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Numbers to Know: Interpreting Website Engagement Data

When a supporter googles your nonprofit and clicks on your website, what do they do from there?

The hope is that your supporters actively explore your site’s content, use your online giving page to donate, and sign up for your newsletter or fundraising events. 

However, some nonprofits make the mistake of taking a “set it and forget it” approach when it comes to their websites. Instead of consistently considering and reconsidering their supporters’ experiences using the site, they put a lot of work into the look and functionality of the site upfront, hoping it’ll do the trick of catching people’s attention and getting them to act without ongoing updates. 

But the reality is that the best way to get the most mileage out of your site as part of your branding strategy is to actively monitor and course-correct how your supporters are engaging with it. You can do so with the help of website engagement data, which reveals how your supporters are currently interacting with your site so you can develop a plan to improve that experience. 

Making data-based decisions about improving your site can help you set yours apart as one of the best nonprofit websites. To help you get started, we’ve created this mini guide to interpreting website engagement data. In it, we’ll cover: 

Tapping into the power of website engagement data won’t require you to be a master web designer or expert coder. You’ll simply need the ability to continuously improve your website and envision a better, brighter future for it based on what you’re seeing in the data. 

Overview of Nonprofit Website Engagement Data

Nonprofit website engagement data is any data that gives a nonprofit insight into how supporters find and interact with their website. 

There are a number of different data points that you can measure to understand how your supporters are engaging with your site. These include: 

  • Conversion Rates: Conversion rates show you the percentage of users who complete a desired action. For example, you might track your conversion rate for how many people sign up for your online newsletter or donate to your online fundraiser. The specifics will depend on the context of your organization’s size and the pages in question. That said, action page conversion rates (such as your donation page) should be around 21%, while site-wide conversion rates should typically be between 2% and 5%
  • Bounce Rate: Bounce rate tells you the percentage of site visitors who land on your site and only visit that one page before leaving your site, rather than exploring other pages or converting. 41% to 55% is considered an average bounce rate
  • Page Views: Page views tell you how many people have visited a certain page within a set amount of time. You can improve your page views by working to gain more traffic through methods like optimizing your site for SEO, which helps your page rank higher on search engine results pages so that more people see it! Amount of page views will vary page by page, but tracking page views over time will give you an idea of which pages are most popular and thus most useful for your audience. 
  • Channels Visitors Are Coming From: Knowing where your website’s traffic is coming from can help you make informed decisions about which channels you use to market your web content. You might, for example, notice that email traffic converts at a higher rate than other traffic sources and decide to more intentionally highlight your web content in your email newsletters. 

Measuring engagement data like the data points described above can help you in a myriad of ways. Let’s take a look at three of those ways. 

  1. Knowing how your site engages your supporters will help you improve your digital fundraising strategies. If, for example, you know that a certain blog post gets the most page views of any other page on your site, you could include links to your donation page in that blog post to encourage people to contribute to your cause. 
  2. Website engagement data can help you to better optimize other marketing efforts outside of your nonprofit’s website. Say you notice particularly high conversion rates for website visitors registering for your organization’s fundraising event after sending an email campaign advertising the event. That tells you that sending out emails ahead of an event may be a particularly effective strategy for future events. 
  3. Your website engagement data can help you learn how to best share key information with supporters. For example, maybe your website’s blog has a high bounce rate. That tells you it might be worth it to invest some time into optimizing the content and presentation of that content in your blog posts. 

Answering Key Questions Using Website Engagement Data

If you’re unsure of where to start when it comes to measuring and using your website engagement data, asking targeted questions is a great way to begin. The questions that will be most useful for your organization to answer will depend on your mission, what you know about your supporters, and what you’re currently trying to accomplish.

Let’s look at some of the most common questions nonprofits ask and then work to answer them using what you can observe with your website. 

Are your action pages accomplishing their goals?

Action pages are pages where website visitors are encouraged to complete a specific action, like your donation page or contact page. If you’re wondering how well these pages are succeeding in encouraging visitors to complete the desired action, measure the conversion rate for those pages. 

Remember, the conversion rate will tell you what percentage of users complete a desired action. Once you know your baseline conversion rate for these pages, you can take steps to increase the rate. Here are two suggested actions if you want to increase conversions on one of your action pages: 

  • Optimize the content on your action pages. For your website visitors to complete the action that an action page points them toward, they need to feel inspired to do so. You can inspire your visitors in a number of ways. For example, you might use descriptive and interesting language to catch your visitors’ attention. Or, you could include an engaging and emotionally evocative photo or stronger call-to-action copy ahead of the form or other tool for completing the action. 
  • Make forms easy to use. Much of the time nonprofits rely on forms as part of their processes to capture emails, collect donations, or complete other actions. But getting your visitors to your action pages won’t do you any good if your forms are inconvenient or confusing to use. Prioritize making the form short, labeling required fields, and making the form tab-friendly for those who navigate using a keyboard. 

How are supporters finding your website?

