Repository bounce rates

Bounce rate imageI’ve often wondered about what people do when they visit a repository, and whether what they are doing while visiting the repository could be considered ‘good’ in terms of the usefulness and general aims of the repository. Let me explain… I’m a big fan of Google Analytics, and one of the things it lets you see is what people do once they get to your repository. For each page it can show where they came from, how long each user stayed there, and whether they ‘bounced’ straight off to another web site afterwards (that is, Google Analytics on your repository did not encounter another view from that user in their browsing session), or whether they stayed within your repository to hopefully view more items.

The help file for Google Analytics describes the bounce rate as:

Bounce Rate: Bounce rate is the percentage of single-page visits (i.e. visits in which the person left your site from the entrance page). Bounce rate is a measure of visit quality and a high bounce rate generally indicates that site entrance (landing) pages aren’t relevant to your visitors. You can minimize Bounce Rates by tailoring landing pages to each keyword and ad that you run. Landing pages should provide the information and services that were promised in the ad copy.

If you consider an e-commerce website such as Amazon, then this description, and the aim of reducing the bounce rate must hold true. If your visitor searched for an item in a search engine, came to your website, viewed the item, and then ‘bounced’ away, you have lost the sale and the visitor took their business elsewhere. That is ‘bad’.

However, what is the purpose of a repository?

If you take the view that a repository (of the open access persuasion) is there to provide access to resources, then a bounce may not be so bad after all. Image the following scenario:

“I’m a researcher in the field of building robotic sailing boats. I’ve read an article that cites a paper by the title of ‘An Autonomous Sailing Robot for Ocean Observation’. So I duly perform a search using Google Scholar and it see a paper by that title is the top result. I visit the link and find myself in a repository which holds that paper. I download the paper, and go on my way, happy to have found what I wanted.”

Within Google Analytics we would see several different aspects of this visit:

  1. We’d see the visit to the metadata jump-off page.
  2. We’d see that the visitor came from Google Scholar.
  3. We’d see┬áthe search term that was used by the user within Google Scholar
  4. We’d see that the visitor stayed on the metadata jump-off page for say 20 seconds.
  5. Then… nothing. In other words, it wold be registered as a bounce.

So in traditional analytics terms this looks like a bad visit. However, was it? Clearly not. The visitor got what they wanted, and the repository has done its job. Why did Google Analytics not register the fact that the visitor read the PDF version of the paper though?

Unlike website log file analysis software (e.g. AWStats) Google Analytics can’t see every single interaction between the user and the web server. It can only see pages which include a small bit of Javascript that send the details of the visit to Google. So in the case of the repository, the metadata jump-off page contains the code so Google Analytics knows about the visit, but the PDF cannot contain the code. Google Analytics therefore doesn’t know about the successful download of the PDF. Maybe one day Google will address this issue in some way? It would be great if they could.

The repository has served it purpose, and the visitor got what they were after, but is it also the job of the repository to hold the user and to attract them to other related items in the repository? There are many ways this could be done, a subject for another day, but these will no doubt include elements of Web 2.0, social networking and item suggestion. This issue does though highlight one of the origins and ongoing features of Google Analytics – that of supporting e-commerce sites, particularly those that make use of its AdWords scheme.

But for me, for now, I think I’m reasonably happy with a bounce!mobile games rpg online

2 thoughts on “Repository bounce rates

  1. Pingback: Stuart Lewis' Blog » Surfacing Google Analytics stats in DSpace

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