Measure what Matters

It goes without saying that data helps people make decisions. When deciding how much to pay for a house you want to know the sales price of comparable homes in the neighborhood. When looking for a place to go out for dinner you might look at the average star rating on This data gathering is tied to a personal goal: paying the right price for your new home and finding a yummy dinner.

But many nonprofits gather and analyze vast amounts of web analytics data that doesn’t help make decisions and isn’t tied to organizational goals. Reports are prepared that talk primarily about pageviews from one month to the next. Detailed reports may display pageviews for specific pages instead of the full site. You may see the number of visits that come via Google and perhaps the search terms used.

Possibly, year to year goals for websites may discuss increasing overall pageviews by 10% or some other amount.

What’s missing? Data that ties to outcomes so that actionable decisions can be made about content, design, search optimization, advertising and so on.

Often, what I don’t see is leaders that know how to ask the right questions about web analytics and related online strategies. It is taken on faith that rising pageviews means success. What’s missing are analytics tied to measurable outcomes driven by organizational goals. These are, as Avinas Kaushik calls them, “faith-based initiatives.” This is an unfortunate way to base resource decisions.

A smarter approach is to focus on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), preferably those tied to program and organizational goals. This doesn’t need to mean an extra layer of data, analysis and review (aka more work for everyone). But it does mean agreement on asking the right questions and being willing to base tactical decisions on what the data is telling you. In other words, if your goal is to increase readership in California and your blog posts on California issues aren’t getting more pageviews then consider adjusting content.

Put another way, increasing web traffic has nothing to do (in and of itself) with your website meeting organizational goals. If 500,000 people a month view your site but nobody shares content, makes donations, comments on your posts, signs up for your email lists, buys your t-shirts, writes blog posts relating to your content or otherwise acts then are you any better off than you were when 50,000 people a month viewed the site and nobody did anything?

If you are better off then how do you know?

It’s that “how do you know” that counts, right? What are the actions that people are taking as a result of viewing and engaging with your content that matter and how do you measure those?

Perhaps a goal is to increase your reach in California or west coast in general because you are working with key members of congress on an issue that affects trade (or the environment or whatever) in these states. You can hone in on metrics for pageviews (preferably of a certain type of content) from that region. Are they rising during a key timespan? Better yet can you identify why these pageviews are rising and if the rise is tied to visits from AdWords campaigns, content in regional blogs to which you have contacted or another action intended to drive more traffic?

In this case a KPI is still as simple as pageviews but it is tied to reach, specifically your organizational reach in an area key to a program goal.

Another key performance indicator helpful to nonprofit organizations would be items in the category of “conversion.” Are your site visitors doing something after seeing your content that A) you can measure; and B) helps meet at least one of your goals. It is one thing to say that a blog post is getting 500 pageviews when similar posts used to get 300 page views. But it is rare that this tells you much about how (or even if) you are moving the needle towards changing policy (or raising money or building an engaged constituency).

To measure a conversion metric think about what you want people to do after visiting the page. Should they go to a next page with more detailed or related content (a lightweight conversion but an indicator of interest)? Should they subscribe to an email list? Should they share photos or a link on Facebook? Should they comment on the post? Should they make a donation or purchase an item?

If visiting a page is point A then what is point B? Most analytics tools will help you attach values to that step B and/or let you see user navigation paths.

Don’t be disappointed if conversion rates are low. Really low. Two percent can be considered a solid conversion rate.  The reality is that people are looking information and not wanting to be “converted” to what you need. It’s like door to door canvassing. Tough but results count and you can learn from results and try to improve your technique. Test tweaks to design, page layout, headlines, related offers or content.

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