google-analytics_gplus_profile_imageIn the nonprofit sector, it’s easy to feel like we’re so busy that we don’t have time to look at numbers — but really, without some feedback, how will you know if what you’re working on for your communications is effective? Google Analytics offers plenty of data, almost too much, so let’s zero in on examples of specific web analytics data that can help you ensure that your website supports your organizing and programmatic work — and how to set it up.

1- Overall unique pageviews and sessions for your city or state

Why look at this: Although pageviews and sessions are sometimes called “vanity metrics” in the commercial world (since you can’t necessarily tie them to selling products on a commercial site), looking at local sessions can be really useful for a local organizing nonprofit website for a couple reasons.

  1. I’ve found that staffers take their responsibility to create content more seriously when they see just how many pageviews their website or their homepage is getting from local visitors.
  2. It can also help organizations to think realistically about how to budget for their website: how much would you budget if you planned to send that many people a single piece of mail next year? Put that much into your website budget.

How to look at this: Look in Google Analytics under Audience –> Geo –> Location, then use the map to zero in on the state or city level.

2- Engagement: multipage visits or visits involving an “event”

Why: One thing that you probably want your website to deliver is engagement: people should interact with content. Engagement in Google Analytics can often take the form of “events.”

Events in Google Analytics include clicks, viewing PDFs, or submitting an online form (for example, to subscribe to your email list) or clicking a button to follow you on social media. That’s engagement: from an organizing perspective, it’s an interaction you can build on. Multipage visits are another common measure of engagement.

How: Events are visible in Google Analytics under Behavior –> Events –> Overview. Your pages must contain events coding for Google Analytics to track it correctly. If you’re using WordPress, you can use a plugin like Google Analyticator to add event coding to your content with just a few checkboxes. If you need to manually set event tracking, you can use an online tool to generate event tracking codes to add to your pages (you may need a developer’s help to do this).

3- Give yourself some goals then track progress towards them

Why: Like every other form of communication you spend your organizations’s time on, you want to have specific goals in mind for the time and money you spend on your website. Are you trying to get people to send a message to a decision maker? Share a particular story on your website? Is engagement your goal? Google Analytics allows you to set up specific goals and then track the number of visits that reflect that goal. Examples of goals:

  • Visits of over 3 minutes
  • Thank you page views (for users who have completed a donation)
  • New email signups
  • Downloading a PDF report

How: Set up your goals in the Admin section of your Google analytics account (more instructions from Google here). Remember that your goals are specific to each view (so if you have set up any custom views, they will each need to have goals set up).

4- What brings visitors to your website? Sources and campaigns

Why: Just as if you were canvassing and noticed that some neighborhoods are more likely to lead to finding new supporters, you can look at your analytics to see which sources of traffic give you ways to expand your audience and engage people more consistently.

This is where I find campaign data useful — what sorts of results are your outgoing electronic communications having? By linking your mass email service to Google Analytics you’ll be able to see what sort of engagement results from your email campaigns — people who have expressed interest in your organization. You can also track how well you’re able to engage visitors who originate from social media.

How: All the major mass email services offer you an option to integrate Google Analytics to your email campaigns. Once you set that up, it’s pretty low maintenance: just be sure to give each individual email campaign a descriptive name. You can also set up your own custom campaign URLs using Google’s online tool for building custom campaign URLs.

Don’t get lost in the weeds of Google Analytics, but don’t tune it out either. Be selective about what you want to measure, and check in with it at least monthly to see how effective your website is being at drawing in new supporters, offering engaging content to your existing supporters, and answering people’s questions.

Image via Google Analytics Google+ page.