Adapted with permission from Brian Timoney’s Mapbrief™ blog dated August 1, 2012
This article discusses the key performance indicators (metrics), from a user perspective that every government GIS department should consider before allocating taxpayer dollars to web mapping applications.
With ever-present government budget pressures, those responsible for web-mapping applications are wondering how to best develop applications that the public will actually use. In particular, they are wrestling with technical considerations such as which combination of server admin and paid cloud subscriptions (ESRI, Google, MapBox, CartoDB, et al) make the most financial sense as well as serving user needs. Only access to real, actual data can answer these questions.
Attention Chief Financial Officers: Unfortunately your GIS departments tend to become self-absorbed in functionality issues that only matter to “power users.” Seven key metrics from the City and County of Denver’s targeted mapping services provide a model for useful discussions of the ROI associated with web mapping services, and insights into the taxpayer’s “mappetite.”
Allan Glen, Manager of the GIS Development for the City and County of Denver, has collected granular usage data that provides a fascinating glimpse into how the public actually uses maps. Starting last November, Denver’s GIS team started rolling out “single-topic” maps as embeddable widgets throughout the city’s website. See the Find a Denver Park Map, which is a departure from the more typical everything-but-the-kitchen-sink government map “portal.” Glen shared the results of this user-friendly approach.
Metric #1: Traffic
Result: Single-topic maps get 3 times the traffic of the traditional Map Portal.
Not only do single-topic maps out-perform the map portal at a 3-to-1 clip, overall web map usage has more than tripled from approximately 25K visits a month to 90K visits a month. Sal in Public Works may love that he has 55 data layers in a single map interface. Your public? Not so much.
After a decade of applying his GIS skills in areas such as land development, environmental remediation, defense, and energy, Brian founded The Timoney Group in 2005 to focus on web-based delivery of visual information. Active in promoting the possibilities of web mapping platforms in particular, Brian has presented at conferences such as Location Intelligence, Where 2.0, GIS In The Rockies, and ESRI PUG.
Metric #2: Search Engine Optimization
Result: 60% of map traffic comes directly from search engine requests.
If you’re lucky, your map portal will have its very own button on the ever-more-cluttered local government home page where every pixel is someone’s “turf” to be guarded with Hunger Games ferocity. Single-topic maps enable more specific SEO techniques, so entering a perfectly natural term into Google – “Denver park” – puts the single-topic parks map (“Find a Park”) at the top of the results. Boom! Web maps getting more eyeballs and drawing traffic just like the normal web.
Metric #3: User Experience
Result: Auto-complete drives clean user queries.
It’s 2012. If you don’t have auto-complete, you’re failing your users as they seethe trying to enter their street address or park name EXACTLY as it appears in your precious database. Denver is using the open-source Lucene project and throwing everything – addresses, park names, rec facilities, etc. – into a single entry box with Google-like auto-complete. In Denver, the most common request is for “Washington Park”–a yuppie oasis often referred to as Wash Park. In 2012 auto-complete in non-negotiable.
Metric #4 : Usage
Result: Map usage is spiky.
Elections and snowstorms drive usage spikes. But the biggest one-day pop in map requests? Open Doors Denver – a city-wide weekend celebration of architecture that racked up over 8,000 map requests on the Friday prior. Spiky usage is an additional argument for single-topic maps as architecture enthusiasts do not want to sift through arcane GIS layers like fire hydrant and zoning layers in plotting out their weekend festival stroll.
Metric #5: Visit Time
Result: People look up info on maps, and leave.
Average map visit time is 1 minute 43 seconds. Local government maps are about information retrieval. Once the maps load, users just start clicking on markers at a rate six times greater than entering search terms. Are you Zen enough to design maps for users that want to leave quickly?
Mecklenburg County, NC
Tobin Bradley, Strategic Planner at Mecklenburg County, NC, recently wanted to determine how often visitors used the Google API options such as Street View, Traffic, and Google Earth view. Answer: between 2.2% and 3.5%.
Metric #6: Engagement
Result: People actually interact with balloon content.
Of the 1.7M markers clicked on in the past eight months, users clicked on 250K hyperlinks inside of info balloons.
Metric #7: Features
Result: People rarely change default map settings.
GIS people love to add basemap options. Users, as we have seen, are looking for information: they toggle from the default street view to aerial or hybrid a whopping TWO PERCENT (2%) of the time. Oh, and they have no idea what that “full-screen” button does (0.5%).
What’s clear from Glen’s findings is that what local government maps need is less GIS and a lot more user-friendly auto-complete and SEO. Because in the end, users want search and retrieval to work for maps the way it works for the rest of the web.