As the instructor for the Spring 2014 Introduction to Web Analytics class at the Community College of Vermont, I look for examples of “websites (or analytics) in the news” to combine learning the basics of web analytics, which frankly can be dull at times, with something more interesting and relevant to real life situations. The current semester began this past January, and the launch of the Vermont Health Connect website was very much “front page” news; the idea for this assignment began to emerge. 

Here’s a quick example of how a snippet of java script can take you from boring code to important insight in just a few clicks (this is not unique to the VHC site, all websites can be viewed in this way):

Go to the Vermont Health Connect home page:

screenshot of the VHC main page March 2014

screenshot of the VHC main page March 2014

View the source code (How do I do that?) to see:

VHC mainpage source code

VHC mainpage source code

Focus on the Google Analytics tracking code, boxed in red, which is this bit:

Google Analytics tracking code for the VHC website

Google Analytics tracking code for the VHC website

Simply recognizing that this tracking code is in place helps determine that from the outset, Google Analytics was built into the website, which is great. That means that even if one only uses the standard built-in reports, one can analyze all pages on the site to determine many things, such as how many visits the page has had, the flow of the page views (which exposes bottlenecks or problem pages), how searchers are finding the site (shows keywords used), and what other websites may be referring people to this one. With some configuration you could track, how many people completed signing up, and if they did not, where they exited the site. If both the website and the analytics were configured correctly, those analytics reports could provide data on how many currently uninsured people are completing the signup process, and it can show data in real time.

This is where I think things can get interesting. According to a Vermont Digger article:

“The Shumlin administration is not tracking how many uninsured Vermonters are signing up for Vermont Health Connect. Statistics on the uninsured won’t be available until the next household insurance survey. There is some disagreement about when that survey will be conducted.”

This is an excellent example of a point on which class discussion could begin. Why not track that data?  It is possible, through some good design and analytics tracking. The tracking would be anonymous, so it would not show who is uninsured. Instead, a well-designed signup process could include a box one must  check that might say “no current health insurance,” or “currently insured,” etc. and those check boxes would be counted for completed signup processes.  Privacy, therefore would not be violated if the site tracked those numbers. That same tracking code in the image above tells us that whoever has access to the Google Analytics account UA-33924458-3 for the vermont.gov site has data now, and can tell what is being tracked, and use that to inform the web designers (and the governor) to make changes that would then enable better tracking of the data being collected. I would also be sure to point out in class that web analytics data cannot be the one source of numbers for the analysis of any actual website’s performance or traffic. Other data collection methods used in concert with web analytics data are required for actionable data-based decision making for the business or service behind the website. Vermont still needs the survey data.

The assignment to the class is to look at the Vermont Health Connect site and apply the analyses that we are learning about in the course to that site. The intent is to demonstrate how understanding web analytics tracking enables you to look at a site and offer insights on a website’s performance in relationship to the website’s purpose. We started with the keyword reports on Google Trends, and we continue to look at the site as we get further into our exploration of analytics reporting. I hope you will take the time to read some student posts and join the conversation by leaving a comment. You can contact me by email at carolccv@techlearninglink.org.

Thanks for visiting.

Carol Caldwell-Edmonds
CCV Instructor

 

 

 

Basics of Website Design, using the Vermont Health Connect website as an example

Vermont Health Connect It appears that the Vermont Health Connect website is relying on the homepage to be its only landing page. Upon arriving at the websites homepage, www.vermonthealthconnect.com, there are a few apparent elements, such as the page mainly consists of images, numerous call-to-actions, missing search box, and the social links are located at the bottom of the page.

A webpage mainly composed of images has pros and cons. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and the images on the homepage represent three main groups. Although the homepage is pleasingly attractive, it is important to use images to enhance the content and to avoid including important information within pictures. Search engines and people who use special devices to navigate websites, cannot read the text contained in the image. This results in a poor user experience and an undesirable position in the SERP.