Say that you and a few other residents in your town notice a high volume of people consistently trying to cross a particular road downtown that has no crosswalk. While it’s a logical place for people to cross, as it gets them close to popular shops and restaurants, it’s a dangerous road to cross without protection. 

The best course of action would be to encourage the city to put in a crosswalk at that spot, to encourage more and more people to cross the street safely to get to where they want to be. 

Similarly, knowing where your website traffic is coming from will help you to more strategically direct that traffic and increase it! There are six typical sources of traffic: 

  1. Direct traffic: Direct traffic is website visitors who arrive directly on a site. These visitors might type your website’s URL into an address bar or click on a bookmark in their browser. 
  2. Organic search traffic: Organic search traffic is the traffic that comes to your site from search engines like Google or Bing, but isn’t paid for through ads.
  3. Paid search traffic: Paid search traffic is made up of the site visitors that click on a paid-for ad placed on a search engine results page for a specific search query. 
  4. Referral traffic: Referral traffic is the website visitors who come to your site through other websites rather than googling your nonprofit. For example, a local school that benefitted from your nonprofit’s recent book drive might link to your website on their blog, driving traffic to your site through that link. 
  5. Email traffic: Email traffic is the traffic that comes from people who click a website link within an email. 
  6. Social traffic: Social traffic is the visitors who land on your website after clicking a link on a social media platform. This might be a link in a Tweet or Facebook post, or a link in your Instagram bio. 

According to 360MatchPro’s roundup of fundraising statistics, 44% of total nonprofit website traffic comes from organic search. This means it’s well worth your time to “paint a few crosswalks” to your site for organic search visitors. Here are three tips for doing so: 

  • Target specific keywords. Keywords are the words and phrases users will type into search engines that will match them with content that closely aligns with those keywords. By targeting certain keywords for your web pages and using them in organic, natural ways in your content, you can increase your pages’ visibility when users search those terms. You’ll want to choose specific keywords that are closely aligned with your organization’s work. 
  • Maintain heading hierarchy. Search engines need to be able to crawl and index your pages in order for them to rank higher and higher on search engine results pages. One of the best ways to help search engine crawlers do this is to maintain heading hierarchy. Ensure that your headers are in sequentially-descending order. For example, there should only be one H1 on each web page, followed by H2s, H3s, and so on. 
  • Use a custom theme. According to Cornershop Creative’s guide to WordPress for nonprofits, custom themes are inherently more SEO-friendly than pre-built themes because you have more control over the site from the beginning. For example, you’ll be able to control the initial setting of the heading hierarchy more easily. 

Is your website sharing the information that supporters are looking for?

Another aspect of website performance that nonprofits often want to know about is how useful their website is in fulfilling their audience’s needs and providing them with useful information. Bounce rate (the percentage of how many visitors land on your site and leave before visiting another page) can provide some insight into this. 

Recall that 41% to 55% is typical for a bounce rate. This may seem high, but remember that context is key for understanding bounce rate from page to page. For example, perhaps Person A only visits your “About Us” page to get a quick answer to a question about one of your staff members. It would make more sense for them to exit out of your site after looking at that one page. On the other hand, say Person B is interested in donating and clicks on a link on social media that leads them to a blog post. You would want that person to avoid bouncing before navigating to your donation page.  

This kind of context will inform how you improve specific pages to prevent bouncing, but what are some steps you can take to decrease your bounce rate all around? Here are a few suggestions: 

  • Create interesting content. If you want someone to keep exploring your site beyond the initial page they land on, you have to keep them interested! Make sure you’re creating content that holds visitors’ attention. Use clear, concise language to make your content skimmable, provide high-quality images to break up long sections of text, and include buttons that provide links to different pages and resources. 
  • Improve your page load speed. We’ve all been there—a page you click on takes too long to load, you get frustrated, and quickly exit out. Or, if the page does eventually load, there’s no way you want to explore other content on the slow site. To avoid giving your website visitors this type of experience, compress all of your site’s images and reduce redirect chains
  • Build internal links to other content on your site. Building internal links gives your website visitors a clear idea of the next best place for them to go on your website. If, for example, they read a blog post about your upcoming 5K fundraiser, including a link to the registration form would be a great way to encourage visitors to continue exploring your site and completing actions. 

Web engagement data can help drive your nonprofit’s decisions in a number of different areas. It’s worth tracking and reporting on consistently. And the longer you track this data, the easier it will be to see patterns that can help you make your next move to more fully engage your supporters, whether that be strengthening the quality of your blog content, focusing your marketing efforts on social media, or some other new direction. Good luck!

About the Author

Sarah Fargusson
Self-described as a “non-profit junkie,” Sarah has dedicated her career to serving the needs of the non-profit sector. Her project management experience spans a variety of non-profit management disciplines including strategic planning, community engagement, capacity building, fundraising and research. She has worked both in and for the non-profit sector at the Feminist Majority Foundation, the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, and the consulting firms The Lee Institute and The Curtis Group. With her ever expanding non-profit tool belt, Sarah joined Cornershop Creative to tap into her techie, creative side, while developing meaningful partnerships with her clients to help them more effectively achieve their goals.

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