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How Google Analytics can reveal the truth about e-resource usage

31 March 2010

Something that we hear a lot about from librarians is the problems that they have with usage statistics.

  1. Different suppliers provide usage statistics in different formats and use different terminology. This makes analysis difficult and sometimes even misleading.
  2. Data can be difficult (sometimes impossible) to obtain from suppliers.
  3. Usage data can be very dry and doesn’t reflect qualitative feedback from users. For example, one session on a particular resource may be immensely more valuable than ten sessions on another resource.
  4. It’s not possible to understand how an e-resource was used. For example, it would be useful to understand what was the user trying to find by examining their search results.
  5. Reporting standards like COUNTER are evolving and will take time to implement.

The good news is that Google Analytics can be used as a solution to most, if not all, of these problems. It’s easy to set up, doesn’t require any specialist IT help and (best of all) it’s free.

If you haven’t used Google Analytics before then it’s worth taking some time to explore. I won’t be discussing Google Analytics features in great depth – so I’d encourage you to take a look at the many tutorials and feature tours available online.

Google Analytics is a popular tool and is used to measure online usage for many of the world’s websites. There are some specific features that will be immensely beneficial to libraries. By using Google Analytics to track your e-resources you will be able to:

  1. Standardise the measurement of usage statistics of all your products.
  2. Access to the latest usage statistics for an e-resource and be able to share this access with other colleagues.
  3. Understand the effectiveness of sessions by looking at bounce rates and the amount of elapsed time that a user spends using the e-resource.
  4. Analyse any search results that a user has used.
  5. Implement the service quickly and for free. Simply fill out two online forms and you’ll be up and running in minutes.

To get started you’ll first need to sign up for a Google Analytics account.

Once your Google Analytics account is set up, you’ll need to create a Website Profile for each e-resource that you want to track. Each Website Profile will have a unique tracking code, which will look something like this.


If you’re wanting to track either Theory Test Pro or then you need to enter a tracking code into the Account Details tab of your Library Dashboard.

Note that each e-resource must have a different tracking code. If you use the same tracking code for two e-resources then the usage data will be merged together.

As soon as you save these settings, data will start to flow into Google Analytics. It may take 24 hours before the first full reports start to become visible – so check back the following working day.

It would be very simple for any e-resource provider to add your tracking code to their service, and we’d encourage you to approach them about this. I’d be surprised and skeptical of any providers that would be reluctant to implement your code.

We’d love to know whether this helps you make better use of your usage data, so please feel free to comment below.

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