ViewPoint: What can SharePoint analytics tell you about your intranet?

Ah metrics. Who looked at what and when. Not really why as such but you have to think about that.

In SharePoint, like any intranet or web site, seeing who looked at what is obviously essential to understanding whether your intranet works or not. Compared to, say, an ecommerce site, an intranet doesn’t have commercial or sales related goals as such. But it should have goals, you should be able to determine outcomes from your intranet. Otherwise what’s the point of having one? ROI is crucial of course and metrics can go some way in helping that.

In SharePoint 2010, the web analytics can be useful to provide some metrics for a site collection or team site. The most useful are page views to see what people are looking at and unique visitors. For a large intranet site with multiple site collections, it’s pretty useless as you can’t get a decent overview of activity.

There are a few detailed guides to SharePoint analytics and you can find the links at the end of this article.

One of the main aspects of the analytics is that you can only get them for a connected site collection or a team site. On our intranet, we have multiple site collections in our web content management (WCM) area of SharePoint so we don’t get a full analytics picture of our site. We use Google Analytics (GA) for that.

Good bits about SharePoint analytics
– you can get access numbers (clicks) for non HTML pages such as Office files and PDFs
– it’s far more accurate on unique users than GA as it is usually based on the logged in user via Active Directory and not JavaScript code (this depends on your set up though). Seeing who by their log in name is accessing a site is a bit Big Brother-ish alright but we don’t use that information internally.

Bad bits about SharePoint analytics
– it will pick up every access to a page including those of publishers creating and editing content which is not what you want. But you can see these easily enough as they URLs have the editing ASPX code.
– the example (Figure 1) below which just adds up figures in a column to give an inaccurate total.
– the dashboard summary also makes little sense (see Figure 2 below). The two Value labels and trend tell me what exactly? I assume it means that we have more page views for this 30 day period than for the previous period and that it is up 37%.
– referrers. Again a total number which is useless. Only by going into the referrer’s section do I see anything useful because it shows me that many people clicked from links in emails to our intranet which is relevant.

Figure 1

SharePoint analytics Ireland - daily visitors

» Click here for full size image

Anyway, have a look at the image (Figure 2) which the number of daily unique visitors over a period of time and a grand total of 5,292. Which is of course, completely useless and misleading. It’s just a total of the column, not actual visitors.

Figure 2

SharePoint analytics

» Click here for full size image

So what do you do?
1.    Extract it out to Excel.
2.    Remove the weekend figures. Nice to know some sad people are looking at your site at the weekend but it distorts your averages.
3.    Get the average figure so you can report that the average number of unique users over a set period of time is about 200. That means something not the 5,292 figure.
4.    Plot the daily visitors on a chart and see the trend over time which is this case is fairly constant except for a spike on 19 April.

That’s your simple report. The average number of visitors and the trend over time.

So overall the figures themselves aren’t too bad, it is the collation, presentation and the dashboards which are weak. There are many changes, of course, in SharePoint 2013 which will improve the metrics. Certainly being able to see popular documents in a document library is very useful.

Google Analytics is also used on our intranet and it’s pretty good expect for a few glaring exceptions. Visitor numbers, visitors and even visits are problematic as many people when using an intranet close the browser window and open it again each time they access the intranet. You will always get multiple visits from the same people. This of course shows multiple visits in GA and you have no idea whether these are different people.

So I don’t measure visits or visitors on an intranet. I stick to unique page views for our communications analytics which gives me a flavour of what people are looking at. Is it 100% accurate? Hell no, but it is a good indicator as any as to the popularity of certain pages. And that is what stakeholders want.

Incidentally, Google Analytics real time view shows quite an fairly accurate view of current users based on cookies but you can’t build reports from that. But it is cool to look at. Especially when a company wide email newsletter goes out and you can see the traffic impact immediately.

From looking at SharePoint 2013 so far, Microsoft have certainly taken a good look at it. Opening it up to 3rd parties should also make a big difference in allowing others to provide tools and apps just as Google does.

The Intranet Benchmarking Forum (IBF) produced an excellent report for members called ‘Measuring intranets: A guide to intranet metrics and measurement’ which goes into much detail about intranet analytics. This is a member’s only report I’m afraid but if you have an large intranet you should be involved in the IBF anyway.


SharePoint 2013 analytics features

Google Analytics Real Time overview

Introducing Web Analytics in SharePoint 2010