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Digital Audience Research: Understanding Visitors

Elena Villaespesa carried out audience research to better understand the users as well as the motivations that drives them to Art & artists – the most visited area of the Tate website with approximately 40% of users visiting these pages while browsing the site and around half a million visits per month. 

Art & artists is the most visited area of the Tate website with approximately 40% of users visiting these pages while browsing the site. This section gets around half a million visits per month. We have carried out audience research on this section with the aim of better understanding the users as well as the motivations that drives them to the site.

Understanding our audiences and evaluating the impact and value of our digital initiatives is a key element in the design of the experiences we offer at Tate.

Research objectives
Main objectives of research:

1. To understand why people visit the online collection
2. To understand what are the main activities that people do
3. To get feedback from users for future improvements

The method used to collect this data was a short pop-up survey that consisted of 3 questions:

Q1: What did you come to the online collection today to do?

Q2: Which of these did you do on your visit? Tick all that apply
● Search for a particular artist
● Read the texts associated with artists or/and artworks
● Search for a particular artwork
● Use or download an image
● Read art historical information in the Research section
● Find out what art I could see on display at a Tate gallery
● Find out everything that Tate has about a subject, category or art movement
● Discover art using the related artwork features
● View art using the slideshow
● Share an artwork on social media
● Other

Q3: What could we do to make the online collection better for you? (Optional)

The survey was live for one week in January 2014 and it got 670 responses for the first two questions and 289 comments in the feedback open question. The responses to the first question were coded in different motivational categories. There are some limitations regarding the detail of the information provided in the open question to categorise all the responses. Besides this limitation, some key motivations and usages were identified. The survey responses were linked to analytics so behavioural information complemented this research.

Key findings
Art & artists is a valuable and trustworthy resource about art for our users. They highlighted the depth, range and quality of the content provided on the site.

There are a wide range of reasons why visits are made to the online collection, and as visitors have different levels of art knowledge, the information required and content needs vary. Users with a high art knowledge and expertise require very detailed information about art, while other users with a more general knowledge, require more guidance to find content they may be interested in and want information that is easy for them to read.

The visit mode to the collection varies from intellectual, where there is a learning or research purpose, to a more visual and aesthetic experience, where users are looking for inspiration or images to browse.

For the first category, users are normally in a more targeted visit mode and the main functionalities used are the search or browse by subjects or categories, so improvements and an extension of the subject terms listed will have a very positive impact on the experience of these users. For the second category, new innovative ways to explore the collection could be added to the site for a more inspirational experience and to improve engagement.

Users come to the online collection to plan a visit to the gallery (17% of respondents were looking for information about which artworks were on display), to find further information or to remember artworks seen during their visit. One key planning tool that would be useful would be an interactive map with the artworks on display. There are also opportunities to use technology to enhance the link with the collection and the experience before, during and after a gallery visit.

Users were asked about what we could do to make the online collection better. The main improvements suggested by users relate to images. Users want more images of the artworks, with higher quality and zooming options to be able to better focus on the details. Users also want more information about the art and links related content such as videos, downloads and teaching resources. This content is available in other sections of the website so adding links to these pages will enhance the experience and create more in-depth visits.

Respondents to the survey were asked in an open question what they came to the online collection to do. The wordcloud (top right) shows the words used in response to the open question to describe the motivations for their visit.

Image: Activities respondents engaged with during their visit to the online collection © Tate

The word most commonly used to describe motivation to visit the online collection is research. However, this term includes a very wide range of activities, going from GCSE homework to post-doctoral research. In consequence, the information and resource needs vary a lot.

After analysing the responses four types of motivations were identified:

The user is interested in learning and finding specific information about a topic, an artist or an artwork. There are many users researching the collection for school and University assignments, planning a lesson or a lecture for others or for art professional work, such as curators doing research for exhibitions or writing journal articles. There are also intellectual website visits after having visited the gallery, when users come to the site to find information and read about the art they have seen during their visit.

– To research about Piet Mondrian and to see some of his paintings. My research is part of my Art A level and I knew that your website is a reliable and trustworthy source of information.

– I am a masters student and I am interested in collecting practices, and particularly the ARTIST ROOMS collection.

– Research early 18th century self-portraits and their provenance

– Learning for the exam of Modern Art History

– To research the terms ‘Romanticism’ and ‘Neo-Romantisicm’ and try to establish the parallels and contrasts

In many instances, users search for ideas and inspiration for their own work (eg. artists, writers, musicians etc.) and want to discover and explore art that they have not seen before. There are also emotionally and aesthetically motivated users who come to look at art, see details on image and visual content on the site, so they want high resolution images. Within this type of visits there are a lot of users who do not live near one of the Tate galleries and surf the site for a virtual visit or with a more emotional and nostalgic mode, remembering artworks they saw when they visited the gallery.

– To admire the picture of Lady of Shalott

– Inspiration for a photography project.

