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Analysing the analytics

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As Product Analytics Lead at the Government Digital Service, one of my interests is how effectively people are finding government information and where they are finding it.

I recently read the post on Government in the Lab; Social Media Drives Five Times As Much Traffic To Australian Government Sites As Online News Media.

Hitwise data showed “between December 2008 and December 2011 social media had doubled its share (of traffic to Australian government websites) while news and media had barely held its own.” The post further reports “by December 2011 social media was sending 9.75% of the traffic to government sites while news and media sites were only sending 2.27% of the traffic.”

 So what’s happening in the UK? A similar review is timely, with the development of the Single Domain for government and the need to make current and potential audiences aware of changes and what’s on offer.

Standard reporting in Hitwise provides 13 months of data, so I can only give a snapshot, rather than a longer trend.

For all UK government sites, social media has been a stronger source of traffic than news and media sites, but not to the same degree as in Australia. There are three occasions when news and media overtake social media, notably December 2011, but there are different patterns across segments within government and for individual sites.

For central government sites, news and media referrals remain strong against social and there’s something about December that makes news strong.

For local government sites, social performs much more strongly than media, but both follow a similar pattern through the year, with a spike in December 2010 (bad weather, perhaps) and August 2011.

But how do social and news compare on some individual government properties?

For Directgov and, social strongly outperforms news, and referral traffic levels are quite consistent through the year.

Departmental sites, perhaps not surprisingly, have relatively more traffic from news sites. BIS shows much more fluctuation and periods where news performs strongly and weakly. For the Department for Education, news and media beats social throughout the year. For both departments, no doubt the news referral spikes are related to big departmental events.

So are there any take-aways from this brief analysis? I think there are.

  • Social media and forums are increasingly important and already strongly outperform news sites as traffic generators for more public-oriented sites such as Directgov, and local authority sites
  • Government organisations clearly should be investing in social
  • There’s an opportunity to merge more ‘classic’ web analytics with other digital engagement measures to gain a better understanding of the reach and effectiveness of social media
  • To put things into perspective, all referral categories to government sites are dwarfed by referrals from search engines:

  • But search is increasingly driven by social signals. Bing integrates Facebook results and Google is rolling out Search, plus Your World, which brings in results from its Google+ social network. So for government organisations that are serious about getting their information, policies and services found and consumed; social media and engagement is going to keep getting bigger.

About the author

Peter Jordan is Product Analytics Lead at GDS. The connecting thread in what he does is connecting people and information. Pre-digital, he managed conferences, study tours and adult education courses. Now he works on getting people to the information and services they need, through understanding intent, digital analytics and search analytics, content strategy, search and social.

 He blogs occasionally at and is on Twitter at @peterbjordan

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  1. Comment by Fraser posted on

    Great post. It's clear that search is the gateway to the web but I agree that social can be leveraged more effectively to drive traffic. In reverse, however, it took me a long time to realise that people are using social for search. For example, searching YouTube instead of Google for product information. For that reason alone, it's good to have a presence.

    It gets even more interesting if you start to look at eParticipation at election times. Perhaps you can do an update for the next one? A quick plug for something I did earlier on this subject matter :

    • Replies to Fraser>

      Comment by Louise Kidney posted on

      Hi Fraser,

      Thank you for your comment. I'll pass on your suggestion to the author.

  2. Comment by Patrick Dunleavy posted on

    Great blog and I retweeted it.
    But can GDS plese get a 'print friendly' version button, one that gives you the complete article plus with the header and date and referencing all complete on it, This is the social media friendly thing to do - and who knows, you might increase the 3% of log-ons from academia that you're getting.

    • Replies to Patrick Dunleavy>

      Comment by janeoloughlin posted on


      Thank you for your comments on the blog and tweet and also your suggestion for print friendly version button which I will pass on to the team.