• LinkedIn

Using Measurement Tools to Improve Website Engagement

Learn four ways to find and fix user experience problems.

People gravitate toward the path of least resistance. How can you discover the friction points your website visitors are encountering?

In this session recorded at Geonetric Symposium, our client-only conference, Lindsey Steinkamp shared with attendees a number of ways to better understand how people are using their sites and where they might be running into problems.

You will learn:

  • Why user experience is so critical for your website (in case you weren’t already convinced)
  • How to use four data-driven (and mostly free!) tools to get a glimpse into how users are interacting with your site
  • How analyzing user interaction with site navigation helped one health system create a more effective redesign
  • Where to begin if you’re just getting started



How many of you know how to drive a stick shift? or use Raise your hand … OK so a few of you.

My very first car was a stick shift. It was a Nissan Stanza that my parents purchased back in 1987. My mom has this thing where she has to always name our cars. So her name was Ruby.

Now, driving a stick shift can be pretty complicated especially if you’re a 15 year old learning how to drive for the first time. Or apparently if you’re in Ireland too.

So if you’ve never driven a stick shift before, let me explain the process: You have this thing called a gear shift and you have to move it back and forth to change gears in order for your car to go faster or slower or in reverse. You also have a third pedal called a clutch. This is where things get interesting. In order for the car to move you have to simultaneously release the clutch and apply pressure on the gas but do so at just the right moment or horrible things would happen. If you put too much pressure on the gas. Your car engine would rev. And then you’d shoot forward like a race car. Probably leaving some rubber on the pavement in the process. But, if you release the clutch too soon and didn’t put enough pressure on the gas. Your car engine would die. And then there you are. In the middle of an intersection. Feeling like an idiot. Yeah, I did that … more than once. So there is a reason why they don’t make many manual cars like Ruby anymore and that’s because technology has always progressed in a way that makes things easier for the user.

I mean think about it, how many of us use a record player or a VCR anymore? There are much better options out there. And that’s because we don’t want to think about things like shifting gears or using a clutch in order to get to our destination. We just want to take the easiest means possible to get there. And that’s probably why self-driving cars are the next thing in technology. Because as human beings we are always looking for the path of least resistance.

I was reminded of this when I was on an airplane last December and I was going through the in-flight entertainment options — you know, the thing in the back of your headrest — and I came across this TED talk by Tom Hall and in it he talks about this concept in architecture called the “desire path.” And we see these all the time, there are these shortcuts that are created by foot traffic or bicyclists out of a desire to take the easiest path to their destination. Now clearly the creators of this park or greenspace intended for people to walk around the perimeter on the sidewalk.

But, people want the path of least resistance. So when given the option they will cut across the grass. Every single time.

So, when I first heard about this concept of desire paths I was absolutely fascinated. I mean I realized that I mean I don’t know anything about architecture or urban planning, but I deal with this kind of stuff every day at work because these desire paths are a physical representation of online user behavior. How often do you come to a website and you have a destination in mind or a task you want to accomplish but the path to get there is so frustrating?

Maybe you want to purchase something but in order to check out you have to create a new account. So you’re like, “well OK I’ll create an account.” So you fill out the information, click “create account” and, oh, I guess I already have an account. It doesn’t recognize this this account. So we are like, “well OK I’ll try one of these five passwords that I typically use every time I make an account.” None of those so we have to reset our passwords. OK I’ll reset my password. Alright, what’s my secret question? Well what was my … what was the color of the car that my mom’s neighbor’s best friend drove when they were in second … or whatever. I don’t remember. You probably don’t either. Right. So. Well, either way you’re just frustrated.

It’s like I shouldn’t have to work this hard to make this purchase or get to that destination or complete this task because as human beings what we want is that path of least resistance. And these desire paths were so fascinating to me because they’re often the place where design and user experience diverge.

There’s a very big difference between what the designer intends, and what the user wants. And what the user wants is that path of least resistance. And the only time we will ever know if our designs are any good is to see how they are being used in real life and by real people.

