Top tip to improve intranet A-Z index pages

A-Z index pages are very popular on our intranet. More popular than search. Our staff like to find what they want by looking it up in a list. If they don’t find it in the list they may resort to the search box. By looking at what phrases staff use when they perform a search from an A-Z index page, we can get a good idea of what’s missing from the A-Z listing.

Google Analytics has an inbuilt function to segment visits where staff used the search function. It was this functionality that highlighted our A-Z index pages.

I like to visualise a visit to the intranet as a trip to the convenience store. A member of staff needs something. Some people enter the store and walk up and down the aisles trying to locate what they need (menu navigation). Some look up where to go in a catalogue (A-Z index). Some enter the store and immediately ask for help (search) and others ask for help as a last resort. It is this asking for help as a last resort (searching) that can benefit us.

When I looked at the segmented analytics showing only those visits in which a search occurred, it showed, unsurprisingly, that lots of people search from the homepage, equivalent to entering the store and immediately asking for help. Equally unsurprisingly, lots of our popular pages are showing up. But also high in the reports were our A-Z index pages, indicating that lots of staff are going to the A-Z listings and then having to search.

Having highlighted a problem, I can now take action. I can target the A-Z pages and produce analytics that will tell me which search terms are being used when staff resort to using search from these pages. I can then feed these terms back into the A-Z listings, if appropriate, and over time, improve our offering.

Staff who search from the homepage are just using their preferred method of getting to content. Staff who repeatedly search from an area of content deeper within the intranet structure may highlight a symptom that there is a problem with the content.

Tagging users for intranet analytics

In an attempt to get more out of our analytics data, I’m going to experiment with tagging users as they visit the intranet.

It’s best practice to look at more than the whole picture when analysing web traffic data; segmentation provides greater insight into what is happening out there in the real world. A blanket report of page views for the complete intranet will not provide many insights.

Another good motto that I use is “no lonely metrics” (coined from Avinash Kaushik.) In other words, don’t just give me a number. Always compare one metric against another, for example, a number for this month compared to last month or page views compared to time on page.

On an intranet, based in one country, it’s hard to get the same amount of demographic data that you’d normally find on analytics from a web site. On our public site I can find out where visitors are located and how they found our website. But staff on the intranet all start with the same homepage when they open their browser. Unless they land on the intranet from a tagged email or newsletter, we don’t have much idea where they came from, geographically or organisationally. In fact, the most that we seem to be able to offer in terms of visitor statistics is the number of visitors. Because we are all on the same network, few visits to the intranet are from referrals and there is no geographical diversity.

Consequently, most of our intranet analytics reports are based around intranet pages and documents. There is very little detail about the visitors. We know what people are looking at but we don’t know much about the people. Which means that we can’t segment and chop up our reports from the user perspective. Which means that we are not getting a clear picture.

By using cookies to tag visitors based on the content that they view or by offering a self-service page of check-boxes where staff can tag themselves, I hope to be able to integrate this information into our analytics and produce more informative insights where the emphasis moves from pages to people.

See also

How we increased feature news traffic by 53%

At the start of October we introduced the next step in our strategy to improve engagement with news stories on the intranet. A month later we are seeing a 53% increase in traffic.

I had a good hunch that introducing the box would generate *some* interest, but I was amazed by the results at the end of just one month. Pageviews for news stories climbed from 44,185 to 67,872. Similar to Google Adwords, simple text adverts, when placed in context, can be effective.

This increase in news story traffic started when we introduced a “Related stories” advert box, placed top-right of feature news pages. Nothing clever. It’s a simple text box containing a bulleted list of links to past stories.  A maximum of 3 links, with something in common between them all.

Related news

It’s a manual process for our intranet news editor (yes we just have the one!) to link up the relevant back-stories. We publish at least one, usually two feature stories every day, timed to coincide with our peak news readership periods (elevenses and late lunch) aiming to give a sense of steady momentum to the homepage news stream. Our feature news is varied, with stories from the front-line to seasonal pieces to interviews with board members.

The recent enhancement is a great success for my internal communications colleagues. For them, it suggests an increase in reach and shows that staff are interested enough to want to browse through back-stories to get the news behind the news, creating a richer picture. Being practical, we’d like it if staff had already read these stories, but related stories give us a second chance to increase coverage and helps staff to discover articles that they would not otherwise find. Over time, the ripples should start to run through our news collection as more and more stories backlink and crosslink to each other.

I blogged in August on our plans to introduce social functions on intranet news stories. I stress again that we are doing this on a limited HTML/Javascript platform with no fancy programming or databases. We already have a basic *Like* function. Related stories is the second feature to dripfeed into the mix. Next up are *Share with a colleague* and *Comments*…

Analytics and statistics; what is the question?

Analytics, evaluation, data and statistics all have the gas turned up in the workplace. Rightly so. We need to make business decisions, evaluate performance, and design usability improvements based on hard evidence.

Facts and figures should generate action. Not sit in a pile of paper on a desk or add to a growing repository of electronic reports, ultimately clogging up our servers and recycle bins.

