AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators

Nov/11

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Ariana Johnson on Website Analytics for Evaluators

I’m Ariana Johnson. I work with a nonprofit and they want to know whether their website is working, what parts of it are working, and how it is or is not serving their mission. I knew that I needed to learn more about analytics and I began asking around, checking in with people that I respect, and here is what I learned.

Lesson Learned: First and foremost, analytics are only one part of a much larger picture. They go hand-in-hand with other indicators, providing insight into only one part of the story.

Lesson Learned: Google Analytics is the big kid on the block. Almost everyone in the nonprofit world uses GA because it is free, ubiquitous (so there are people available to help), and supported by a company that people respect.

Lesson Learned: You need to be a smart consumer of analytics, whether from Google or another source, as they can be manipulated or misunderstood and each indicator comes with its own concerns. Here are three key measures used by GA and considerations for each one:

Avg. Time on Site: GA reports how long a surfer spent within your site. It wants to see longer times and assumes longer times are better. But…if you redesigned the site and improved the navigation so that users could get about faster and with fewer clicks, you may actually want to see shorter times. Pages/Visit is another measure that raises the same concerns. You may want to look at particular pages or sections of your site and compare to historic data to understand if the time on site has changed in the direction you want it to go.

Pageviews: Pageviews reports how many pages were viewed across the entire site (or for an individual page). But…pageviews can be driven upwards by search-based pages where the same page may be viewed and refreshed multiple times as the surfer tries to find a particular item. You may want to subdivide your analysis to consider particular parts of your site separately so that you have a better understanding of what is behind your pageview numbers.

Absolute Unique Visitors: Some consider this to be the gold standard, a measure of how many different visitors come to the site. But…the number can be misleading in that a search result or news story might lead them people to the site, but they quickly learn it does not meet their needs and depart. You may want to consider Absolute Unique Visitors alongside Bounce Rate which measures how many people visit only a single page – if that is your homepage, and they aren’t exploring further, there may be a problem.

Rad Resource: Avinash Kaushik’s Occam’s Razor Blog has great posts on digging deeper into analytics. http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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  • Jason · November 11, 2011 at 10:20 am

    I don’t think GA is the de’facto end all/be all of tracking systems less you’re monetizing your site via google adsense. There’s a ton of others out there that do an excellent tracking job: statcounter.com, reinvigorate.net and doubtless a thousand others.

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