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Analysis Exchange Case Study with MIT Press

I recently completed a project with MIT Press Journals (MITPJ) as part of the Analysis Exchange, an online marketplace that connects  mentors and students in order to provide free web analytics services to non-profits. The program is intended as a vehicle for providing recent entrants into the web analytics field with real-world experience while assisting non-profits with services that are typically out reach due to budget and staffing considerations. It’s a great program that I can’t recommend enough so I’ve put together the following case study that can hopefully inspire others to get involved. With permission from MIT Press, I’ve released all the deliverables for the project on Google Drive so that others can borrow/steal from our work as much as possible.

The project spanned 4 weeks and can be broken out into the following 4 phases:

  • Week 1 – Understand
  • Week 2 – Educate
  • Week 3 – Analyze
  • Week 4 – Recommend

Week 1 – Understand

The initial week of the project was spent understanding the goals of the client and how the Analysis Exchange might be able to further those goals. In our case, MITPJ was about to undergo a website redesign and was interested in understanding how web analytics might inform user testing being conducted in advance of the design phase. Our kick-off agenda covered the following topics:

  • Introduce Analysis Exchange
  • MIT Press Journals Introduction
    • Overview of the MIT Press & Journals
    • Goals of Redesign
    • Current Status (user testing, surveys, etc)
    • High level overview of digital presence (email, social media, PPC, etc)
    • Analytics tools in place (GA, anything else?)
  • What is analysis? What can AE provide? 
  • Scope of AE Project
    • What is most valuable to MIT and reasonable to complete in 3-4 weeks?
  • Logistics
    • Access to GA
    • Schedule weekly check-in

After the kick-off, we conducted an audit of both their website and Google Analytics implementation in order to understand basic trends as well as any data quality issues that we should watch out for. This was accomplished by filling out the following audit spreadsheet. As you can see from the spreadsheet, we realized quickly that we were working with a very basic implementation of Google Analytics Class without any goals, events, e-commerce data, or custom dimensions configured. Based on this information, we decided to pivot quickly to providing MITPJ with information about these features so that they would be sure to have them implemented during their upcoming redesign project. 

Also during the first week, we asked the client to compile questions for us. We left this fairly open ended and understood that they may ask questions that cannot be reasonably be answered with analytics alone. However, it was a valuable exercise in understanding where their gaps in knowledge existed regarding user behavior.

Below are some examples of questions posed to the AE team:

  1. We think users don’t like being taken to a separate site for ecommerce (separate dead-end page) and are not completing transactions because of that. I want users to feel safe within our shopcart and complete all their purchases.
  2. We think pages are not sticky, visitors are not staying on the site for long. If they come in through a link via social media, they bounce from that page. (SIDE NOTE: how to incorporate recommended/relevant content on abstract pages?)
  3. Are the extra tools for users helpful? Are they being used? (citation manager, most downloaded article list, etc)
  4. Do we have analytics in the “Help” section? What are users most concerned about? Let’s rework based on interest.

As you can see, some questions could be answered through analysis while others were more exploratory in nature. We worked to answer as many questions as possible by Week 3.

Week 2 – Educate

During Week 2, we focused on educating the client on digital analytics topics in order to ensure that everyone would be on the same page when discussing more advanced analytics topics. The week culminated in a presentation covering important digital analytics topics that were tied back to the audit work completed during Week 1. This presentation can be found here

This presentation breaks up each topic into 2 components:

  1. Explain the topic generally. Why is it important and how is it used in other industries?
  2. Explain the topic as it relates to MITPJ specifically

For example, we explained how custom dimensions help organizations segment users generally before speaking to specific custom dimensions relevant to MITPJ.

Week 3 – Analyze

By week 3, we had audited the client’s website and educated them about key web analytics topics. At this stage, we were ready to perform meaningful analysis that helped to further their project goals. This took the form of reviewing the client’s Google Analytics instance with an eye towards crafting usability tests that were representative of how users behaved on the website. The results of this anlaysis can be found here. While this anlaysis was challenging due to the very basic nature of the Google Analytics implementation and lack of e-commerce data, there were a few insights uncovered such as:

  • Article abstracts comprise 76% of landing pages. This fact helped convince MITPJ to start more usability tests from the abstract pages (rather than the home page)

We also spent time during week 3 answering the questions that were posed during week 1. Those responses can be found here

Week 4 – Recommend

Week 4 was spent wrapping up questions opened during the prior 3 weeks and ensuring that the client had a clear path for any future anlaytics implementation work moving forward. For MITP, we felt as though Google Tag Manager was the most important area of focus for future implementation and worked to ensure that the client was comfortable explaining the benefits of GTM within their organization. We also discussed the outcomes of the Week 3 analysis and how they might affect the usability tests being developed by MITP Journals.


Hopefully this description helps to inspire a few folks to join the Anlaysis Exchange.  As of the time of writing this post, there are currently 8 open projects. Sign up today! Last but not least, many thanks to Tim Wilson, my project mentor, and Jill Rodgers from MITP for their help on the project!


Adam Ribaudo

Adam Ribaudo is the owner and founder of Noise to Signal LLC. He works with clients to ensure that their marketing technologies work together to provide measurable outcomes.

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