Web analytics — learning the language of this emerging disciplineNonprofits increasingly depend on their websites to engage stakeholders, deliver services and raise funds. But even if you put a lot of time and money into website development, you may still have questions:
- How many people visit our website daily?
- What brings people to our website — search results, click-throughs from another website or something else?
- What are the first and last pages that people see on our website?
- How long do people stay on our website?
- What content on our website is most popular?
- What content on our website leads to the most engagement?
You can find answers to all these questions and more through web analytics. Start by learning the language of this emerging discipline and setting up the necessary tools.
Some key terms
One benefit of web analytics is the precision of its terminology. Examples include:
- Average time on site (session duration): The period of time begins when an online visitor loads any page on your website and ends when that person exits your website.
- Bounce rate: The percentage of visitors who load one page on your website and then leave. A bounce rate of rate of 80 percent or more generally indicates a page to revise or delete.
- Conversion: The number of visitors who click all the way through a form on your website, such as a newsletter sign-up or "donate now" page. Conversion indicates what people do on your website and whether your online content is leading to your desired outcomes.
- Exit page: The last page that an online visitor loads during their time on your website (session). A website can have many exit pages, including pages that visitors find confusing or hard to use.
- Landing page: The first page that a visitor loads during their session. The landing page isn't necessarily the home page — and, depending on how they engage with your content, the same visitor can have many landing pages over multiple sessions.
- Page views: How many pages viewed by a single visitor on your website. If the visitor reloads the page, it counts as a new page view.
- Referrers: Links from other websites that people follow to land on your website. This information indicates who's noticing and "talking" about you online.
- Search keywords: The words and phrases that lead people from a search engine such as Google to your website.
- Visitor information: Details such as how many people are new to your site, what web browser they're using, what country they're in and more.
Setting up web analytics
Check with your web hosting company to see if analytics software such as AWStats or Webalizer is built into your service. You might already have access to the tools you need with no extra fees.
Another popular option is Google Analytics. It's free and frequently updated with new features. Installing it requires pasting a chunk of code into every page of your website. (Google provides the code and detailed directions.) The result is a visual dashboard of customizable statistics.
Larger nonprofits with IT staff might look beyond Google Analytics to more powerful applications that support complex websites and offer technical support.
Turning analytics into insights
When expressed as raw data, web analytics tell you little. But when put into context, they can answer some burning questions about your online presence. Start with the following:
- Are more people becoming aware of our organization? An increase in visits, page views and session duration indicates that the answer is yes. Look for changes in these numbers after an outreach event or fundraiser.
- What is our online audience currently interested in? Check your top landing pages and exit pages. These pages will change over time based on factors such as news cycles and social trends.
- When do people leave our website? "Good" exit pages include those that thank a visitor for completing a form. If people exit your website before this point, you might want to revise your forms so that they're easier to complete.
- What pages on our website are most popular? Check the list of pages with the most visitors. Look for patterns in the content of such pages: Are they blog posts, lists of resources, descriptions of your services or something else?
- How are people responding to our latest content? To evaluate your newly published pages, look for decreases in bounce rates and increases in session duration.
- What pages on our website are most engaging? Look for pages with the most visitors, longest session duration and lowest bounce rate. Again, analyze the content of such pages and consider expanding on those topics.
Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project: Introduction to web analytics part 1 by Laura Quinn and Terri Ross (2014)
NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network: Use analytics to improve your nonprofit website by Yesenia Sotelo (2016)
SmartCause Digital: 6 metrics I Track on nonprofit websites and why they're important by Yesenia Sotelo (2014)
TechSoup: A few good web analytics tools by Laura S. Quinn and Kyle Henri Andrei (2011)