Now, if there’s any place where you can find a desire path it is on a college campus and it makes sense because everyone’s on foot, probably running late to class. They’re going to take a shortcut.

Michigan State University knew this. So, when planning out their campus, rather than paving all of the paths in advance they waited and decided to see where the students wanted to go.

And they allowed those desire paths to form naturally over time. Then a while later the university came back in and paved over those paths, making them permanent.

This is Michigan State University campus today. You can see all of those desire paths created by those students, now paved over. So you may be thinking: how does this apply to online behavior?

And more specifically, how does this apply to my website? Well, when asked the question, “What is the most important factor in the design of a website?” 76 percent of users — over three quarters of people — said the website makes it easy to find what I want.

It’s not necessarily about the beautiful appearance or the cutting edge interactive experience as Bill said yesterday in his presentation: form follows function. And clearly, users agree.

Yes, that form is important. We want our website to be beautiful. And ideally both of those would go hand in hand together. But, if we have to choose one thing we need to make sure that our users can find what it is they’re looking for.

So how do we do that? Today we’re going to look at four tools that you can use to identify those desire paths on your own web site so you can improve your user experience and increase engagement.

Analyze Site Search Usage

So where is the first place that users will turn to if they can’t find what they’re looking for on your Web site? Site search. Tool number one we’re going to look at is your site search. What is it that my users can’t find?

Your site search is a direct line of communication between your users and you. They are telling you what it is that they can’t find. So if you aren’t looking at your site search data, start doing it. This is the easiest step that you can take to improve your user experience. Where we’re going to find this data is in Google Analytics.

But, it’s important to note that this setting must be turned on in your account to have any data there.

So go to your admin settings go to your view settings and then turn on that site search data. And you’ll have to do that for every single view that you have in your account. If you already have that on, where we’re going to navigate to is Behavior > Site Search and Search Terms if you’re unfamiliar with Google Analytics that might be a little confusing to you. And that is essentially the path that you would take to get to this data.

And the first thing that we’re going to look for is the top terms that users are searching for on your site. And we will find that the far left column, here under Search Term, these are going to be the most common terms users are searching for in your site search. Now I must say there’s going to be some that you’ll probably always find. Things related to careers internal employees looking for human resources or a login. You’re going to find that there. But, what we’re looking for are any patterns or trends or any terms that are particularly concerning especially on the patients end that they should be able to find. Those Those are the ones we want to look at and address.

Now, not only do we want to know what are the top terms that users are searching for, but what are they searching for. And they still can’t find what it is they’re looking for.

To do this we are going to stay in the same place, but we are going to sort by percentage of search exits. So you just click on that and it’ll automatically sort by the highest number of percentage of search exits.

A “search exit” is when someone performs a search and then doesn’t go anywhere else. They just leave because they can’t find what they’re looking for. So they don’t even try. So that is a big red flag for us. We want them to find what they’re looking for when they turn to the site search. So these terms in particular are very important.

One other thing that is very, very key here is to change your sort type from default to weighted. If we leave it on default, if we just sort by percentage of search exits, we’re going to see this.

Yes, we have 100 percent of search exits. But we also have our total unique searches of one term — one search per term and that’s not helpful at all. We want to know. What terms have a high percentage of search exits, and also a lot of searches.

So, to find that statistically significant data that we’re looking for we just change our sort type to weighted and Google Analytics will auto-magically do it for you. We also want to know not just what people are searching for but what pages are users on when they’re performing those searches, because this will also open up some new data for us. To do that we will navigate to Behavior > Site Search > Search Pages, and then in the far left column we will see the top pages that users were on when performing a site search.

Of course we’re going to see some high traffic pages here, like your home page, but, we’ll also see any other pages that are coming up that may be a red flag to you.

When looking at this data you can also drill down further into those pages and see what users were searching for on those pages. So, let’s take our locations page for example. Let’s say we’re concerned that people are coming to our locations page and they’re not finding what they’re looking for when searching for particular locations.

