How to measure effectiveness in your nonprofit website

It's one thing to build your nonprofit's website.

But it's an entirely different thing to know whether what you built is working to support your mission.

Is your organization's website confusing or intuitive?

Does it connect the dots for your visitors, or does it muddy the waters?

Is it building relationships with your community, or is it a billboard that people ignore as they drive by?

In other words: is your nonprofit’s website effective? And equally important, how do you know?

There are 3 common pain points that nonprofits encounter when it comes to website effectiveness:

  1. Attracting website visitors
  2. Collecting actionable data
  3. Getting people to take action

Below, we’re breaking down each pain point in turn so you’ll know whether your website is set up for success and how to make improvements if you find an area that’s lacking.

1. Website traffic: Where do your visitors begin their journey?

You can’t just put your website online and expect visitors to come beating down your digital door.

Instead, you have to develop a thoughtful strategy for bringing visitors to your site.

This step comes first because it’s the foundation for everything else. If you don’t have enough visitors (or “website traffic”), it’s impossible to know whether what you’ve created is working or not.

So how do you go about drawing people to your org's site?

Here are several strategies you can try:

  • Word of mouth: Tell others about your website and encourage them to visit. (This works best if you have useful resources your community wants to access).
  • Social media: Drive your followers to your website so they can dive deeper into your work.
  • Partner websites: Ask partner organizations to link back to your org's website.
  • Newsletters: Link back to your website whenever appropriate in your email blasts.
  • Search engine optimization: Create content optimized to rank well for keywords that people type into search engines.
  • Email signature: Add a link to your site at the bottom of all your staff's outgoing emails.
  • Paid ads: Use Google, Facebook, or Instagram ads to advertise your organization's site.
  • Flyers & other marketing materials: Include a link or QR code to your website on all print marketing materials, whether an event program or a direct mail postcard.

If you want your org's website to further your mission, you need visitors. 

A website that only receives 10 visitors a month has way fewer opportunities to build relationships compared with a site getting 10,000 visitors per month. 

By focusing on getting the word out about your website to your community, you’ll invite people into the conversation surrounding your org's work.

Key takeaways for website traffic

  • Website traffic matters because it’s the foundation for everything else. You have to have visitors in order to even have a visitor journey to improve.
  • You’ll know your site is effective with regards to website traffic if you’re seeing a consistent flow of website visitors month over month. (There’s no magic number here since every organization has a different size, scope, and audience. Of course, more is generally better!)

If you aren’t seeing enough website traffic... try making a more concerted push toward your website across all of your organizational communications. Offer valuable resources and then let the community know they’re there.

2. Analytics data: What are visitors doing after they come to your org's site?

Driving visitors to your site is a huge milestone. But it's just the first of several steps.

And it's important to measure how each step is performing. 

After all, getting tens of thousands of visitors each month won't do you much good if all they do is read your home page for 2 seconds and then leave.

Undoubtedly, some people will come to your site and take some kind of action: donating, applying for a program, signing up for your newsletter, or reaching out for more info. 

But what about those visitors who came and didn't take action? Where did they go on the site, what did they do or not do, and why did they leave?

Enter: website analytics. A scary word for some, but an essential component of a nonprofit's website toolbox.

Website analytics refers to the anonymized tracking of how visitors interact with your site. There are several platforms that work well, but Google Analytics is the most popular free option.

Using website analytics allows you to answer questions such as:

  • Where are our visitors coming from? (Google? Facebook? Partner websites? Our newsletter?)
  • Are visitors reading more than one page on the site? (Is our home page stopping visitors from wanting to learn more?)
  • Where are visitors clicking on our site? (Our programs page? Our about page? Our donate page?)
  • How long do people typically spend reading a given page? (Do they quickly skim our content, or are they spending enough time to actually understand our work?)

Just uncovering the answers to the above prompts would be immensely helpful. But analytics lets you go several steps further by allowing you to track specific actions on your website.

This is where it gets useful to get specific about your website goals. 

What things can and should people do when they come to your site?

