Measuring Customer Usage of Documentation Through Google Analytics

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Michele Marques and Paresh Naik, BMC Software Inc.

At BMC Software, we are able to talk to some of our customers directly through forums, comments, and customer calls. However, only a small subset of customers talk to us about documentation. This feedback is very helpful, but we wanted to learn more about all the customers who look at our documentation. Because we have the documentation online, we are able to use Google Analytics to get information about how our documentation is being used.

Why gather metrics from Google Analytics?

You can use metrics from Google Analytics to

  • Test the impact of improvements—Look at data from before and after the improvements. For example, if people were spending very little time on a page full of useful information, you might make changes to make the content more engaging and see if the time spent on the page increases.
  • Prioritize investments—Which content is the most viewed? You might want to focus on making this your best content. When planning localization, you can check the locales of people viewing your documentation.
  • Learn what you can cut—Are there areas of the documentation that nobody views? That might be content that is not important and should be dropped.

Prerequisites

For you to use Google Analytics, your content must be hosted on the internet in HTML format. You should then create a Google Analytics account and embed the unique code provided in your site templates. This is a one-time activity typically done by the site administrator.

As with any other tools, it’s 10 percent tools and 90 percent intelligence using it, so a more important prerequisite is familiarizing yourself with the basic web analytics concepts. Google Analytics’ own help is very useful for the same.

To avoid jumping to wrong conclusions, be aware of the limitations of the tool. For example, the number of people benefiting from your documents may be larger than the number of people actually visiting your pages.  Many users go to an expert user in their organization as the first resort, and these expert users are the ones who really use the documentation.  Instead of using Google Analytics as a standalone tool, it’s best to correlate the data with other sources of information you have such as user surveys, feedback from the field, and customer support call data.

Measure who is using your documentation

Google Analytics can give you insight into your audience. The technical parameters such as operating systems, browsers, and mobile devices the customers are using are helpful in deciding your own strategy. For example, based on the percentage of mobile users, we decided the speed at which our graphics needed to be converted to HTML5. In the absence of analytics, we might have overinvested in that area.

Trends and patterns in the demographic parameters such as gender, age, geographic location, and interests can shape the type of examples you include in the documentation.  Google determines the interest categories of the audience based on the type of content they access, for instance auto, business, fashion, technology, cooking, and so on.

The language setting utilized by users in the browser is a good indicator of how your non-English users are distributed across languages, and you can determine if you are spending the localization budget appropriately.

Measure how they are reaching you

The Acquisition section of Google Analytics provides you insights into the ways people are reaching your content: the search terms they are using, the sources they are coming from, the social media channels that are sending them to your content. When we found that our user community forum and YouTube channel for the organization are good referrals for our documentation, we started providing more accurate target links from these channels into our documentation.

Measure what they are doing with your content

The Behavior section of Google Analytics provides you information about the most popular pages in your content, the amount of time people are spending on different pages, the pages from which they are exiting the site, and so on. You might prioritize your investment in the most used content. Google Analytics also gives you a list of search words customers are using once they reach your site.  The page load time can help find out problem areas in your content. For example, we stopped auto-populating the recently updated pages list on a home page when we realized it was slowing down the page beyond acceptable limits.

Tips and tricks

When you look at data for the pages on your site (in the Behavior section) Google Analytics initially presents the top 10 pages for your complete site. If your website includes data for multiple products over multiple releases, you might not even be looking at the 10 pages that you care about most. You can both expand the number of pages displayed and filter which pages you are looking at.

To expand the number of pages listed, at the bottom of the screen, you can change the number of rows displayed to a higher number, up to 5,000.

There are several options to filter your data:

  • In the search box, enter a part of the path-page structure. If you set up your website so that part of the path specifies the product and version, you can search for that part of the path. This filter lets you compare pages within a logical documentation set. If you have a page title that is common across all your products and versions, you can search for that title. For example, at BMC we have a page titled PDFs; we can search Google Analytics for the PDFs pages and see for which product versions customers want the PDFs and for which product versions they don’t need the PDFs.
  • Use the advanced search box to filter data by site usage data. For example, you could find all pages that are rarely viewed. Or pages where the average viewing time is more or less than a certain number.
  • Create a segment. You can use segments to compare data between two segments or you can view data in a specific segment. You can segment data by many variables. For example, segment by language. Or you could check what people on mobile devices are looking at. Many options are available for creating a segment beyond what you find in the search box.

Compare data, so that you can learn what is making a difference in your documentation.  Google Analytics provides the following options for comparisons:

  • Segments—Compare data for multiple segments.
  • Date range—When you select a date range, you can compare with the previous period.
  • Secondary dimensions—Many options are available for the secondary dimensions. Note that when you use a secondary dimension, you will see all values of this secondary dimension for each primary value. For example, when listing by pages and languages, you will see the number of page views of each page for each language. If your secondary dimension has many values, you might want to look at the secondary dimension for a single meaningful page in your documentation set.
  • Export your data. You can export your data to Excel or to a CSV file, and perform additional analysis in Excel or the tool of your choice. When you export the data, be aware that only the data currently being displayed is exported. Even though you can use arrows to browse through multiple pages of data in Google Analytics, only the currently displayed data is exported.

Conclusion

Google Analytics can provide you with useful information about how customers are using your documentation. Determine which of your questions Google Analytics can help answer, and start measuring!

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