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Lesley M. 6 min read

What Should Nonprofits Track?

mstein-face-green-2%20copy.jpgBy Michael Stein, writer and Internet strategist

On the subject of website analytics, I wrote an article in 2003 for The Nonprofit Quarterly entitled "Analyzing Web Site Traffic: Transforming Information into Learning and Action." In a series of telephone interviews with nonprofit staff from various parts of the country, I asked what they were learning from their visitor traffic. I hoped to uncover a set of “best practices” from their opinions and experiences that might be useful to other nonprofits using the Internet. I discuss the web metrics of several nonprofits: American Lung Association, Children Now, Family Violence Prevention Fund, and Natural Resource Defense Council.

The complete article is here: http://www.nonprofitquarterly.org/section/426.html

Here's an excerpt on the subject of "What should nonprofits track?"

Web-site traffic data is obtained from wherever the Web site is hosted, such as a vendor or Internet company. Visitors to a Web site leave a virtual trail of crumbs recorded in a log file, which traces their precise movements from page to page. However, this raw data can be as undecipherable as it is voluminous, without specialized software that summarizes the trends revealed.

Here’s a review of the key findings--of interest to nonprofits--that can be gleaned from these reports:

Unique visitors: The total number of people who visit a Web site during any specific period of time. It filters out people who visit a site multiple times during the same time period, but it includes “robots” that visit to catalog for search engines. It’s the best general number to track over time since it shows your total audience. As a trend, this number should grow as your Internet presence grows.

Page views: The total number of pages that are viewed by the visitors to a site. It shows how much content is being viewed. Combined with unique visitors, a nonprofit can measure the “depth ratio” of how much content is being viewed. If there are 1,000 unique visitors and 3,000 page views, the depth ratio is 1:3, which is an overall measurement of how compelling the content on your site is, and how much content people are looking at.

Hits: This number is useless (in spite of its frequent use) because it counts not just the pages that are being viewed, but every little graphic that the Web site is displaying to a visitor’s browser. Most Web pages have literally dozens of images that make up the navigation, and the hit count will combine all this together.

Most popular pages: This list helps you to understand what actual content on your site is of interest to visitors. You’ll see the actual list of pages that are popular, in ranked order. It will help you understand what your Internet audience wants from your site. Review this list monthly and quarterly to spot emerging and ongoing trends (“Our news section is always the most popular”) or to observe the unexpected (“That report on Latinos and the media was a huge success last quarter”). Responses to this information might include dedicating more staff time to the areas of your site that are popular, or featuring popular content in your e-newsletter or on the home page to get people there faster.

Downloads: If your Web site offers downloadable files such as PDF documents, audio clips, video clips or PowerPoint files, this metric will count it. Organizations that publish reports on their site in downloadable format will find these numbers invaluable.

Referrer sites: This shows how traffic arrived at a Web site--when a visitor clicked on a link from another site. This metric shows the ecology of an Internet presence, from the search engines that send you traffic, to the portals that feature your content, to the educational institutions that point to your research reports.

Search engines and keywords: These metrics help to measure the amount of traffic coming to a Web site from search engines, and what keywords are being used. The keywords can help you understand what content is hot and how the issues that you’re working on are catalogued at search engines.

Michael Stein is a writer and Internet strategist with 20 years experience working with nonprofits, labor unions and social enterprises. He is the author of three books and numerous articles about the online medium.