How to give readers what they want: The 3 most important questions

by Shawn Smith on February 8, 2008

I admit it. I’m a stats junkie. I love watching reader trends and feed subscription rates. I can’t get enough. But I know that isn’t necessarily helping me become a better producer. I know stats aren’t helping me become a better writer.

What I really need to know: What do my site users/readers want?

I am guilty of buying “Analytics: An hour a day” by Avinash Kaushik and not reading it. I’ve had the book for about three months now, and it’s been at my cousin’s house save for about 5 hours.

Lucky for me, I was reminded of my analytics laziness when listening to a recent Ten Golden Rules podcast, on which Kaushik made an appearance. After hearing a lot of interesting things, he said revealed a series of items that grabbed my attention: The three most important questions for a person managing a website.

An analytics guru, Kaushik says metrics tools are great, but website managers shouldn’t necessarily invest all their money into a stats reporter. Instead, a short survey form may be the best option for better connecting with your site users – That is how you can ask the questions, right?.

Why are survey forms better than stats reports?

Analytics will tell you which stories were most read on your site. Metrics will tell you which sections of your site generate the highest traffic. But stats reports won’t tell you:

  • If the site user is satisfied
  • If the site user could find what they needed
  • If the site user wanted more of one thing and less than another

This has never mattered before, mostly, because the only feedback came in the form of letters to the editor and emails to reporters. It’s terribly difficult to quantify how much one issue affects site users more than others.

But a survey acts differently. Survey questions can be more pointed in guiding users to give you the answers to questions you have and didn’t know you have.

So what survey do you need? Kaushik’s Three questions revealed!

1. “What is the purpose of your visit to our website today?” – Why are site users here? Do they hope to get information on their local schools? Government? Are they looking for humor from a columnist? What brought them to your site over a competitor?

2. “Were you able to complete your task today?” This isn’t necessarily a question most news sites/bloggers would ask, but why not? Was your audience able to get what they needed from the stories on your site? This matters! If they aren’t able to get the information, they’ll go somewhere else and find it. If it happens more often than not, you could risk losing site users.

3. “If you were not able to complete your task today, why not?” KaBLAM!!!! Have the site users tell you like it is. What did you miss out on? What do they wish you gave more information about?


Getting reader feedback sounds like some work, right? Not necessarily. Google just released an awesome perk for Google Docs, allowing you to create emailable and embeddable forms that will send data directly to a Google Doc spreadsheet.

Victoria Kensington created an easy-to-follow how to guide for creating forms in Google.

Writers could easily create a form and provide a link to it in their stories/posts. Like this form about New Media Bytes! (you can also copy the source code of the form and embed it on your site pretty easily).

Writers could also put links to the form in newsletters they send out, which is a great way to generate sources and increase readership.

When people fill out the form, the information is gathered together on your Google spreadsheet, where you can analyze it. You can also make the spreadsheet viewable by the public so users can pop on and see what others have to say.

The feedback doesn’t necessarily mean writers have to change the way they report, but it will give them a better idea of what readers are looking for. That could also help you better understand what features could improve your section pages.

Let me know what you think about New Media Bytes and this idea on my new form!

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Web Traffic Analysis
February 8, 2008 at 5:42 pm
February 8, 2008 at 11:00 pm
Using Google Docs for reader feedback - Wired Journalists
February 11, 2008 at 5:22 pm