Matthew Reidsma

Work Notes

Updates from the GVSU Libraries’ Web Team.
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The Hours Page: Finding the right problem

One of the most heavily visited pages on the library website is our hours page. A few years ago, I interviewed a bunch of students and found that many of them had a need to know the hours the library was open today. So, I worked with Institutional Marketing to get the current day’s hours for our three most visited locations up on the home page. Page views for our hours page dropped dramatically after the change.

I had begun that project with a clear problem, drawn from looking at site usage and talking to users: what libraries are open now? Once we brought out that information to a page that was easier to find, visits to the hours page decreased. And so the solution seemed to work.

For a while.

While reviewing analytics this summer, I noticed that visits to the hours page had increased. A lot.1

This didn’t make sense, based on the old user research I had done. In 2011, nearly every student I interviewed said they only ever checked hours for the current day. But now, I was faced with a situation where folks were using a page that had hours for the whole semester, and I wasn’t sure why. I began to assume that our patrons had changed, and had a need now to look ahead for library hours.

My students Jon Earley and Krzysztof Lower and I talked about this anomoly at our weekly status meeting, trying to figure out what was going on. My early assumptption that folks were planning seemed to fit with what we saw in our analytics:

Analytics on the hours page from August 18, 2011-September 18, 2011

~1,000 pageviews for the first month of school in 2011

Analytics on the hours page from August 19, 2013-September 18, 2013

~3,500 pageviews for the first month of school in 2013

Those peaks on the most recent Analytics screenshot above are the day before classes start for a week, usually Sunday. We assumed that folks were looking for tomorrow’s hours, or maybe hours for later in the week. I wondered aloud if we should redesign the page to accomodate long-term planning.

But then Krzysztof asked the key question: where are these people coming from? If they’re coming from the home page, then it would make sense that they come to the hours page for extended schedules and not the current hours. But if they are coming from somewhere else, then maybe they still want today’s hours.

When we checked Google Analytics, 56% of folks were entering the site at the hours page, meaning that they came from somewhere else (usually a search engine). That meant that most people who came to the hours page had never seen the home page and the today’s hours module. Maybe the problem wasn’t that folks’ needs had changed. But there were still those folks coming to the hours page from the homepage, about a quarter of all page views over the past month. The data wouldn’t take us any farther on our own. We needed to hear from the patrons themselves.

We ran a simple survey on our hours page over this past weekend to test this, asking why the visitor had come. We had a 35% response rate, and the results were pretty clear:

Survey Results for Hours Page survey: most folks wanted today's hours, some wanted tomorrow's, but almost no one wanted hours for later in the week or next week.

People on the hours page are still just looking for today’s hours (mostly).

This made sense knowing that 3/4 of our visitors never see the home page’s today’s hours. But how could I explain the 25% of folks who had been on the home page but still wanted a fuller view of our hours? The survey results did show a lot of folks looking for “Tomorrow,” but I sensed there was something else.

What really helped us better understand this new usage pattern was when we looked at the device types visiting this page. A lot of the folks visiting our hours page are coming on mobile devices. More than 2/3 of the folks entering on the hours page were using mobile devices, and over a third of the total pageviews (1469 out of 3881 as of this morning) took place on devices either 320x480 or 320x568 pixels (helllllllllo iPhones). The folks were also more likely to go from the homepage to the hours page than folks on desktops.

Incidentally, this is what our hours page looks like on an iPhone.

The library hours page on an iPhone

Pretty much the worst thing on the Internet.

When we first saw the usage of the hours page, we thought we knew what was going on. But by looking deeper into the data, and more importantly asking our patrons how they used the site, we saw that we were focusing on the wrong problems. Our patrons needs hadn’t changed as much as the way the access information. They still needed quick access to our current hours, but rather than browse our site looking for them, they search.

By seeing that mobile visits to the home page sent more folks to the hours page than desktop visits, I made an adjustment to the source order of the homepage. On larger screens, the hours page is prominently displayed in the upper right. Before today, mobile users would need to scroll quite a bit to get to the hours module. Now, hours is the first item in the source order, meaning folks on phones will see hours first. (Visually it still looks the same on larger screens.)

And those peaks on Sundays? We’re far from definitive on that, but I asked a few students today in the library. Those days have different hours than normal, so a few mentioned checking the hours on Sunday before coming in to make sure the library was open.

Now that we know the problem we’re trying to solve, we have a few goals for a redesign:

  • Put todays hours up front.
  • Remember to make it work on any size screen.
  • Make it fun.

We looked at a lot of other library hours pages, and a few have given us some ideas (thanks to Krzysztof for doing all this competitive analysis):

Tomorrow I’ll turn Krzysztof loose and start sketching some ideas. You may see us wandering around, asking students to try out paper or simple HTML prototypes. We may ask you! We’ll keep you updated on the progress, and as always, let me know if you have any ideas, or any library website hours pages you like.

  1. Some of the increase is clearly attributable to a new building, but this pattern has been building for some time, long before our building was open. I probably should have spotted it months ago. Whoops! The number of questions about hours coming to the service desk hasn’t changed since the move, which I think is odd.