Here are some common goals that nonprofits can track using analytics:

  • Make a donation
  • Sign up for a program or service
  • Become a recurring donor
  • Fill out a contact form
  • Make a phone call
  • Read a resource
  • Share a resource on social media

By getting clear on which actions people should take when visiting your org's website, you can evaluate what is (and isn't) working to support those goals.

Key takeaways for analytics data

  • Analytics data matters because it gives you actionable information on how your website visitors are engaging with your site.  
  • You’ll know your site is effective with regards to analytics if you’ve set clear goals for what visitors should be doing on your site and have set up analytics to track progress on those goals.

If you aren’t getting good data from analytics… then type your analytics software name into YouTube and watch a few videos on how to understand your data. Even just spending an hour watching tutorials can move you from novice to proficient in leveraging your org's analytics.

3. Website conversions: How can you get more people taking action on your site?

So you've got lots of traffic coming to your site and you're collecting data about how visitors are interacting with your content. Where do you go from here?

Here's the point where you can leverage your data to begin making educated guesses about improving your visitor experience.

This is where the idea of "conversions" comes in. In website language, a conversion just means someone takes an action on your site rather than just passively reading your content.

So where to begin with conversions?

Start with one of the major actions you'd like visitors to take on your site. Oftentimes, this would be making a donation or applying for membership, assistance, volunteering, etc.

Where are your visitors getting tripped up as they navigate your site toward or away from that key action?

For example, if your goal is to get more donations, here's what you could check through your analytics:

  1. How many visitors are coming to the site each month?
  2. Of those visitors, how many read more than one page?
  3. Of those visitors, how many visited the donate page?
  4. Of those visitors, how many spent more than 10 seconds on the page?
  5. Of those visitors, how many began filling out the donate form?
  6. Of those visitors, how many actually completed making a donation?

As you can see, there are several steps that have to occur before someone becomes a donor (or takes any other key action on your site).

And your visitors might get stuck on any of these steps for a multitude of reasons.

To understand where your visitors are falling off the desired path, take a look at these  common metrics (which most analytics platforms offer out of the box):

  • Bounce rate: Are visitors reading a single page and leaving the site? Maybe that page isn't speaking to their needs in some way. What could you add, remove, or reorganize to make people want to click through to another page?
  • Average time on page: How much time are visitors spending reading your content? Is it fast, potentially meaning they're just skimming the page? Or is it a long time, implying that visitors find the content relevant and worth spending time on? If it's less than a minute, brainstorm ways you could make the content more engaging.
  • Exit pages: Are there any pages that people frequently leave your website from? This could mean that this particular page is confusing or turning people away. What might be encouraging visitors to leave, and how could you fix it?

The trick is to measure those interactions using website analytics so you can determine what's working, what's not, and what you could do to try and improve things.

Key takeaways for website actions

  • Website conversions matter because this is the whole point of your nonprofit website, right? You aren’t just sharing information but rather asking people to join a conversation and a cause.
  • You’ll know your site is effective in this regard when people stop passively reading your org's site and they start interacting with your organization in meaningful ways.

If many website visitors aren't taking action… then look for those bumps along your visitor journey that might be introducing friction. By making changes to your messaging, layout, spacing, and imagery, you can have an outsized impact on how visitors experience your org's website.

Putting it all together: What makes an effective nonprofit website?

At the end of the day, nonprofit websites exist to get people taking action. 

But you can't inspire people to take action unless your website feels relevant and resonates. 

And you won't know if your website feels relevant unless you can measure your engagement through your analytics.

And you can't measure how visitors engage with your site without first having people visit the website.

Nonprofit websites are effective only when they serve as an asset to your mission.

Bottom line:

If your org's website isn't pushing the conversation forward with your community, then it's time to make some improvements.

Next time you're thinking about your website, consider your traffic numbers, your analytics, and the actions you'd like visitors to take. 

By making incremental improvements to these areas, you’ll end up with a nonprofit website that connects, inspires, and furthers your mission.

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