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February 2010 Posts

2/2/2010 10:29:47 AM

What is a Content Management System?

Denise, our lovely receptionist, read my blog post Carry on up the Internet: The Curse of Gerald Scarfe and asked what a Content Management System is.  So, always on the look out for something to post about, I thought I’d write an explanation…

So what is a Content Management System (CMS)?  Like a Ronnie Corbett monologue (opens new window) I’ll come to that in a minute.  First let’s have a look at how all web sites used to be made (and many still are).  Every page on the site had to be made using an editor like Wordpad on Windows or Vi on Unix.  You had to know how to write HTML markup code and later CSS.  If you added a new page and wanted it to be included in the navigation on every page you had to edit each of the files.  Then you had to use FTP to copy all the files from your computer to your web server.  It was a clumsy process that needed technical training to perform.  When you should have been worrying about the stuff that made up the page, you were worrying about making sure the page didn’t break.

Later software like Adobe Dreamweaver and Microsoft Frontpage came along that made some of this easier.  These still combined working on the site design and the content.  You also still needed to FTP the files to the web server.  Everyday users working on content still had to have special skills or pass content on to people who had those skills.

So what is a Content Management System?  If you look on Wikipedia you’ll see several different things listed under Content Management Systems.  Strictly speaking I’m just talking about a Web Content Management System.  This kind of CMS is computer software that makes running a web site easier.  It automates a lot of the routine work so a user can worry about their content and not worry about other stuff.  Many run as a secure, private part of the web site so an organisation’s staff can work on the site from different offices, home or anywhere else they can access the World Wide Web.

A good CMS makes it easy to add new pages and to edit existing ones.  It will include an editor for writing the content that goes into pages so a user doesn’t need to know HTML or CSS.  It will also automate tasks like making a site’s navigation, producing a sitemap and listing latest news articles on the home page.  It will take care of the look of the site.  It can make the site meets standards for accessibility and the underlying html code.  It can make pages that will work well with search engines.

Other features include the ability to add extra features to the site like video players, interactive maps or feeds from a new site.  They can include delegation and workflow so that different staff can have different levels of authority to work on the web site.  One user might be an author who writes content, another an editor who checks it and a third a publisher who approves it once the editor says it’s ready to go.

So what is a Content Management System?  In a nutshell a CMS lets the people who make the content for your web site, make your web site easily.

2/5/2010 4:12:12 PM

Three Google Reports to Act On

Web Analytics is great, and Google Analytics is both free and great so that’s got to make it really great. From it, you can find out lots of information about the visitors to your web site. You can see how many have come from Crawley or Kathmandu. You can find out if they’re seeing your web site with Internet Explorer on Windows or Safari on an iPhone. You can get so lost in the numbers that huskies might need to be dispatched to dig you out of a deep Google Analytics data avalanche.

That’s the problem. There’s so much information in Google Analytics it’s easy to become overwhelmed and give up just looking at the headline numbers on the dashboard sometimes. Are the number of visits and page views increasing? Is your bounce rate and new visits holding steady? Perhaps one day you get an unexpected spike in visits. You want to know where they came from, so you dig through the information till you find out; a footballer with a nose bleed in a bar was the cause of the first inexplicable spike in visitors I ever had to explain.

Doing this you’re not really using the information to improve your web site. You’re just supporting the status quo and reacting to outside forces. Like the alleged fist that may or may not have met with the footballers nose, allegedly. What would be really useful would be some basic, repeatable, reports that can produce actionable information. That’s where the three reports I’m going to describe here come in. Three reports from Google Analytics to identify pages for review and improvement.

The Three Reports

The three reports we’re interested in are the Most Viewed Pages, Entry Pages and Exit Pages Reports. You can find these in Google Analytics by following the instructions below. Make a table for each with the top ten pages for each report. I’ve included examples for a fictional web site for each of the reports.

