Technical communication departments historically have had little idea how their deliverables were used, if at all.
More often than not, departments assiduously worked to make sure that the content was technically correct, that the deliverables adhered to the company style guide, and that the items were shipped before or on the agreed-upon deadlines.
After successfully shipping, meaningful feedback was hardly a deluge. More realistically, it was a trickle—some anecdotal feedback that a user liked it, or an e-mail that the sales representative thought it hit the mark. Talk about walking through the fog.
Web analytics software changes that dynamic. By adding a few lines of code to an intranet site, a help system that is hosted on a web server, or a support web site, you can quickly:
- Discern about how many people are viewing a certain web page (such as a troubleshooting item) for a period of time.
- Discover how long users spend on a web page.
- Learn where the customer is physically located (that is, the country they live in).
- Understand the popularity of different deliverables, such as PDF files.
All of this data provides technical communicators with insights into how content is used, and ideas of where to direct your efforts.
Here’s one real-life example. My software team learned that users didn’t understand one facet of the software. Responding to that need, we created the document, localized it into seven languages, and monitored its popularity when it was posted to our support web site. Our users appeared to like it—using web analytics we could confirm that it was one of the most accessed documents for months.
We may not get to physically visit users as much as we’d like. But web analytics at least gives us some semblance of how documents are used.