In addition to the images, the homepage contains numerous call-to-actions. A call-to-action is simply a way of directing the visitor to the next step. The homepage contains a call-to-action to people looking for individual and family insurance, if you’re already covered by your employer, if you’re an employer, questions, learn more about private and public plans, or the six other options under “looking for something else”. Given the amount of options, it can be overwhelming for anyone to know where to find answers to their questions. Trying to figure out what is working and what is not by reviewing the numerous Google Analytics reports, could be a nightmare. People would click on this, click on that, view this, view that, and leave the website without their questions being answered, but we would have no idea if the website helped them or not.

This leads me to my third point, a missing search box. With the ability to track search queries, I feel this is a huge oversight. By including a search box, you would know exactly what people are looking for and have the data to provide answers to those questions, or redesign the various aspects of the site to accommodate what people need.

Due to the nature of health insurance, it is a two-way communication. A simple yet effective change would be to move the social media buttons to the top of the website. Social media allows potential clients to communicate, express their thoughts and ideas to the company. This allows the company to address any issues immediately. It also provides a place for suggestions and compliments. Beyond the communication aspect, social media can drive clients to your site as well as possibly improving where you place on search engine results page.

To sum it all up, I would use images to enhance the content, create a clear call to action, add a search box, and place any social media buttons at the top of the site. If I were to design the site, I would have a clear call to action to fill out a simple form. Depending on their answers, it would provide them with next steps to move forward. At least from a data standpoint, you’d be able to collect much needed information to improve the process or report the findings.

Navigating the VHC Website

Analyzing the Vermont health connect.gov website using Google analytics  exposed some flaws. The lack of user-friendliness made it difficult to tell where to go next. We used our research keywords ones that we felt people would use to access the website search queries didn’t result in getting  to the page. For example we would type in for my health-care premiums thinking that people would be interested in monetary issues regarding healthcare. It didn’t result in getting to the website. Another example, because of the mandatory deadline of March 31 retyped and mandatory Vermont health insurance. Again with no results. We could not find out how much health insurance premiums would which is a common question.

Where can people more easily access the site map we had difficulty finding a match. We could not find a link that linked to it from the first page. This snippet wasn’t descriptive so people that easily confused and lost. And then on top of that you couldn’t find the FAQ section to ask the questions to navigate the website.

We also couldn’t find the place to change of circumstance like your profile. I’ll lease problems I felt led to you overall functionality not being good if people can’t go to the website and end up actually getting healthcare coverage. This is problematic since it was a looming deadline for people to sign up for the healthcare.

What we found that worked well is that feedback was constantly being considered. There was an ongoing updated website as it got closer the deadline. Thanks like making payments online or text and it actually processed instantly. The dashboard was continually containing more information and the graphics are making it more visually stimulating and easy to use with color coding. When I type the exact Vermont healthcare connect  keywords that popped up as the only the second website down which was good.

 

Breaking Down VHC’s Search Optimization

March is finally winding down, and so is the Vermont Health Connect statewide campaign for health insurance. You’ve probably seen all the ads, the TV spots, the annoying YouTube commercials. I can’t say that I’m too sad to see the end of the campaign, and I can’t say overall that I’ve found their campaign to be wildly successful.

What do I mean by that? Well, for the last two months, my class on web analytics has been reviewing the VHC for in-class work. It was an on-hand and relevant topic, and we utilized their campaign to review marketing and search engine optimization strategies. Throughout the class, we all had varying degrees of approval for the VHC. Some thought that the VHC was doing a decent job overall marketing-wise on the Internet, with good search engine optimization (SEO). There were also some of us that considered it fair-to-poor, citing odd SERP displays and low search traffic. I was among those in the “fair-to-poor” camp.

Let’s do a quick exercise. We’re at the end of the campaign (today’s the second to last day of March), and we should expect VHC to have settled out all of their marketing and Internet kinks. I’ve opened up a new browser and turned on my private browsing (for no cookies and searcher persona history). I’ve opened up Google, and now I’m typing in keywords to get search results for the VHC.