So we click into that and by clicking onto that page … we’re now drilling down into that page and seeing the top terms that people searched for just on that page.

And here we can try to see if there’s any kind of patterns.

So, in this example we see, well, there’s a lot of keywords around labs. We have lab, satellite labs, crossroads lab, lab hours, laboratory. People aren’t finding our labs and they’re looking for them. So that is something that may need to be addressed.

Well, your action items for tool number one, site search, are:

  • Look at the top terms that users are searching for.
  • Pay attention to the percentage of search exits.
  • Look at the top pages that users are searching from and then create content that doesn’t exist if users are searching for it.
  • And then optimize your site if you do have content that exists but users aren’t finding it.

You may need to optimize your site on the backend to help users find that. So, for you VitalSite clients that will involve putting certain keywords on the backend of your pages so they are more easy to find by users.

Now if you’re not a big Google Analytics fan and you haven’t really dug into the data much and it kind of scares you, that’s OK because we do perform site search audits all the time, so we could help you with that with that, if you are unsure of how to go about this.

Find Neglected Features with Heatmap Tracking

Tool number two is heatmap tracking. And here we want to see, “what are some features on my site that are being neglected?”

And I know you’re probably thinking, you know I already know about this tool. I’ve seen it a lot. You guys talk about it a lot. But, it’s really important. And I’m going to walk through a real world example today of how valuable this tool can be for finding those user’s desire paths on your site.

So a little background information here: Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System wanted a refresh of the design of their site but they wanted that new design to be inspired by their users, based on how they were engaging with their current design. So they came to us and we helped them by performing a user behavior analysis on their home page. And one of the tools that we used was heatmap tracking.

So these are some of the results of their heatmap tracking and some of our findings. One thing that we always pay attention to is the main navigation. And one thing we noticed with their old design was that people weren’t really engaging with that Care and Treatment link especially compared to the Find a Doctor or Locations links in their main navigation. So it appears that their particular audience wasn’t responding to that terminology. So we suggested testing a different term or phrase and see if users would respond better.

We also noted the engagement in their secondary navigation. Now users are really clicking a lot of those links, but most of them are concentrated on careers and internal employee information. And from our experience in healthcare we know that these particular audiences, these users are going to be clicking on that information and finding it no matter where those links are on the page because those are highly driven users. So to streamline their secondary navigation to clean it up more we recommend relocating those two links down to the footer where they’re also commonly found in order to clean that up and knowing that they probably wouldn’t have any loss of traffic.

We also paid attention to the social media links that were on the far right of the banner. They were blocking the right arrow, so it was preventing users from scrolling through that banner and was decreasing some of their engagement. So we recommended relocating their social media icons to somewhere else on the page.

And then we also note things that people are engaging often with like this Pay a Bill link here beneath the banner. Those are things that we want to make sure we include the new design because it’s important to their users.

This is Spartanburg Regional’s new design. You can see up there in the main navigation. They changed their care and treatment link to services. There are new secondary navigation is much more streamlined and clean. They removed those social media links on the far right of the banner allowing users to click through and we kept those important features like pay your bill.

Now like I said before, the only time you’ll ever know if your design is any good is to see how it’s being used in real life and by real people.

So Spartanburg Regional was really curious to know how their new design was performing compared to their old design. Were those changes that they made working? Did it result in an increase of user behavior? Well we decided to perform a second user behavior analysis on their home page and find out — you want to see the results? I bet so.

This is the second heatmap that we did for their new design. Look at how much engagement improved on that link. Changing it to “Services” was a really great decision for them because it appears to be resonating with our audience more. In fact, it’s one of the most engaged links in their main navigation now.

Users are also able to click on that right arrow to navigate through those banner images. And then at the bottom, it may be hard to see, but people are really engaged still with that “Pay a Bill” icon.

And then lastly, do you remember those two links that we’ve moved from the secondary navigation down to the footer? Well we can see that users are just as engaged as before and that they saw no loss of traffic from moving those links. So that was a good decision.

