Document Type


Publication Date



Scientists are increasingly engaging the web to provide formal and informal science education opportunities. Despite the prolific growth of web-based resources, systematic evaluation and assessment of their efficacy remains limited. We used clickstream analytics, a widely available method for tracking website visitors and their behavior, to evaluate 60,000 visits over three years to an educational website focused on ecology. Visits originating from search engine queries were a small proportion of the traffic, suggesting the need to actively promote websites to drive visitation. However, the number of visits referred to the website per social media post varied depending on the social media platform and the quality of those visits (e.g., time on site and number of pages viewed) was significantly lower than visits originating from other referring websites. In particular, visitors referred to the website through targeted promotion (e.g., inclusion in a website listing classroom teaching resources) had higher quality visits. Once engaged in the site’s core content, visitor retention was high; however, visitors rarely used the tutorial resources that serve to explain the site’s use. Our results demonstrate that simple changes in website design, content and promotion are likely to increase the number of visitors and their engagement. While there is a growing emphasis on using the web to broaden the impacts of biological research, time and resources remain limited. Clickstream analytics provides an easily accessible, relatively fast and quantitative means by which those engaging in educational outreach can improve upon their efforts.


This article was originally published in Ecosphere, volume 5, issue 10, in 2014. DOI:10.1890/ES14-00206.1


The authors

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.