The problem with generating lists of numbers and handing them to someone is that they don’t mean anything. As Avinash Kaushik says, if you can say ‘so what?’ to a statistic then it was pointless in generating it. You got 10,000 visitors this month. So what? Is that good or bad? Better than last month? How many did you expect to get? What will you do now because you know this?

I really believe we should ban statistics reports unless they are supported by a specific question. What do you want to know? It may be the same thing every month. Fine. Great. Then we can start comparing month on month. Then, reports will start to have meaning. Then we can take action. But first we need questions.

Did my email newsletter produce more traffic than the graphically designed intranet advert? Did the recent page redesign have the desired outcome? Did the news story result in more people signing up to the company initiative? Have more people been reading my pages over the last six months?

On the intranet we have devolved analytics. Our publishers and stakeholders are free to peruse the stats and graphs. We also do a quick training session on how to get the most out of the intranet analytics. This approach reduces wasted paper reports because people only check out the analytics when they have a question. If they are really interested in their content and want to monitor ongoing stats then they can create regular automated reports. It cuts down meaningless requests to the central intranet team, allowing them to concentrate on the bigger picture, and it encourages publishers to become more familiar with the life of their content after they have published it.

Do you spew out endless statistics reports or do you answer questions?

Mentioned sites

Intranet redesign, Phase 6: communications, launch and evaluation

Familiarisation

To help staff become acquainted with the new look and feel and functionality before the launch, we published a set of *intranet familiarisation* videos, using the new intranet template, and linked them from the existing intranet via a feature story.

Familiarisation

In the month before launch we scheduled several intranet feature articles detailing the forthcoming launch. Our in-house design team created a flyer insert for our monthly staff magazine and we let our stakeholders know through email bulletins and newsletters. We published a final intranet article as we broke up for Christmas holidays saying bye bye to the old intranet.

Launch

I was very proud to press the button on New Year’s Day which would set the CMS in motion, publishing the new homepage, the news section and linking to all newly migrated content. It was then time to sit back and wait for the response from staff.

We had managed to migrate all of the content except for some older news stories and we were busy pedalling away in the background as the new intranet went live to staff.

Post-launch

There was an eerie silence after the launch. Business as usual. No cries of joy and no rotten tomatoes. Staff were just getting on with it. Hopefully our comms and familiarisation helped to bed them in a little.

Evaluation

The average time spent in a visit to the intranet has fallen from an average 2 mins 30 down to 1 min 20 since the launch. We’ve almost halved the time that staff take in a typical visit to the intranet. I’m optimistically reading this as evidence to show that they are finding and digesting information faster. Hopefully the improved navigation, legibility and layout are having an effect.

Uptake for feature news has almost doubled since the launch and is steadily rising. All the time spent in planning the news delivery was worth it.

Feature news content shows a steady increase in pageviews since the launch
Feature news content shows a steady increase in pageviews since the launch

Around 3 months after launch, we evaluated the *usability and design* benchmark as part of our annual IBF review. We also used Customer Carewords again to run the intranet staff satisfaction survey. See my previous blog posts for the results:

Evolution

Since launch, the intranet has changed and adapted, due to requests for new content and campaigns, issues highlighted by analytics reports and recommended actions from benchmarking evaluation reports.

One glaring problem that came out of our benchmarking report this year was that although I had done a lot of testing with the navigation to ensure staff could find their way around the intranet, I had not paid so much attention to the task of downloading a document. In the new intranet, downloads such as PDF and DOC files were listed in the right hand column. However, staff (rightly so) saw this column as links that would take them elsewhere – *related information*. As a result, they often missed the links to the documents. So we’ve been working to remedy this, moving download links to the body section of the page, in context.

I feel now that the intranet has reached a level where further enhancements can dripfeed through, rolling out small improvements and developments one at a time. Although the intranet is alive and constantly changing, this redesign project gave it a much needed kick in the butt to bring it into a state where no further big bang launches are necessary.

Other intranets within the organisational group have adopted the new design template and this is a good first step in providing a unified experience across our family of intranets.The intranet has come a long way, but work doesn’t stop. There is always room for improvement, as well as trying to keep up with what’s happening out on the web and constant changes and restructures within the organisation. I blogged previously that we are currently working to introduce more engagement functions on news stories, including *Like*, *Share this* and *Comment*.

I’m aware that we don’t have a true task-based navigation system and that several sections still hang off the departmental structure. We have no proper social functions on the intranet because we don’t have the technical architecture or platform. We have *strap-on* sites such as Huddle and Civil Pages but they don’t talk to each other and they don’t integrate with the intranet. We still have the most useless employee directory, again not integrated into the intranet or any other systems such as Outlook. And I’ve been waiting over a year (or is it two?) for our Google Search Appliance upgrade.

So plenty to get on with.

For now, that’s the end of this budget intranet redesign series.
Thanks for all the mentions and RTs over the past weeks.

Mentioned sites

In this series

  1. Research, surveys and brief
  2. Information architecture and content audit
  3. Wireframe designs and user testing
  4. Visual design, HTML and CMS build
  5. Migration, content freeze/dual publishing
  6. Communications, launch and evaluation