So with heatmap tracking your action items are:

  • See how users are interacting with features on your site.
  • And then test ways to improve the user experience.

This is so important. We can launch a site using best practices but ultimately your users are going to be unique and you need to figure out what it is that they are really looking for and really what works for them.

So as marketers, sometimes I think we need to think more like scientists and being able to form some kind of hypothesis and then test out those theories and see what’s working and what’s not. Our websites are such a great tool because they are flexible. Sometimes making changes is as easy as going on the back end of your CMS and changing out a word or phrase. And as we saw earlier it can make a world of difference.

So don’t be afraid to test those changes and see what works and what doesn’t. This could involve moving content to a new location. Adjusting some copy on your page. Or, even creating new content that doesn’t exist.

Tracking with Google Tag Manager

Tool number three is Google Tag Manager. Now this kind of goes hand-in-hand with your heatmap tracking, but whereas heat map tracking is more like a blanket, tracking across your page, and is more of a big picture, Google Tag Manager is great because you can track specific features on your site and know exactly how users are engaging with them and you’ll get some hard data from that.

So with this tool we want to know, “how are users engaging with features on my site?”

And the thing about Google Tag Manager is basically your only limitation here is your imagination, and maybe your technical knowledge because you can almost track anything that you can think of. And today, for simplicity’s sake, we’ll just go through a few ideas. So one idea of something you can track is your navigation. Spartanburg Regional had this really big awesome dropdown navigation and they really wanted to know how are users using my navigation. Are they using that dropdown feature or are they primarily staying up on the main level links? So we used Google Tag Manager and implemented some tracking on those links to find out.

What we found was that 75 percent of users clicked on the top level links. Less than 25 percent actually clicked on something in the dropdown itself. And of those, those people clicked on things that were the most generic option in that dropdown. So something like the search box here or the “View All Services” link at the bottom. Those were the most popular options. Very few people clicked on specific links within the navigation.

Now how could you use this data to better your navigation? Well this can tell you things like: what links should I include in my navigation? Are there certain links that people just don’t click on and so maybe they shouldn’t even have it there? Or maybe I need to reword some of the links in my navigation, or maybe there’s a different order of priority order that I should have those links on. So having this kind of tracking set up can help you to make decisions like that.

Another thing you could track is videos. Videos are a very high investment for many organizations so a lot of time, a lot of money. And we want to make sure that time and money is put to good use. So tracking your videos — whether it’s the length of time that people watch the video or what pages users are on when they’re watching the most videos — all of that can go into your strategy for creating those videos.

Lastly tracking things like conversions. One thing you can do is apply a site wide tracking to all of the phone numbers on your website and then you’ll know what pages users are on when they are converting. If you’re running a campaign and you have a phone number on that page, how many pick … how many people are clicking on that phone number on a mobile device and placing a call?

Or you could know things, like, well, let’s say I have a page and it has a really high bounce rate but it has a phone number on it so you just assume that people must be calling that phone number and not having to go any further because they’re getting what they need. Well if you had tracking set up on that phone number you would know if that’s the case or if your page just needs some reworking.

So you can track phone numbers such as the one in the upper-right-hand corner there, all of this information from Google Tag Manager goes into your Google Analytics and can be arranged into a dashboard for easy access.

And this is really great for occasions where you just want to check in quick on how things are doing or for sharing across other teams. Maybe people within your own team or maybe you want to share these results with your senior leadership. Organizing it into a dashboard can be very beneficial for you.

So your action items for a Google Tag Manager are to:

  • Track your navigation videos and conversion points like phone numbers and forms.
  • Test different links and your navigation.
  • Modify your video link content or placement based on results.
  • And then collect this data in dashboards for easy access.

Setting Up Google Goals

Tool number four is my personal favorite. And if you were in my earlier session of “Making the Most of Your Marketing Budget” we already looked at this, but I want to hit it again because it’s so awesome and so great. It can do really great things for your organization.

