Listening to Web Users and Analytics

The Department of Education Web Team and Digital Government Strategy Initiative Team are pleased to announce ED’s participation in the government-wide Digital Analytics Program (DAP). DAP is designed to help federal agencies become more customer-centric and efficient at getting users the content they want.  To help us, we have made a few changes in the tools we use to measure what users want.

ED.gov will soon role out a new online customer satisfaction survey, using the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) ForeSee survey.  We will use the ACSI survey to compare ED.gov results to other government agencies and top commercial websites.

Digital Strategy LogoED.gov will also implement Google Analytics Premium, in conjunction with DAP.  Google Analytics (a third-party analytics provider) is the industry standard and provides invaluable information on usage of our websites. It is a powerful tool to measure how well we provide meaningful content. It also allows us to focus our efforts on areas of the website that gets the most use. Objective performance measures should drive the development and delivery of effective web content. Google Analytics allows us to do this.

Implementing Google Analytics Premium and ACSI ForeSee survey means ED.gov has changed its cookie policy and use.

When you visit any website, its server may generate a piece of text known as a “cookie” to place on your computer. Placing cookies allows websites to “remember” visitors’ preferences, surfing patterns and behavior while they are connected.

There are two types of cookies — single session and multi-session. Session cookies last only as long as your Web browser is open. Once you close your browser, the cookie disappears. Multi-session cookies are stored on your computer for longer periods.

The Office of Management and Budget Memo M-10-22, Guidance for Online Use of Web Measurement and Customization Technologies PDF, allows Federal agencies to use single session and multi-session cookies.  Previously, ED.gov used single session cookies.  Moving forward, ED.gov will start to utilize multi-session cookies. In using multi-session cookies, ED.gov does not receive any personally identifiable information, and does not combine, match, or cross-reference ED.gov information with any other information. We do not sell, rent, exchange, or otherwise disclose this information to persons or organizations. Cookies from ED.gov Web pages only collect information about your visit to our site.

We will start using multi-session cookies for two reasons: 1) to enable Google Analytics to differentiate between new and returning visitors to our site, and 2) to block repeated invitations to take the ACSI survey.

Based on how often you visit ED.gov, you may be asked if you would like to complete a customer survey (the ACSI ForeSee survey) of our website. The multi-session cookie is set to block repeated survey invitations, and it expires after 90 days. Simply put, if you say you don’t want to participate in the survey, the cookie will remember this, and will not allow you to be asked again during the following three months. We feel it is important and respectful not to ask our users the same question twice in a short period of time.

If you do not wish to have single session or multi-session cookies stored on your machine, you can opt out or disable cookies in your browser. You still will have access to all the great information and resources at ED.gov websites.

Jill James is web director at the U.S. Department of Education