Determining the impact of a non-profit site

Friday, April 24, 2009


In our last post we talked about the importance of focusing on the concrete goals that a Web site is supposed to deliver and of measuring the site’s success in accomplishing those goals. We also discussed the difficulty that non-profits, social service agencies and government often have in identifying concrete goals and particularly in devising ways to measure their site’s success at accomplishing goals. In this post we’ll discuss three strategies that non-profits can use to determine how successful their site is in furthering the mission of the organization.

The first and most obvious of these strategies is using a Web analytics package such as Google Analytics (www.google.com/analytics) to monitor traffic to your site. As content and new features are added, you can track visits and page views on the site and determine whether more people are taking advantage of the resources on the site. It stands to reason that increasing traffic indicates that your site is becoming a more valuable resource, while decreasing traffic might indicate the opposite. Using raw visits and pageviews traffic can be problematic however, because raw numbers don’t tell you how visitors came to your site or why. If you want to truly understand how visitors are using your site, it’s important to know which areas of the site are most visited, how users are coming to the site (direct navigation, links from other sites or as a result of finding your site in an Internet search engine like Google). If you’re not getting traffic from search engines, it’s worth researching whether your site appears in search results for terms that are relevant to your site and, if not, to think about search engine optimization for the site.

If you are getting traffic from search engines, it’s a good idea to use your analytics package to understand what search terms users are using to get to your site. These details may tell a substantially different story than the raw data about site visits and pageviews. On the iData site for example, there are a couple of blog posts that have addressed somewhat arcane topics not well covered elsewhere and that rank well in search engines. These posts account for a substantial portion of the traffic to our site, but not they are not really related to our core products and services. If we relied only on overall site traffic to measure the effectiveness of our site, we would not get the complete picture.

Another often recommended strategy involves posting an online survey. Most modern Web Content Management Systems (CMS) such as iData’s Synapse Publisher include an online survey builder component, and there are a variety of free or low cost online tools such as SurveyMonkey (www.surveymonkey.com) that allow organizations to survey their sites’ visitors about how they use the site and what the organization might do better. These surveys can be a valuable tool, particularly when the organization’s understanding of how their site is used is wildly out of line with reality. In such cases, an online survey can provide an important wake-up call to those responsible for managing the site. In many cases however, a survey is of limited use. First of all, most users have been surveyed by so many sites that they will not participate, and they may resent being asked for their input. Also, online surveys may suffer from the same limitations that focus groups often do in the sense that site visitors feel compelled to offer strong opinions even when they do not feel strongly one way or another about your site, so the survey responses may include emphatic statements that exaggerate the importance of the data.

A better way to gauge how the site is used is to incorporate the site into the business processes of the organization. This can be done by encouraging site visitors who need to contact you to do so through online forms with responses emailed to someone in your organization and stored in a database so that they are available for periodic review and reporting. These forms can be developed for any area of your organizations mission where you get information from customers or clients and act on that information. Applications can range from typical contact forms that users fill out to request more information about your products or services to event registration forms that users fill out to register for events or classes. For non-profits, a key part of the organization’s mission is often providing information, which at first glance might not seem amenable to this approach. If the information is important enough to your clients, you could consider requiring users to register before providing the information. Based on our experience, we would exercise caution with this approach, however, because --- particularly in the case of non-profits --- getting critical information out is often more important than measuring who is consuming it. In most cases, using Web analytics reporting to understand how frequently your key information is accessed and downloaded is a better idea.

Two objections that many non-profits have to the idea of incorporating online forms into their business processes are:
  • The staff of the agency or organization would often prefer to speak with clients and potential clients who access the site in order to accurate access their needs and be sure that they are pointed in the right direction.
  • Wise non-profits and government agencies sometimes do not object to providing an online form but they also want to provide a phone number, email address and mailing address in order to allow site visitors to contact the organization in the way that is most convenient to the visitor.

Both of these issues can be addressed by providing offline contact methods that are published only through the Web site. These can include a site specific 800 number or phone extension, a Web-site specific PO box or mailstop and a Web-site specific email contact address. Many 800 number services (such as Ring Central --- www.ringcentral.com) offer detailed reporting on use of the 800 number, and email traffic is easy to track. Using these methods, organizations can provide site visitors a choice of the most convenient way to contact the organization while still providing an accurate picture of the impact of the Web site on the organization.

This post has discussed how non-profits, social service agencies and government can understand the impact that their Web sites have on their operations. The next post in this series will discuss what to do when you get those results --- particularly when you determine that you need to attract more traffic to your site.

Posted by: Mark Reichard at 11:22 AM
Tags: Analytics, Content Management, E-marketing Strategy, Project Management

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