– Get inspiration watching paintings

– To remember the artwork of Max Ernest

– To absolutely flood my soul with colour and (meaningful) form. Drawn in this morning by this Matisse `The Snail`. (Enjoyed/imbibed together with a fresh brew of morning coffee) If I were not in Australia I would be planning a visit to the Tate, I try to visit every time I`m in London- sadly rarely, so this site keeps me `topped up` until that happy day. Cheers & thanks!.

– To find a high resolution image of a painting I can’t afford to see in person right now (I’m in Glasgow).

Users check which artworks are on display and where they are located within the gallery so they are easier to find during their visit. There are teachers and guides in this visit mode who are thoroughly preparing a group visit.

– To find out which paintings are on display in the free galleries so I can prepare a school visit

– To prepare for our pupils visiting the Paul Klee exhibition.

– Find info about what’s new at Tate Britain

– To check which Picasso’s are on view at Tate

The user in this visit mode comes to the site to share the collection on social media, write a blog post or a review on their website or participate on a social media activity.

– Put an image of painting on Pinterest

– To make a gif for your The 1840s GIF Party

– There is a ‘game’ circulating on Facebook called Keep Art Alive .. I am searching for an artist’s work …someone I don’t yet know about … to forward to anyone who ‘likes’ my post

– Play a facebook game in which you get tagged with a name of an artist and then you have to post a pic by him. each person that presses “like” is tagged with another artist.

– To view works by Andre Derain and copy some pictures for my blog article.

Within these motivations diverse levels of involvement with art were identified in the user responses. Some users have a professional interest or are using the collection for study or teaching purposes. There is also another category of users who come with a personal interest or who are simply keen on the arts.

Users carried out activities within the online collection and used different website features.

The majority of users searched the Tate collection for a particular artist or artwork. Despite the general trend for more visual content on websites, the survey results indicate that there is a significant degree of interest in reading texts about art, with 32% of visitors stating that they had read the texts associated with particular artists or artworks during their visit and 18% had read research publications. This highlights the importance of the Tate website as an art resource.

The visit motivation has an impact on the usage of the functionalities of the website and how users find our artwork and artists on Tate’s collection records. There are users who have a focused visit, whether for a school project or a university paper they are searching for something specific – such as finding information about a particular artist or artwork.

– To find the name of an artist and painting hanging in the 1540 gallery.

– To see the Weeping Woman

– To learn more about the work of artist Donald Judd.

– I was looking for the painting, Love and Death by Watts, referenced in Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man.

In contrast, there are users coming to the online collection with a more unfocused goal, looking for example for inspiration, browsing within our collection to explore and discover something and letting the website lead them.

– Browse the site since I live in Toronto

– To look at photos as inspiration for a piece of music I am writing:

– Browse images

– Get inspiration watching paintings

Based on analytics data and heatmaps on the landing page of Art & artists, we see a high usage of the search box and some popular browsing options like artist, category and subject. We can also see a high number of clicks on the ‘Show me another’ button on the top image which is a successful feature in helping people to discover art and bring visitors to the artworks highlighted here.

Although the percentage of users coming for inspiration is lower than the percentage of those who come for research purposes, this is actually an area for growth where an emotional experience may impact positively on the user and make the site a source of inspiration while generating return visitors.

Users come to the online collection to plan a visit to the gallery – 17% of the respondents were looking for information about which artworks were on display. The responses relate to both, exhibitions and collection displays. There are responses from people who were planning their visit (including many teachers and group guides) and also from people who came to the website after their visit to find more information about an artwork or an artist or who simply want to look at the image to remember their visit.

Before the visit:

– to plan my visit to Tate Britain tomorrow

– to find out which paintings are on display in the free galleries so I can prepare a school visit

– Decide on sightseeing for 2015 trip

– To prepare for our pupils visiting the Paul Klee exhibition.

– find info about what’s new

– To check which Picasso’s are on view at Tate

After the visit:

– to research the works of William Scott after visiting the exhibition of his work at the Ulster Museum

– Visited yesterday and wanted to have another look at the website.

– look again at JMW Turner sketch seen at Turner and the Sea exhibition, N Maritime Museum

– As an A level student, to find pieces I’d seen when I last visited the gallery, to use in a project.

– find the title of a painting I’ve seen at the Tate

Although data from Google Analytics shows that there are visitors accessing the collection from their mobile devices while they are in the gallery, there are no specific responses in the survey related to this usage, due to a much lower response rate from mobile devices.

Image: Visit matrix to create art content and online experiences © Tate

These research findings show that users come to the website with a diverse range of motivations, knowledge of art, and have different preferences to browse websites. Therefore, content needs vary and we need to provide distinct ways for users to find and navigate through this content, as well as options for users to create their own experience and meanings.

Combining these two extreme motivation poles identified in the responses, intellectual and emotional, we can add another variable to the mix – the level of knowledge of art – creating a four-way type of visit matrix: researchers, art enthusiasts, self-improvers and explorers.

This framework helps us to understand how different people might be looking for information about an artwork or artist on our website and think about the best way to surface our collection information for these users’ needs and expectations.

Elena Villaespesa
‎Digital Media Analyst, Metropolitan Museum of Art and prior Digital Analyst for Tate Digital

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