Three Briefs About Your Web Presence

I had three brief things come to mind, neither of which really need a whole post to describe.   I’ve been thinking what works for a web presence in a Microblog world, and what real competitive advantages & disadvantages websites have over other media.

Are You Ready for Your Blog?

One of the things that is overstated about web-based promotion is ROI — the idea that you put little work into a website and return pretty good results nonetheless.   With blogs, this idea has become even more apparent since with typical WYSIWYG editors, you literally just have to type into a box to make a web post happen.

The institutional side of things, it’s not so easy.  This came up at the last 4th Thursday event, in fact.  When you open a blog for yourself, there is little to no brand associated.   You can pretty much use any template and away you go.  Institutions need to manage brands, reputation, target markets and quality assurance.   If you want your business or institution to be successful, it cannot look like every other blog.   As an individual, people can perceive you poorly and you can still have a successful blog.   Not so with an institution — if your library looks like a jerk, no one will show up to your branches.   Even though web presence has little to do with product/service development, people will associate poor writing on a website with the quality of a product or service.  Libraries cannot afford to have their services downgraded because of poor web content.  In short, you need to add a whole lot of editing, design and marketing time to the denominator of your ROI.

If you are institution, you need content before you establish your web presence.   A blog that has been doing nothing for a month will look bad.   Take a look at what happened to Google when they left their Google Librarian blog to sit for a while.   This does not work the same for individual blogs.   Go away for a month as an individual and people will just think you are on vacation or something.   Those same users will have higher expectations for your library, however.   If you want to start a blog, you need to commit 52 pieces of 800 words or better per year.   Then you need to manage spam, comments etc.   In short, add the costs of content creation and management to the denominator of your ROI equation as well.

In the end, the ROI is still going to look good — just not as good as most people assume.   If you do not put some time and money into the denominator of the ROI equation, the numerator will be zero — or worse, it will do damage to your library/company.

Thinking About Metrics — Total Time Viewing?

Television ads or well-placed bulletin boards are sure to find a good number of eyeballs, but how much time do you really have to get your message across to them?   More importantly, does your website offer a better alternative to these options?

Two popular ways to measure the effectiveness of a website are total visits, and time duration of visits.   Is it possible with typical statistics packages to estimate how much total time users access a website per month?   Yes.   Does it matter?  I am not sure.

For example, my statistics package (AWStats) will tell you the percentages & number of visits in each of the following time-duration categories:

  • 0-30s
  • 30s-2mn
  • 2mn-5mn
  • 5mn-15mn
  • 15mn-30mn
  • 30mn-1h
  • 1h+

A calculation of total time visited per month would be the mean of each category times the total visits that lasted each amount of time.   So, if you had 1000 visits in the 2mn – 5mn category, you might put (210 seconds * 1000 = 210 000 seconds or 3500 minutes or a little less than 60 hours total).   You would do that for every category, except for the 1hour + category.   Although you would definitely lose some numbers, I would remove the 1h+ completely from the list.   These durations almost always mean that someone left their browser running on this page, so the number aren’t really valid.

Then I would have pull two numbers from your stats.   The first is the total number of minutes per month that someone pulled from the sight.   The second is the total number of minutes in 30s-2mn, 2-5mn, & 5-15mn categories.   These are the categories that show the most engagement with a website (anything less could be a mistaken visit; anything more could mean the person was lost).

In the end, you can have an argument for your promotions people that you can expose your users to promotional content longer than other media.   This should shape how your make promotions on your website.

How Do People Come to Your Site?

Another misconception that many people have about a website is that a service merely has to “win the battle of priorities” and find its way to the front page of a website to get traffic.   The reality is something different.   Having a whole bunch of stuff on a front page merely gets people lost on the site.   You may get slightly more traffic to your page, but they might not be happy that they got there.   Further, you may, in turn reduce the traffic of all other pages in the mean time.   You really need to think about how people use your site before you “plop” something on a front page.

