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Measuring success on library websites

As ever, Gerry McGovern makes an important point on a Sunday afternoon (which is when his weekly newsletter arrives):

Digital must be measured based on customer outcomes. Traffic, visits, time spent, page views; these are not outcomes. High traffic does not equal good customer experience

On our library site, lowering the number of page visits and impressions is often the goal. For example, about 3 years ago Google started putting library opening times in the sidebar of results pages. As one of the most common customer tasks is to find out when the library is open, this was a good thing. It saved another click through to our website. The way to measure success would be to observe users finding opening times not starting from our website, but from a browser home page.

Screenshot of a Google search for Haverhill Library

Haverhill Library's google search page. The sidebar contains lots of information about the library.

Except Google often got the opening times wrong. So a part of our work is to manage library branches as Google businesses. That way we control the opening times you see when you search for something like Haverhill Library, and we save you a visit to our website.

On the other hand, sometimes we do want to increase visits to our website, and the number of pages visitors browse. We publish lots of reviews and lists on the site, content customers can use for reading or even gift ideas. It’s content that’s just asking to be browsed.

However, increasing the number of visits only provides an indication that we’re doing a good job. What we should be looking at is the number of loans the reviews and recommendations section generates. Sometimes this is measurable: we can look at our catalogue referrals. Other times the link isn’t so clear. A customer may open our newsletter, click a link to the latest titles page and then make a note before visiting a library and borrowing the book several months later. They may buy it in Waterstones.

The point is broad measures like visits, impressions and bounce rates are largely meaningless without some context and explanation. But more importantly: Websites are a means to an end. Although we may spend most our working lives changing and updating them, visiting them is not our customers’ aim. More often than not they’d rather not be using them at all; they’d rather be reading.