Make better decisions with Usage Analytics in O365 and SharePoint

If you have worked with me for more than a day then you have probably heard me talk about feedback loops and the necessity of analytics to assist in prioritizing UX work.  I am passionate about using data to support investment and there are really simple ways to get started, even with “inside the firewall” SharePoint sites.
Why is this important?  It is important because you probably have a limited budget for making improvements and you would like to invest those limited resources in the places where the opportunity to improve productivity is the greatest.


Most SharePoint site templates provide some basic reports around page views, and certain ones, like catalogs, also provide popularity reports for catalog items.  What is not there out of the box, is a way to review other activities such as, when a search refiner is clicked, when an object is hovered-over, if someone clicks on those shortcuts you added in a Content webpart, or whether or not the average visitor hops around on the site or stays on one page.

I cannot cover every option in a short post, but today I will get you started by demonstrating how to get Azure Application Insights into your SharePoint site to collect more comprehensive data than just page views.
The process is simple:
1. Create an Azure Application Insights (AI) instance
2. Acquire the Javascript for sending events to your AI instance
3. Insert Javascript into Master Page for your site
4. Use the new “AI Master Page”

That is all.  From the moment the new Masterpage is utilized you will start seeing core session and page view data in your Azure Portal.   I take for granted that if you are interested in analytics for your SharePoint sites that you are already familiar with Masterpages and their function, but I still explain the update process here in case you need a guide.  To complete this exercise you also need to have an Azure account to create an AAI instance, but the basic tier is free and most intranets will not generate enough events to get you out of the “free” tier.  Do not have an account?  Sign-up is free at: https://azure.microsoft.com.

1. Create an Azure Application Insights (AI) instance

Click to create a new Application Insights instance at https://portal.azure.com and fill in the necessary info about resource group and application type- I used ASP.Net here.  The blades expand as clicked so I numbered the image below for clarity.

2. Acquire the Javascript for sending events to your AI instance

When the instance is created, you should see info like this in the AI instance landing page indicating that there is no data yet.

Select “Page views” as above when the service is new and AI will produce a block of code for you which both enables Application Insights on a page, and submits a View event to AI.  The snippet will look like this:

The instrumentation key is unique for every instance.  Note the final statement in the block which actually logs the View event:
appInsights.trackPageView();
When this script is loaded, you can add custom events with only one more statement:
appInsights.trackEvent(“Your Event Here”);
What custom events should you make and where should they go?  That is the high-value question.  More on this subject in my next post.

3. Insert Javascript into Masterpage for your site

Navigate to your masterpage gallery and download a copy of the masterpage which you would like to add the event logic to.  In this example I downloaded the standard “seattle.html” Master Page.  Add the Javascript snippet as the last item inside the Body tag, save with a new meaningful name, upload, and publish.

4. Use the new “AAI Masterpage”

Finally, from the Site Master Page Settings screen select your new Master Page.  If you did not publish the new page in the last step, your new Master Page will not appear in the dropdown.

Once the master page is set, all Page Views in the site will be logged in Application Insights and you will start seeing data like this in your portal:

O365 Site Views in Azure Application Insights

You get a lot more than just Page Views from Application Insights but I will let you explore until I have time to create another post outlining how to use Custom Events in standard templates- it is easier than the name might lead you to believe.  Keep in mind that while it great to have core usage data, the value is in how you use it.