Some things people will immediately associate with your library.   These are the things that you should put on your front page.   Other things will be value-added services.   You have a logical pathway to these pages, but they should not take up the prime real estate.   THEN, you find excellent ways to ensure that these pages show up in Google and other search results.   Why?   Because if potential users do not immediately associate the service with your library, they are more likely to use Google instead.   Take advantage of common Search Engine Optimization techniques that can help you in this regard.

You can go further than this.   When I launched our website, one of the first complaints we had was that staff counted on the website to find simple things like the halifax weather, basic mapping, provincial catalogues etc.   My first reaction was “just Google it.”   But then I thought about how staff were using the site.   The website was part of their daily routine — they load up their operating system and then search the main links, most of which were already established on the website.

How are non-staff using the site?   I’d love to know.    Ideally, it would be great if key customers would have a library “visit” scheduled every Thursday morning, for instance.   In fact, I would be surprised if a few people had this exact routine.   Getting good data on this sort of thing could really help your respond to customer need on a website.   I’d like to see more of this kind of research in fact to go along with usability tests and statistics taking.

In the end, I think we still need more people thinking about web presence in all institutions.   The more librarians understand the technical benefits and limitations of the web, the more effective our services will be.

7 thoughts on “Three Briefs About Your Web Presence

  1. Ryan,

    Thanks for another great post. I’ve got a question for you: how did you arrive at the “800 word” number for the suggested length of a blog post? That seems like a number that far exceeds the average length of library-related posts I read (recognizing that yours often do exceed this number). I feel as though, when I post to my blog, I tend to write more than the average reader is looking for yet I probably average only around 400-500 words.

    Please understand that I’m not disagreeing with you (this post, for example, presents a great amount of information that needed every word you used) but only questioning your line of thinking; it seems as though many folks only want to spend a minute or so reading a specific post while 800 words, especially when packed full of good information, can take a good bit longer to absorb.

    Chris

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  2. I’m willing to concede that 800 could be over-stated, but its not by much. The current post is almost 1200, for instance.

    In the end, I just mean that institutions that want to blog ought to be ready to provide lots of useful content, whatever the word count. A well-thought-out 500 word post can take almost as long (or longer) than an average 800 worder. I also think you should mix up longer posts with shorter posts. Short posts are good to keep people interested. Longer posts encourage people to bookmark and come back later. Other blogs will tend to link to longer posts as well, which can help your page rank for searches. (Typical searches for “library” won’t matter lots, but other things like “wireless” or “internet access” could be improved greatly by increased page rank.)

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  3. Thanks for the comment. I think brevity is important, but I do not feel there really is an “ideal length” for a blog post. A blog post should be as long as it needs to be to get a point across. But all things equal, shorter is better.

    Again, my 800 word guideline is an input estimate (ie. if you are going to do a blog, be prepared to put in the time it takes to write an 800 word essay 52 times a year), not a guideline for blog-post length.

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  4. Hey Ryan,

    Thanks for the response. Your comment that a “post should be as long as it needs to be to get a point across” really is spot on, just as with any other form of writing. I wasn’t trying to debate you; just seeking clarification.

    Chris

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  5. Ryan,

    OK, I had to see how many academic library blogs met your criteria, at least for the period I studied (March-May 2007).

    Those that averaged one post a week–that is, had at least 13 posts during the quarter: 133 of the 231.

    Of that 133, those where posts averaged 800 words or more: Zero.

    Only three averaged 500 or more words per post, the longest being 689.

    I’m a little surprised that the result was zero, but I agree that 800 words is fairly long for a typical blog post–after all, most one-page magazine columns and most newspaper columns are around 750 words.

    I suppose another measure would be how many of those blogs had at least 13*800=10,400 words during the quarter, since essays might be mixed in with much shorter items.

    Eleven blogs had that much text, all with at least 13 posts. Three of those were almost certainly dominated by short posts (e.g., one blog with 468 posts during the quarter averaging 83 words each)–but that leaves eight plausible candidates.

    I do agree that it looks a little silly when a new official blog can’t even manage a post every couple of weeks…

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