Most Viewed Pages

This report lists the 10 Most Viewed Pages ordered from most viewed to least.

In Google Analytics go to Content, then Top Content and order by Pageviews.

Page

Pageviews

Home Page

24,000

Contact Us

1,900

Stay in Touch

1,700

Our Products

1,600

Our Staff

1,500

About Us

1,400

Product Z

1,400

Past Projects

1,100

Past Project 1

1,100

Product X

900

Entry Pages

This time you want to look at the landing pages for your site. For this we want to see the Number of Entrances, Number of Bounces and Percentage Bounces for the top ten entrance pages on your site.

Go to Content then Top Landing Pages and order by Entrances.

Landing Page

Entrances

Bounces

% Bounces

Home Page

24,000

14,000

58

Stay in Touch

550

200

45

Press Release Last Week

300

200

66

Our Products

200

100

50

About Us

150

70

46

Staff Directory

110

80

73

Our Staff

110

100

90

Past Project 2

100

70

70

Press Release  Last Month

90

90

100

Press Release Two Months Ago

90

30

33

Exit Pages

The last report is the pages that most people leave the website from. For this we want to know the Exits, Pageviews and Percentage Exit.

Go to Content, then Top Exit Pages and order by Exits.

Exit Page

Pageviews

Exits

% Exit

Home Page

24,000

16,000

67

Contact Us

1,900

1,200

63

Stay in Touch

1,700

700

41

Our Products

1,600

600

38

Our Staff

1,500

500

33

About Us

1,400

400

29

Past Projects

1,100

250

22

Product X

900

250

28

Product Y

800

100

13

Product Z

1,400

50

4

Identify Pages of Interest

Now you’ve got three tables make yourself a fourth table that lists all the pages and why each page is of interest.

Page

Page Views

Entry

Exit

About Us

Yes

Yes

Yes

Contact Us

Yes

 

Yes

Home Page

Yes

Yes

Yes

Our Products

Yes

Yes

Yes

Our Staff

Yes

Yes

Yes

Past Project 1

Yes

 

 

Past Project 2

 

Yes

 

Past Projects

Yes

 

Yes

Press Release Last Week

 

Yes

 

Press Release Last Month

 

Yes

 

Press Release Two Months Ago

 

Yes

 

Product X

Yes

 

Yes

Product Y

 

 

Yes

Product Z

Yes

 

Yes

Staff Directory

 

Yes

 

Stay in Touch

Yes

Yes

Yes

So now you’ve cut a path through the impenetrable jungle of reports and you’ve got a simple table that tells you between ten and thirty pages to focus your attention on. You’ve also got some basic information about each of the pages.

What to do Next?

Taking a look at the example above, the most important page for review is the site’s home page. It gets a lot of visitors which is good, but the bounce rate seems very high. Maybe it needs a redesign or some search engine optimisation (SEO) work, so that people finding it are the ones who are looking for the site.

There are lots of bounces on the Our Staff and Staff directory pages. A quick look at some other statistics for those pages might show that a staff member has the same name as a celebrity and so visitors to those pages are looking for someone else.

The Contact Us page has a very high exit rate. For the Contact Us page that might not be a bad thing. Visitors who want to know how to get in touch with our fictional company found what they were looking for.

The Our Products page is getting quite a few page views so spending a bit of time making it better could pay dividends. Maybe some nice new pictures or a bit of work polishing the text would be a worthwhile investment of time.

What to do Later?

Now you’ve done this once what can you do later?

If you thought this was useful, you can quickly get the information to do this again if you set up three Custom Reports in Google Analytics (opens new window). Then after a few months you can review the impact of the changes and identify further pages for review.

If you’ve the time and a large web site, you might want to expand the number of pages you look at, or go on to look at the next ten most viewed pages, landing pages or exit pages.

If you’re feeling adventurous you could use Google Website Optimizer (opens new window) to test different variations on a page to see which is the most effective. I’ll come back to that another time.