First one: “health care.” Google should know I’m in Vermont, so let’s see if we get any hits on VHC. Now, we do get some paid ads from VHC, but that’s not really what I’m looking for. What I’m looking for are organic search results, i.e. by typing in relevant keywords pertaining to Vermont health care, I should see results from the VHC if they had successful SEO.

And look at that: interestingly, no results for the VHC for an organic search on the first nor second pages of Google. Let’s try some more keywords: “state health care.” Still, there’s no sign of VHC on the first page nor second page of Google. However, on the second page, I did get a result of Alaska’s state health coverage. Searching for state health care from Vermont, and I get Alaska?

OK, let’s just narrow our search again: “VT state health care.” And voila, we finally have an organic result of the VHC, but it’s the second overall result, trailing behind Dept. of Children and Families of Vermont. Let’s go ahead and take a look at the resulting SERP: of course we have the title and URL (“Vermont Health Connenct – Vermont.gov,” to the point), but what’s more interesting is the description itself:

During this time, you are still welcome and encouraged to learn about health insurance plans, news and events, FAQs, and more at info.healthconnect. vermont.

A couple of odd notes ring out while reading this. Firstly, I’m still “welcomed” and “encouraged” to “learn” about health plans? Not only is that phrasing incredibly awkward, it’s not really even relevant to the site itself. Sure, VHC wants to educate people on health care, but their main goal is to sign people up for Health Connect. It doesn’t even mention signing up, registering, or joining VHC. But you’re encouraged to look at it? How does that translate to a business goal? Secondly, this is nit-picky, but the trailing “and more at . . .” little section is broken. I think they meant to have a link to the info or FAQ part of the Health Connect site, but it’s not registering. This is a state government site for health care, and the SERP has a bug? That doesn’t scream professionalism, but it does shout “sloppy.”

Let’s do one more search, just to be thorough: “Vermont health care.” Again, we have VHC at the top organic result, but we now have a different SERP display. The title and URL are the same, but it’s the description that changed:

Welcome to Vermont Health Connect. … Green Mountain Care, Medicaid, Dr. Dynasaur · Other public programs and benefits · How to apply for an exemption …

This is just bad. I have no information or description on VHC here, and there’s nothing really useful about it. In fact, the description looks like it’s been pulled right off from the main landing page’s home links. It looks like no work went into this; this being the Internet’s front door into VHC’s website. This was supposed to give me information or at least attract me to the site, but it falls so utterly short.

So what’s my game in all of this? Well, from a class perspective, it’s a way to break down a current site’s online marketing campaign in order for the class to learn. In this case, it’s an example of a poorly constructed campaign with poor SEO. This is my first semester in the realms of digital marketing, and I find it concerning that our class was able break down the VHC so vigorously considering this was a huge state-funded project. From a business perspective, I hope that the Vermont government takes a harder look at VHC, and truly optimizes the site that was made for them.

Like Vince’s style? You can check out his gaming blog at http://gamerchatter.tumblr.com/

You can also check out our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ccvintrowebanalytics

Bill’s VHC comments

I found that the front end of the site was fairly clear about directing searchers in the right direction within the site. Searchers where categorized and then lead through the process. So when we talk about how good a particular web site is we may need to be more specific about how it succeeds or fails. The initial design and navigation of the site is fairly straight forward and if the site worked, as it was designed, I doubt if anyone could find anything really significantly wrong about the site.

Unfortunately it is how the site functions or fails to function that seems to be its’ primary issues. Parts that should function, like buttons,  don’t. So the searcher or user of the site is forced to find alternative methods to navigate or negotiate the site. Perhaps the issues are browser related but sufficient testing would have revealed those issues early enough to be fixed. But what seems to be the largest complaint about the site is its’ inability to convert or to simply do what is required of it. That is, the site is reputed to have difficulty actually registering Vermonters for health insurance. The sites early inability to handle the amount of traffic required, further damaged its’ reputation.

