Measuring SharePoint site success with usage reports
What’s the point of rolling out a new solution like a SharePoint site if you can’t point to metrics to prove it’s actually making an impact? Realistically, there’s not much of a point. Any SharePoint admin, site collection owner, or Site Owner should be keeping an eye on the engagement of their users to ensure the sites and processes they’re overseeing remain useful to their colleagues.
Out of the box, SharePoint 2013, 2016, and Online provide two main mechanisms for displaying metrics. Note that if you’re using the modern document library experience in SharePoint Online or SharePoint 2016, some of these features may not be available because the Ribbon is required.
Unfortunately, the metrics reports available don’t provide very deep data and aren’t very robust. In fact, I feel the SharePoint 2007 Site Usage Reports were significantly more useful and insightful; what was initially displayed in the web-based report could be exported to Excel for more thorough analysis. The loss of that report was a major detriment when upgrading from SharePoint 2007.
The default usage reports available through SharePoint 2013, 2016, and Online are the Popularity Trends and Most Popular Items reports. They’re somewhat limited in the data they provide, but they can be useful when proving the utility of your SharePoint site(s).
The Popularity Trends report provides a listing of the number of hits and unique users 1) every day for the last fourteen days and 2) monthly for as long as the system has been active. The report is an Excel spreadsheet with two tables and two line charts.
There are actually two different Popularity Trends reports: one for the site as a whole, and one for any file that lives in a document library. You access these in different ways.
To access the site’s Popularity Trends report, you need to be a Site Owner. Mouse to the gear in the top-right corner, click Site Settings, then click “Popularity Trends” under the “Site Administration” section, then click “Usage”.
To access a file’s Popularity Trends report, browse to the library where the file lives, click the checkbox to the left of the file name, then go to the Ribbon, click the “Files” tab, and click “Popularity Trends”.
Note that this works for pages if you’re in a page library, since they’re files just like documents are. But you can also access the Popularity Trends from the page editing Ribbon when you’re working on your page, as shown below. Pages likely provide more useful data than other files.
After hitting that button, SharePoint spits out an Excel spreadsheet with a couple tables and charts. Let’s dive into them. For the example I discuss below, I’m looking at a site Popularity Trends report for a fictional intranet home site.
The first half of the Popularity Trends report includes daily metrics for the past fourteen days. The provided table includes three columns: the date in question (most recent on bottom); the number of hits that day; and the number of unique users accessing the content that day.
The day column will update each day moving forward, so if you want ongoing daily metrics, make sure to save copies of these metrics each two weeks, perhaps into a master daily metrics spreadsheet.
The number of hits represents the number of times any user has clicked on any piece of information in the site. For a file in a library, it’s the number of times a user has accessed that file.
The number of unique users represents the number of different people who have accessed the site or file on a given day regardless of the number of times they visited the site or content. Basically, the user is only counted once no matter how many times they visited the site that day.
Generally speaking, the number of hits is larger (by a lot) than the number of users because if users find your site or file useful, they should be visiting it more than once. So each unique user will have more than one hit per file or site.
The second half of the Popularity Trends report includes monthly metrics for as long as the system has been active. The provided table include three columns: the month in question (most recent on bottom); the number of hits that month; and the number of unique users accessing the content that month.
Unlike the daily report, the month column will retain information from when the SharePoint system was launched, so you never have to keep a separate spreadsheet updating each month.
As with the daily report, the number of hits represents the number of times any user has clicked on any piece of information in the site. For a file in a library, it’s the number of times a user has accessed that file.
Unlike the daily report, the number of unique users represents the sum of the number of different people who have accessed the site or file on a given day within the month. Multiple visits per day aren’t counted for the same user, so if User A visits on 15 different days of the month, User A accounts for 15 of the unique users in the monthly report. I don’t know why they chose to do this, because I’d rather know how many unique users visited at least once in a month, so I know my audience’s actual reach.
Popularity Trends aren’t perfect. Here are some things you should keep in mind when using them.
- For the most part, you need to have Excel installed on the computer you’re using to access the report. A work around is to do a “Save As” on the exported report and save to SharePoint or OneDrive, which can open the report in Excel Online.
- It’s hard to open more than one at a time because the default report name is always Usage.xlsx. If you open a second, Excel will hit you with the “Sorry, Excel can’t open two workbooks with the same name at the same time” error. So save the first one with a new name before opening a second.
- While you can select more than one file in a library and open Popularity Trends, the report actually only displays data for one item. I’m not sure why the button doesn’t disable when you select more than one file.
- While you can select a folder in a library and open Popularity Trends, the report appears to not collect data on the folder. All data in my testing reports zero hits and zero users on folders I know are used regularly.
Most Popular Items
The second report that SharePoint 2013, 2016, and Online provide is the Most Popular Items report. This report provides hit counts to files within a library. You cannot get a Most Popular Items report for a site or file/document, only individual libraries.
To access the Most Popular Items report, browse to your document library of choice, mouse to the Ribbon, click the “Library” tab, then click “Most Popular Items”.
The report that you get is a listing of your files in order of most accessed recently. The first column is the list of file names. The second column represents the number of hits the file has had “recently”, which, by default, means in the last fourteen days. The third column represents the number of hits the file has ever had.
You can sort the last two columns to get a better idea of current usage of a file versus historical engagement.
This report is essentially a search result web part. You can customize it further, if you’d like.
You can check out the Microsoft overview of these two metrics reports here.