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Web Users: A Mosaic, not a Monolith

Using website analytics to learn more about your audience for better knowledge exchange

“We should have a website” is often one of the first things that comes to mind at the beginning of a new project or initiative. Websites can be a vibrant part of a plan to share information and updates, but they don’t work magic. They need to be tended and monitored to make sure they are serving their role and meeting an audience’s information needs. One way we ensure that www.KnowledgeSUCCESS.org is meeting its knowledge-sharing goals is to use website analytics to learn more about our audience. This post shares some tips about what pieces of analytics data are most useful for understanding an audience and informing KM and communications activities.

Web users and knowledge management

Knowledge SUCCESS approaches KM as the foundation of effective knowledge sharing and exchange. Managing knowledge (capturing, synthesizing, curating, categorizing, storing…) can’t help improve programs unless practitioners can find and absorb that knowledge. Busy FP/RH professionals aren’t likely to spend time reading, viewing, or listening to web content that doesn’t immediately interest them or solve a problem that they are facing. Using web analytics to understand your audience means you can better tailor content to their needs, reach them where they are, and learn how they use your website once they arrive.

How do people find your website?

To understand your audience—how to reach them, and how to attract more of them—find out where they are coming from. Acquisition channels (the broad categories of platforms and sources where visitors may come from) are not directly within our control, but there are things we can do to increase the chance of reaching people through those channels. For example, 50% of our audience comes to the Knowledge SUCCESS website from search engines—specifically, “organic results.” This means they search for something and then click on a link to our site which is not a paid ad placement. Since we know that organic search is such an important way for people to find us, we spend extra time before posting a new piece to follow best practices for search engine optimization. This increases the chance that people will find a page on knowledgesuccess.org from a search for a string like “AYSRH knowledge,” “Think Tank Jeune Ouagadougou,” or “what works in FP/RH programming.”

A screenshot showing search engine results for the phrase "think tank jeune ouagadougou", including Knowledge SUCCESS results in English and French
A screenshot showing search engine results for the phrase "think tank jeune ouagadougou", including Knowledge SUCCESS results in English and French

Once they arrive, what do they do?

Different websites have different goals. For example, sales sites prefer to see a visitor enter the site (often from a paid search listing or a “sponsored post” on social media), view some products, add things to a cart, and then pay for the products. An eLearning site leads visitors through the pages of a course one at a time, presenting each course’s knowledge in a logical order. For both of those examples, a user’s ideal journey through the site would involve multiple pages and specific actions (add to cart, take a quiz, make a purchase, earn a certificate).

But Knowledge SUCCESS doesn’t sell things. We deliver knowledge about family planning and reproductive health programs in usable, bite-sized pieces. Using website analytics, we can see that most of Knowledge SUCCESS’s website visitors come directly to a specific page to look at one post, event, or resource (something they searched for, or a link they clicked on in an email or on another website). Most of them then leave without going to another page. For a sales site or an eLearning site, that one-page “user path” would be tragic. For a knowledge-sharing site like ours, it is optimal. We don’t want to waste people’s time; we want them to find the piece of knowledge that is useful to them in that moment. If someone has more time and decides to see what else we have to offer, that’s great—but it’s a bonus, not a baseline of success.

Global numbers hide regional differences …

Looking at the overview of Knowledge SUCCESS’s “mobile vs. desktop” report, you would get the impression that less than a quarter of our site visitors use mobile devices.

Without digging further, you would be missing an important regional difference. Knowledge SUCCESS is a global project with a global audience, which includes key audiences in USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health’s Priority Family Planning Countries in West Africa, East Africa, and Asia. The proportion of mobile users for those regional segments tells a different story. The mobile proportion in Asia is slightly higher than “all users” (25.2% vs 21.8%)—but in Francophone Africa, Anglophone West Africa, and East Africa, the mobile proportions are much higher:

Using web analytics to understand our audience’s device usage isn’t just interesting in an abstract way; it helps to inform Knowledge SUCCESS’s content approaches. There are some types of content (such as interactive pieces like this one about vasectomy uptake in India) that are not optimally usable over mobile devices. For regions where mobile usage is much higher than the site average, Knowledge SUCCESS focuses more on mobile-accessible kinds of content—for example, for audiences in West Africa we have focused on blog posts and email newsletters that can be displayed on mobile devices with no loss of meaning.

… and regional views hide country differences

Since Knowledge SUCCESS is focused on Priority Family Planning Countries, information about Asia as a whole isn’t actionable for us. The Priority FP Countries in Asia are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Yemen.

Looking at our Knowledge SUCCESS Asia segment (which only includes priority countries), the regional view shows the approximate age ranges and gender of our website’s audience (note that these are Google’s best guess based on a sample, not a user-by-user mapping, and the gender tracking is still binary). The strong representation of people aged 18-24 is good to see; about 20% of our content, including our Connecting Conversations webinar series, centers on youth engagement and adolescent sexual and reproductive health (AYSRH). FP/RH professionals—from program staff to policymakers—typically fall into the next four age groups, totaling 65% of our audience. From a gender equity perspective, the near-equal division between men and women could have us resting on our laurels.

But when we look at individual countries, the picture changes. The age ranges and gender balance vary a great deal from country to country within Asia. For example, the proportion of users by gender in the Philippines and Bangladesh is wildly different:

Country-level gender proportions of Knowledge SUCCESS website audiences in the Philippines and Bangladesh

While more than 50% of knowledgesuccess.org visitors are women, we still need to keep in mind that gender equity in Internet access varies by country, and that globally there is still a divide: 48% of women worldwide have Internet access, compared to 58% of men, according to the International Telecommunication Union). These country-level demographics helped to drive recent updates to the Knowledge Management Training Package (including a new Checklist for Assessing Equity in Knowledge Management Initiatives).

Regional audiences have also asked for easier access to context-specific information that can support KM practice and ultimately improve FP/RH programs. Knowing more about our regional audiences helped drive our recent website reorganization featuring “regional hubs”—sections of the site highlighting content for Asia, East Africa, and West Africa. These regional hubs focus on different activities, knowledge management approaches, and topics of importance to those regional audiences.


In short, learning more about the audiences you are trying to reach—whether a global audience using a website, or a community audience who might become participants in an FP/RH program—will help you reach that audience more effectively. Use website analytics to look beneath the surface, rather than viewing your audience as a whole. It’s the details that will help you meet their knowledge needs more effectively.

Detail of a mosaic artwork called "River of Knowledge". Image credit: Carlos Lowry via Flickr Creative Commons
Simone Parrish

Senior Program Officer, Knowledge Management Unit, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs

Simone has been with the Knowledge Management Unit of the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP) since 2011. She has extensive experience managing website content and online communities of practice; serving as liaison between web product owners and developers; leading knowledge management initiatives; wrangling reporting processes; and presenting on knowledge management basics, analytics and insights, and various digital health topics. Simone serves on the Global Digital Health Network's Advisory Council and is co-chair of the Global Health Knowledge Collaborative.

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