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A. G. A. Day At The Races

I've been learning and working in the design team here at Fresh Egg for a little over 9 months, fine tuning my design and development skills and getting great tips from the rest of the Fresh Egg web design team. I am always keen to learn something new, and so when our Head of Analytics & Insight - Nikki Rae sent an email around asking if anyone wanted to take part in some Google Analytics training, i jumped at the chance! To my surprise, my enthusiasm prompted an invite from Nikki to the Fresh Egg Google Analytics Training day -" A G.A. Day at the Races with Nikki Rae, Jason Buck & Simon Nixon. "

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The day started (for me at least) with a 45 minute walk up the hill from Brighton Marina, not the best of starts as I took a wrong turn and ended up having to climb the steep grass verge behind the racecourse.  With 20 minutes to spare and the sun beaming down I took a moment to catch my breath. Feeling composed once again found my way to the reception and was promptly pointed in the direction of Silk's Restaurant suite. Once settled, I chatted with a few people on my table, finding that many of their problems were similar to my own, we had all used Google Analytics before, but the numbers didn't really mean anything - a site got 5000 unique visitors last month - that sounds great but what should I do with this knowledge? How does this relate to all the other metrics and reports?  The plethora of confusing figures, reports and graphs sitting within my Google Analytics account needed to be explained, and in English please - enter Nikki.  As well as being head of Analytics & Insight at Fresh Egg, Nikki is Google Analytics Qualified and a Member of the Web Analytics Association.

Nikki set the scene: Visitors, Traffic Sources & Content!con

  • What types of visitors do you have?

    • How can we break these down?

  • How are your visitors getting to your site?

    • What difference does this make?

  • Does your site content meet the needs and expectations of your site visitors?

    • How to use visitor metrics to assess engagement from the visitors to the site.

And most importantly, how do all of these impact conversion!?

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So we started to get down to it, finally some clue as to what all this stuff means. Starting with how to measure visitor behaviour. First up was the bounce rate metric - clearly defined by Nikki as:  "The percentage of visitors that came to your site and left immediately!"

Already this was getting interesting, I'm no stranger to high bounce rates in my Google Analytics account, but as with everything else, I never really understood it, let alone know how to improve it. It never occurred to me that actually half the visitors weren't interested in the content I posted on my website, they were actually arriving on search terms which the page wasn't fulfilling. So the answer was simple, find out what people arriving on the page were looking for and make sure it was on the page! Nikki then went on to present the remaining Metrics in an equally clear way, a welcome change from the overcomplicated explanations presented in the Google Analytics dashboard.

Throughout the rest of the presentation, Nikki took us through Visitor Engagement Reports and understanding and using the data, Visitor recency and length of visit - and more importantly, how these all could be related to each other in a meaningful way.

One of the key factors for me, was how to use these Metrics to build up a user journey, to begin to visualise from start to finish, how a user arrived at my website, their path through it and most importantly, their reason for exit. To go deeper than this, we began to look at how to segment these users, and label them within Google Analytics using custom variables, effectively allowing you to see which types of users are engaging with which pieces of content across the website. With this type of insight, it really starts to get exciting just how much you can fine tune a website to the needs of it's users. At this point I was really getting excited about going home and getting my hands dirty with my own website - of course, as Nikki put it "Rome wasn't built in a day", and you can't expect immediate results, ultimately it's about trial and error and tweaking & fine tuning until you see the results you want.  My advice would be to pick something specific - find a page with a bounce rate of 50% or more and look at it, and then look at the main source of traffic to that page - try and see the correlation between the source and the landing page - when the user arrives, are they getting what they want? If not, try and figure out what it is the user's are looking for, and make it clear and easy to find on the page.

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Useful + Usable = Used

After an eye-opening morning listening to Nikki talk about Google Analytics, we broke off for lunch. Afterwards Jason Buck & Simon Nixon took the stage. Jason has been helping organisations measure websites since 1998 and articulating and organisations objectives to make the best online services possible for both the users and the organisations themselves. Simon's talent is his ability to translate complex business problems into plain English. Both Jason and Simon have a passion for usability and this was immediately clear - they started their session about User Centred Design with this simple equation: "Useful + Usable = Used" - This is the key to a website's success. Ensuring the content is useful to the user, and considering the user at the wireframe stage of the website build - it's never too early to get some feedback from the people that are going to be using the website!

Simon and Jason continued to entertain taking us through various examples of where online entities has succeeded or failed - including a very entertaining example of bad usability and content: Click here for the example

A four minute unskippable flash introduction is not the best way to engage a user with your website after all.

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At 2.45 we broke off for another round of teas and coffees and chatted some more about what we had learned on the silks bar balcony overlooking Brighton. We headed back in for what promised to be hands on final session. We broke into 4 teams and drew thoughts for an online travel business - specialising in UK holiday breaks. Once we had our business in mind, the aptly named "Staycation" we began thinking in our teams about the different users which might be visiting our website. Simon and Jason asked us to try and create a persona, the type of person that might be visiting our website as well as our key business objectives. We created a middle-aged woman named Betty. Betty wanted to book a holiday for her husband but was unwilling to go anywhere without her cat. More than this, we started thinking about the kind of person Betty was, what she liked and disliked, how computer savvy was Betty? What kind of website's does Betty like to visit? By thinking about the potential site users as individual people it became much easier to visualise how they might react or use our new website. This was completely invaluable at this stage in the conceptualization, as we could change things around easily or add and remove features as we wanted. Simon and Jason continued to help us, providing ideas and posing leading questions - stating at this point we could have anything we wanted, as many features, bells and whistles as we thought might be useful, we can cut down later during the build stage - but this part of the process was all about ideas generation.

We all joined together once again and then split into two separate teams, one with Jason and one with Simon - lucky for our team Simon won the coin toss so out we went once again into the glorious sunshine to start putting together a wireframe for our all singing all dancing "Staycation" website.

Following what was truly a fun and interactive day, i immediately went home and started messing with my websites - and i'm really looking forward to seeing the results. It was a slightly unusual mix - Google analytics and User Centred Design - but it was fantastic how well the two seemingly separate areas complemented each other. Designing with the user in mind obviously leads to greater engagement from the user with your website, and with a good understanding of Google Analytics, its easy to understand how well your website is achieving it's goals and track user's usage of your website.

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