Tori’s Analysis of VHC’s Facebook Page

Does Vermont Health Connect’s Facebook ratings and reviews indicate a problem?

When I viewed the VHC website I noticed the “Follow Us” media buttons at the bottom of the landing page. When I clicked on their Facebook page the first thing I noticed was their low rating of 2.5 out of 5 stars. The majority of the reviews were repetitive and the problems people mainly commented on were: the Vermont Health Connect representative’s didn’t answer the phone, and they didn’t return calls, and the customers have been on hold waiting for hours, the website was difficult to navigate, and they often had technical problems. The negative comments on the page were repetitive because the problems were not being solved.

Is anyone at VHC reading and working on resolving the problems that are stated on their Facebook page?

The problems that first began in October still continue into March on the last day to sign up.  

Unbiased Assessment of Vermont Health Connect’s Website

This being an important new step in the state of Vermont and for health care for thousands I had high hopes that they would have gotten it right and had an easy to navigate well set up website. Alas for the most part I was wrong.

Cons

  • VHC Landing Page is still the title of the home page. While true it is a landing page, that is geek speak for the most part and really should have a title that is better and has something to do with the site.
  • Page looks like it was designed by a few different people and instead of blending the ideas they stitched them together side by side.
  • Every pages loads a new tab which clutters a browser.

Pros

  •  Once you are on the site, it is easy to find info and there is a lot of it.
  • Site seems to run smoothly and doesn’t take a lot of time to load.
  • Works well with the major browsers, Explorer, Firefox and Chrome.

If the state is trying to make a good first impression there are a few things that can be done to help. Clean up the website so that it has a good working title. Then make the site look uniform and not like a mix of all the latest web design elements from 2010.  Take advantage of the excellent rankings in search engines by having a site that will impress people and not confuse them.

Recommended GA Reporting for VHC

Part of our student analysis was to suggest which Google Analytics reports could be of use to the Vermont Health Connect web team.  I selected the following top standard reports: Top Conversion Path Reports, Navigation Summary, and Site Search Usage Report because I felt they would be beneficial in determining how individuals were accessing the site, navigating through it and tracking the ability to search within the VHC site for various queries.

In order to determine how to rate the various marketing efforts, I recommended the use of the Top Conversion Path Report. This Google Analytic’s report reviews site channel traffic and conversion paths and helps to understand the various methods individuals use to find a website.  You receive information on how all the digital marketing avenues play out in an easy to read graph.

Another helpful report is the Navigation Summary that indicates which pages are viewed most often as well as the landing page would provide useful information in regards to how visitors move around (navigation “flow”) the VHC site.  Drilling down in the report gives detailed information on the previous and next page URLs that were viewed.

Finally, utilizing a Site Search report helps illustrate the pattern of usage regarding the internal search engine.  This report tracks internal queries typed into your search box allowing valuable information on how to improve your site content and marketing efforts. There was an internal search on the VHC site but not on the home page, which would be beneficial.

These are only a few of the standard reports available for free in Google Analytics.  If you would like more information please go to:

https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/2389951?hl=en

 

Student Research

Key Word Searches:

 

  • Vermont health connect
  • Vermont  health Care
  • VTCH

 

Search Results:

Vermont Health Connect:

7/13-2/8/14

Total Searches 861

Top Cities

  • Montpelier -100 searches
  • Burlington- 36

Vermont Health Care:

7/13- 2/8/14

Total Searches: 436

Top Cities:

  • Montpelier- 100
  • Burlington-48
  • S. Burlington-10

VTCH:

7/13-2/8/13

Netted no results

Google Searches:

Vermont Health Connect:

Two private ads proceed

 

Ranks #1 –www.healthconnect.vermont.gov/ with 6 links Vermont Health Connect, Help Center. 2014 Health Plans, Subsidy Calculator, Find in Person help, Affordability Calculator

Followed By :

Five additional listening’s- two VT Government listing

Three information pages- non- VT government

 

VTCH:

Result : Mae Hong Airport

Vermont Health Care:

Ranked #1: Vermont Health Connectwww.healthconnect.vermont.gov/

Ad: Affordable health Care-www.healthcare.gov/marketplace

Google Analytics recommendations:

Goal is conversion in a timely manner, which will result from progressive efficient page flow.

