operating systems (e.g., iOS, Android, Blackberry). As for browsers, the usage is divided more evenly, with Internet Explorer at 34.3%, Firefox at 25.9%, Chrome at 19.1%, and Safari at 16.5%.

Operating Systems used by visitors to the Catholic Portal from August 1, 2012 to October 31, 2012

 

Browsers used by visitors to the Catholic Portal from August 1, 2012 to October 31, 2012

 

Reported ISPs of visitors to the Catholic Portal from August 1, 2012 to October 31, 2012

 

Search engine referral/where users come from:

The referrer can give an indication of how and possibly why users come to the site. This information can be found in the Overview section of the Traffic Sources tab in the left side bar. In the Overview screen, the sources are broken down into Search Traffic (users who arrived from a search engine such as Google or Yahoo), Direct Traffic (users who arrived from clicking a bookmark or from typing in a URL), and Referral Traffic (users who arrived from clicking a link on a site other than a search engine). The Sources section provides further information on categories, dividing possible sources into All Traffic, Direct, and Referrals. The Search section provides information on results from search engines which brought users to the site. Note: This is not to be confused with the Site Search section (under Content), which provides information on searches performed on the site (e.g., a search box on the main page) rather than search engines. Site Search tracking, additionally, has to be set up to track use of whichever search box for which statistics are desired.

 

Overview of traffic sources for the Catholic Portal from August 1, 2012 to October 31, 2012

Listing of all traffic sources for the Catholic Portal from August 1, 2012 to October 31, 2012

Listing of direct traffic sources for the Catholic Portal from August 1, 2012 to October 31, 2012

 

Listing of all non-search engine referrers for the Catholic Portal from August 1, 2012 to October 31, 2012

 

Most visitors seem to reach the Catholic Portal through search engines, and those that do not tend to reach the site through links from Catholic universities (e.g., University of Notre Dame, Georgetown, SHU) or from library-related websites such as vufind.org or cathla.org.

User activity:

The activity pattern of users can be determined in the Behavior sub-section of the Audience tab. This section contains a number of statistics regarding the duration and frequency of user activity. Among these statistics are:

Bounce rate – The bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who come to one page on the website, and then leave to some other website within a short time. This can be viewed within the Overview section under the Audience tab, or alternatively under the Engagement subsection of Behavior (under Audience). This section has two measured dimensions that can be selected: “Visit Duration” and “Page Depth.” The bounce rate cited in the Overview section is equal to percentage of visits with a Page Depth of one.

 

Page depth of visitors to the Catholic Portal between August 1, 2012 and October 31, 2012

Duration of visits to the Catholic Portal between August 1, 2012 and October 31, 2012

 

Frequency and recency — Statistics on frequency (number of times visited by the same visitor) and recency (amount of time between visits by a repeat user) can be viewed under the Frequency & Recency subsection of Behavior (under Audience). The graph on this screen can be set up to view the numbers of visitors who visit a particular number of times (frequency) or the number of visitors who waited a certain number of days before a subsequent visit (recency).

Number of visits to the Catholic Portal from individual IP addresses between August 1, 2012 and October 31, 2012

Overall, visitors to the Catholic Portal tend not to be repeat visitors, and they do not stay at the site for very long.

Error messages:

Google Analytics does not seem to record any information about client-side or server-side errors. The only error related information I found was on Analog (a set of server-side scripts for tracking Catholic Portal statistics), which records the frequency that HTTP status codes get returned, which includes errors such as 404 (Not Found), 403 (Forbidden), and 500 (Internal Server Error). Unfortunately, more detailed information (e.g., which particular user requests give errors, whether certain errors correlate with a particular time) would require logs of individual requests, which neither Analog nor Google Analytics provide. One way that Google Analytics could be set up to track errors is if a given site is programmed so that an error causes a redirect to a custom error page (for example, some websites will redirect the user to a customized 404 or 500 error pages when the server encounters an error). If a site is set up in this fashion, the number of hits to the custom error pages could provide some indication of the frequency of various errors. This might not, however, be possible for all types of errors.

Dashboards

Google Analytics allows setting up widgets on the Dashboard, so that you may have a convenient, customized set of data on one page. To do so, first click on the Home tab on the top of the Google Analytics page. Then, click on Dashboards, which is on the left side. Under the Dashboards link, click + New Dashboards to create a new dashboard with whatever title or style you like. “Starter” will automatically fill the dashboard with a set of widgets. Widgets can be deleted, added, or edited with either the “Blank” or “Starter” option. To edit a widget, click on the gear icon on the top-right corner of any widget. Then, you can customize its presentation style (graph, table, etc.), metric (Visits, Page views, Visit Duration, etc.), and other options. You can save these options with the Save button on the bottom-left. To add a widget, click + Add Widget, which will bring up the same configuration screen as when you edit a widget. To delete a widget, click the gear icon by any widget to bring up the edit screen. Then, click “Delete Widget” on the bottom-right corner of this screen.

Example Dashboard for the Catholic Portal

Note: Dashboards are unique to whichever user creates them, so only that user may view or edit. However, they can be shared with other Google Analytics users who have an account associated with the same page (in this case, the Catholic Portal) using the Share Dashboard link in the Dashboards screen. This will give a link that can be sent to another user, so that he or she may import a Dashboard with the same set of widgets. The new dashboard would be a copy, so changes that the recipient makes to that dashboard would not appear on the sender’s dashboard, or vice versa. Additionally, you can create a PDF file with the widgets you have created using the Export tab.

Conclusions

While it is not an all-encompassing solution to all types of usage analysis that you may want to do, Google Analytics provides plenty options in an easy to use fashion such that you can find a lot of useful information about how users are using your site. It is important, however, to keep in mind the limitations of Google Analytics and to be familiar with how your site is set up and organized to be able to make best use of the service.