How many of you use Google goals. So a few of you? Alright. Google goals is really great because what you can do with it is track things like which pages and traffic sources convert the most visitors.

Now Google goals is very important because it can help you identify desire paths that are not only the most common paths that users are using navigating through your web site, but those that are driving the most conversions. And that’s just going to be the way it is some pages are going to lead to more conversions than others and being able to identify those pages is really helpful. So, the first thing I would recommend doing — I’m not going to go through the whole setup process of Google goals because that can be quite intensive, but — during the setup process there’s one often overlooked feature and that is this value option.

Now it’s … by default it’s turned off, but I would recommend if you have any goals that are revenue-driving goals — so things like tracking conversions whether it’s a form or an event registration or a phone number — I would recommend turning on this feature and then applying a dollar value to that goal. Now, this can either be the actual dollar value of the conversion itself, but it’s unlikely you’ll probably have that information. So, I would recommend and also Google recommends, is just putting in a placeholder of $1. So you won’t see actual revenue that you’re getting here. But at least you’ll be able to have some data coming into your account to put in a dollar. And then create your goals.

Once you have those goals created it opens up a whole new level of analytics for you to look at. For example, which traffic sources are driving the most revenue on the top right.

We will select the goal that we created. In this case it’s an orthopedics contact form. And then on the far left we can see what our sources and mediums are. So, Google organic, Bing CPC, direct traffic, Facebook referral traffic. And then the far right column is our dollar value of each of those goals. Now, if you actually put in your actual dollar value when you were creating that goal that would be your actual revenue from each of these sources. But if you just put in a placeholder it won’t be accurate but at least you’ll see relative to each other what sources are more valuable. So, right here we see Google organic has $20, Bing’s CPC is $10, Facebook is $0. So we know roughly Google is about twice as valuable as Bing here. And Facebook is just worthless. So, when making decisions about where to allocate your money within the campaign you can decide, well I want to put more money into Google or I want to put more money into Bing, because that’s what’s driving the most revenue for this particular goal.

We can also see which pages are leading to conversions.

So again you’ll want to choose your goal from the dropdown. In this case it’s a birth consultation on the far left as your goal completion location and then we’re going to walk backwards through the pages that users were on prior to converting on that page. So we have previous step one, previous step two, previous step three. Here we can see what pages users are on prior to converting. So maybe we want to send more traffic to those pages.

Or, if you’re invested in content marketing, which you should be, let’s say your blog is on your same domain.

You can create an advanced filter to sort by only your blog and then you can see what blog posts are leading to the most conversions. So that is going to help you track your the results of your content marketing and then maybe you want to either send more traffic to those blog articles or create some more similar types of articles to those ones.

And then lastly, we can see things like what cities are driving the most revenue. Again we choose from the dropdown choose your goal and then on the far right you can see the dollar value that each of these cities is bringing you. So if you’re in a pretty widespread area and you’re doing blanket marketing across all of these different cities you can see where your marketing efforts are working the best. And what is kind of lagging behind. And then maybe you want to adjust your strategies in those cities accordingly.

So here we can see that in Cedar Rapids we’ve got $30. That makes sense because I’m the one that made this data. Hiawatha and St. Cloud? Nothing. So … and you can do this kind of thing for all kinds of Google Analytics reports: mobile versus desktop, look at top referring sites. I mean anything. You can see the dollar value assigned to those things.

So action items.

  • See which pages are driving the most conversions.
  • Direct traffic to the pages that are driving those conversions, and maybe consider modifying those that you would expect to but don’t.
  • Determine which traffic sources are driving the most revenue.
  • And then adjust your marketing strategy around those channels that are the most successful for that goal.

So those are your four tools: site search, heatmaps, Google Tag Manager, and Google Goals.

So as marketers, you can either turn a blind eye to your data, just keep doing things the way you always have and assume you know what your users want. Or, we can use tools like these to look into our data, find those desire paths that our users are looking for, and then pave over them.

Using Measurement Tools to Improve Website Engagement