Conversion

  • Goals:
    • 20% New visitors lead to conversion- Enrolling for Health Connect Coverage.
    • 75% returning visitors lead to conversion- Enrolling for Health Connect Coverage.

Audience:

  • Visitor Flow
    • Is there a predicted flow to conversion?

Behavior:

  • Site content
    • Number of pages
    • Exit pages

SERP Results

Best SERP results were Vermont Health Connect. Generalized search that pulls Vermont Health Connect as #1.

Good optimization – Ranked #1 – good list of direct links pull up with listing.

Questions for Webteam-

Conversion rate?

Page Flow?

Number of pages to conversion?

Exit pages? Why?

Conclusion:

The actual site is currently well optimized for searches.

Annie’s Analysis & Suggestions

As a class we began analyzing the VHC website in early March, specifically to investigate for SEO content. At that time, we used key terms, like “Vermont Health”, “Healthcare in Vermont”, etc. Surprisingly, the website did not always rank on the first page. If you look at the content on the home page, the headings and content are disjointed. There are three main areas without a clear path for visitors to navigate. This could be why the SERP is not goal friendly (see below).  However, by the time of our final analysis, VHC’s site came up immediately, most likely attributable to online advertising for the final push to get Vermonter’s signed up for heath insurance by March 31.

Goals for VHC website:

  • Include “Vermont Health Insurance” and “Vermont Health care” in content on home page
  • Clean up and clarify homepage, needs funnel approach, currently too many avenues to click
  • Highlight Public versus Private Plans
  • Include sign up button on home page
  • Change title to Vermont Health care
  • Use online payment system for premiums

Suggested Google Analytic’s Reports:

Behavior, New vs. Returning Visitors – this will show whether visitors get the information that they need the first time

Behavior, Engagement – to show length of visit time, (goal would be to decrease this over time)

Audience, Visitors Flow – this should show where visitors are navigating through site and what percentage drops off

Goal Completion – to study how many people are signing up for health care, or downloading, printing information.

VHC serp

Google Search: health care vermont

SEO Needs Improvement

  • It’s good that my search term immediately brought me to the site, however I find the information in the snippet quite confusing.
  • The first 3-4 words are redundant with the title and does not provide any new information.
  • With three different programs listed (Green Mountain Care, Dr. Dinosaur, Medicaid) ”apply for an exemption” seems contradictory with looking for health care.

 Questions for the Web Team

  • Can you create an informative but concise one paragraph description on home page, explaining VHC’s services?  Expanding upon principles in tagline “find the plan that’s right for you” could also capture Google’s attention, possibly regenerating a more informative snippet.
  • Can you move telephone assistance links to bottom of page? This will alleviate some phone calls. Can you consolidate two assistance phone numbers into one “Phone Questions” area?
  • What would it take to consolidate information? Visitor needs a funnel approach. For example, “I don’t have any health care and I want some”.
  • Change title tag – a simple fix!
  • Can you institute online payment for premiums?

Conclusion

To make better contact between Vermonters searching for VHC and using their services, I would like to see improved, concise website content plus easier navigation so visitors get information. In addition, I’d like the VHC website regularly tracked with analytics so visitor flow and bounce rate will pinpoint areas of further improvement.

For more of Annie’s writing, visit her Tumblr Blog, a site she is constructing for an Internet Marketing class.