S o you are about to re-brand your organization, which means you'll get that brand-new website your whole team has been dreaming of for years! That's great news and you can't wait for everyone to see the new colors, the beautiful new logo, the works — there's just one thing bothering you, which is, how do you know you are also ready to observe and measure all the awesome new traffic you are going to get? Between Google Analytics, A/B testing, email open and click rates, Twitter and Facebook Ads, video views, sometimes you are afraid you are swimming in so many numerical possibilities, you might possibly drown!

Take a deep breath. When we build out a new website for our clients, or help them create a social media strategy, or even just advise someone who is about to cut the ribbon on a launch someone else has been working on, we tell them, "Focus your energies on what takes the highest priority." Frequently, our point of contact is a marketing manager, or business analyst, who knows it will soon be their responsibility to produce quarterly reports for the executive staff or the board. How do we make sure they are adequately prepared?

The Iterative Approach

If this already sounds overwhelming, don't worry - an important tactic to use is to be iterative. Go through the various lists below in the order we recommend, and write down just as many answers that come to mind. The chances are, whatever comes to mind first is what's been high on your organization's priority list already.

Now, show this list to some of your co-workers once, and you are done. Re-visit the list only after you have calculated your first round of reports. (And when should that be, you ask? We get to that in a later section that you can jump ahead to, if you like!)

Key Resources

The most common case is that you have a website, and one or more mailing lists that you will be devoting your attention to. In later sections, we will talk about social media channels and paid channels (essentially, digital advertising). That is usually the order of priority that works best for most non-profits, especially the smaller ones. More recently, we find that our clients tend to rely on rely on social media channels for their outreach and marketing more than on an email list, though that's still relatively rare.

Asking The Right Questions

Start first by listing all the measurement questions that should always be on your mind — if someone catches you in the elevator and asks you how your organization uses data, you should be able to rattle off these answers (or at least, say "It's on my list to learn about!"):

Website Analytics

The dominant tool for observing behavior on your website is Google Analytics - some clients use Omniture, Clicky, Web Trends, and other competitors, but these are rather rare. If you are interested in learning about them, IM Impact has a great overview.

Basic Vocabulary

All these systems have similar concepts:

Your mailing list is itself a channel to the website, for example. Sometimes, the goal of one website could be to become the channel for another one - or, more commonly, for your website and social media sites to be channels and goals of each other.

Hopefully you can now see how the questions above break down into these specifics. That is, your questions will now lookx like, "How many visitors do I get each month," or "Which goal do visitors from the donor list complete the most," or "What call-to-action does someone reading the blog post on Program X use the most?" (Hopefully, the last answer is, Donate! 😀 )

Google Analytics Setup

If you don't already have an Analytics account, create one and generate a "UA code" that you will add to your website code. WordPress users usually do this via a plug-in and most website building tools have similar functionality. Make sure you create your Analytics account with a generic Google account, one that is not tied to an individual employee who might leave the organization at a later date.

When you set up Google Analytics, you'll see the words from the vocabulary above, with some minor variations:

Tracking Channels

While Google Analytics will track some channels, as mentioned above, you should also plan to differentiate between the channels at the level of granularity that matters to you. For example, you might have a donor vs. a volunteer mailing list, and want to know which one brings more visitors, or more engaged visitors.

To track individual channels, you need UTM parameters. These are code snippets you add to your website URLs that you share, for example, an event URL you post to Facebook, or your website URL that is linked to in a news article. It's important to understand that you are only changing the posted URL, and not the webpage itself that is linked to. You can understand these code parameters in greater detail and have them generated automatically for you via the Google Campaign URL Builder .

Reporting Frequency

Hopefully, by this point, you are ready to have numbers roll in. The frequency you will report at depends on two major factors:

  1. How much daily traffic you get
  2. When do key events occur in your organization, including changes to the website itself

The key idea is to compare traffic across "equivalent" lengths of time, say from quarter to quarter, or "year over year." If you have key events occurring at different intervals, you want to build a "before/after" picture, that looks at all the numbers above — views, sessions, CTA click rates, goal conversions, etc. — for equal periods of time before and after the event in question.

Generating Insights

Congratulations, you are now ready to start figuring out what your metrics are telling you! We will cover this and more advanced topics in future blog posts. Meanwhile, we look forward to reading your questions and comments.