A nonprofit employee walks into a bar graph

One of the first things I usually do in working with a new client is to clean up their analytics account. I’ve been arguing with myself about whether I should devote an entire email to that process.

Then, I thought — Kyle, does {{ subscriber.first_name }} really want to know about:

  • Creating raw and master views in GA?

  • Creating IP address filters to block internal traffic and how to use a regular expression for organizations with a range of IP addresses?

  • Data retention settings and related GDPR concerns?

  • Creating referral exclusions?

  • Filters, filters, filters … include valid hostnames, add trailing slashes to URLs, exclude crawler spam …

Let me know if I’m wrong, but I think the answer is no.

I don’t want to read about that — why would you? I only do that stuff to clear a path for the benefits that come later.

No one wants to know how the sausage gets made — at least not until they understand why a solid foundation of reliable, clean sausage is an essential part of a healthy organization’s diet.

Hm.

In other words: Let’s look at what you can learn once you have all your data ducks in a nice row.

Goals have magic powers

After I have everything nicely configured in a client’s account, I start configuring goals.

Setting goals with monetary values assigned to them wherever possible can be transformative.

Goals are what let your designers, marketers, and outreach folks measure the impact of their work. They let you track conversions.

Some of you won’t like that word — conversions — so let me explain why I use it.

A conversion is often some sort of transaction, but it doesn’t have to be. A form submission, like a membership enrollment or a donation, is a conversion — but so is a newsletter sign up or a survey submission. A conversion describes some change in the visitor’s relationship to the organization, and primary conversions are those that put money into your organization’s bank account. A conversion is a quick way to refer to all those interactions that signal some change in status — Significant conversions would be going from visitor to member or member to donor.

Once you start tracking conversions with goals, you can begin optimizing.

If you don't track conversions, how can you optimize a survey or registration form or donation page? How would you measure the impact of a change to your form or page?

You could put all the submissions in a spreadsheet, I suppose, and count the number of submissions before you made a change, then count up the submissions after the change was made … No, thank you.

I’m sure you’ve heard the parable of the drowning nonprofit employee who clings to his spreadsheets and Word documents.

Eventually, he drowns, and when he gets to heaven, he asks God:

“Why didn’t you help me?”

God says, “I sent you Google Analytics, Google Data Studio, Google Optimize, and Slack— Free software so you could work more efficiently and better understand the people you served. What did you expect?”

God didn’t make computers so that we could suffer in spreadsheets for the rest of our lives, folks.

(Note: I started my career as that nonprofit employee. God sent me back to earth so I could send you this email.)

Anyway, tracking conversions with goals helps you make more informed decisions based on objective criteria — actual user behavior.

Your communications folks can spend less time guessing as to how their decisions influence audience behavior. They don’t have to wait for the fiscal gods to report on the economic outcomes of their work. (“We received 22% more donations this year than we did last year! Ok, back to work now — we’ll revisit this again next year.”) They can begin to annotate design decisions and outreach efforts over time in the analytics account and measure the results in terms of revenue.

This can be a tipping point.

Once people cross that threshold, they may look back on the old way of doing things in horror. I know I did.

After all, what guides design decisions without an understanding of economic outcomes? Personal preferences? A director’s mood that day?

(I’m exaggerating for effect — slightly — because I can’t emphasize enough how valuable this change can be.)

Using analytics to assess the value of communication channels

Let’s get a little more specific. Let’s say your organization has invested heavily in Facebook to promote membership and registrations — direct calls to spend money on a page on your website.

If you have goals set up in Google Analytics, you can see how much money Facebook is generating for you. Facebook is identified as a source in your conversion reports. (I’ll bet you’ll find the number of transactions from people who visit your website from Facebook is quite low compared to, say, organic search. I’ve rarely met an organization that doesn’t overestimate the value of social media for direct marketing.)

Now, maybe you think, “Ok, so not much money is coming from Facebook. But I bet a lot of people visit from Facebook, and later they go to their desktop computer, search for the event, and then they register. So, Facebook should get some credit for that, right?”

If you have goals set up, you can test that assumption by looking at assisted conversions.

(Assisted conversions are like assists in basketball. Some credit goes to the player who passed the ball to the player who actually scores the field goal — or whatever it is they do in basketball.)

When you study assisted conversions, you might see that Patron A’s first interaction with the museum was two weeks ago on Facebook, which is where she came from when she signed up for the museum’s newsletter. After receiving two newsletters, she visited the camp registration page. One week later, she revisited the site after a searching Google for your museum’s camp program, and then she registered.

However, that’s probably not what you’ll find.

You’ll more likely see that social media contributes little to your online revenue even in indirect terms compared to things like organic search. When you look at assisted conversions, you might see something like this:

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See how direct and organic search channels make up most of the assisted conversions? And social media contributes nothing in terms of assisted revenue.

Now, the model is not perfect and your mileage will vary. Some of the $1,059 attributed to direct traffic in the image above could disguise some social media assists. Also, there may be some people who might see some social post, never click through but were influenced by that impression.

I’m not suggesting you should close your Facebook account. Just be careful when you find yourself holding up likes and follows as a metric for success. Analytics data is a good reminder of this.

So, goals can shed light on shared assumptions and raise questions about status quo activities in an organization.

And you don’t have to get into assisted conversions or go all that deep to find the benefits of a well-managed analytics account. Just being able to quickly pull up year over year or quarterly economic performance can be a powerful motivator for your communications folks.

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Revenue is up 7% over last month. High fives all around. (We can discuss correlation and causation another day, okay?) 

“We can’t afford it.”

That’s what I often hear people at museums and other nonprofits say when I ask about user research — They say they can’t afford to spend time studying their audience’s behavior.

But what we’re really talking about here is minimizing guesswork. How much guesswork can your organization afford?

Thanks for reading,
Kyle

Kyle Bowen