Understanding Google Analytics Data: A Guide for Nonprofits

Thank you Sarah Fargusson, Director of Digital Strategy at Cornershop Creative, for today’s useful post.

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.

Your nonprofit likely has a lot of goals you’re hoping to achieve: whether it’s improving your volunteer program, increasing awareness about your cause, or encouraging more donations to your organization. It’s also likely that you can make strides towards these goals by driving traffic to your website. 

But saying that you can increase web traffic and actually implementing a strategic plan to do so are two different things, and creating your own strategy can be overwhelming. 

Luckily, there are a ton of great tools out there that can help you manage your website metrics so you can make data-driven decisions for improving your site. Of these tools, one of them that you’ve probably heard of is the cream of the crop: Google Analytics. 

In this guide, we’ll help you understand Google Analytics, and how its suite of tools can help nonprofits like yours. We’ll take a look at some most frequently asked questions, including: 

  • What is Google Analytics? 
  • What data should I pay attention to in Google Analytics?
  • How can my nonprofit use this data?

By leveraging the data provided by Google Analytics, you can improve your website and connect with donors. And after implementing suggested improvements, your website can become one of the very best nonprofit websites out there. Let’s dive in!

What is Google Analytics?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty details, let’s make sure we’re on the same page. So what exactly is Google Analytics? 

If you’re not already familiar, Google Analytics is a free web analytics service that tracks website traffic and provides valuable insights into which of your pages most effectively connect with supporters. 

It measures several different types of web engagement (which we’ll get into later) in order to help you improve your site. With this data, you’ll get a better understanding of the users who are visiting your website and how you can deepen their engagement even further.

Just as a for-profit company might use Google Analytics to track how many customers view their website and make purchases, your nonprofit can use similar data to better understand how well different pages of your site are capturing supporters’ attention and motivating them to take action. This data can be useful for anything from improving your fundraising strategy to raising awareness about your cause to getting supporters to sign up for your newsletter. 

To access Google Analytics, you can either create a new account or connect through an existing Google Ads account. Then, you can view your dashboard, generate reports about your website traffic, and more!

What data should I pay attention to in Google Analytics? 

Once you know what Google Analytics is, you might still be wondering what kind of data it collects and how you can use it. In this section, we’ll outline the key data that nonprofits should reference in order to use Google Analytics to its fullest potential. 

1. Events

First up is Events. Events are defined as user interactions with a website other than page loads (like a simple page view). Typically, Events are specific, measurable actions, such as a form submission, PDF download, or video playback. 

Events can be broken down into these different subcategories: 

  • Category: A category is a group that you create in order to keep your Events organized. For example, one category could be “Calls-to-Action,” which encompasses all of the desired actions you want your website visitors to perform. 
  • Action: An isolated type of Event, such as a “click.”
  • Label: You can use labels to further organize different actions within your categories. For instance, maybe your calls-to-action consist of Donations, Sign-Ups, and Downloads. You can label each action in your category to refine your data collection.
  • Value: A numeric value assigned to an Event. This subcategory may not be the best choice for every Event. For instance, you may be tracking clicks on a website button that says “Donate $100.” The value for that click would be 100, compared to 50 for a button that says “Donate $50.” However, if you’re tracking interactions with a video on your site, a numeric value for each playback doesn’t make much sense. 

Gathering information about Events on your website can help you form several conclusions about the content on your website. For example, you’ll be able to identify positive interactions, like which donation button on your forms is the most popular or which campaign landing page generates the most conversions. These changes can help you make broader improvements to your online fundraising strategy. 

You’ll also be able to determine spots on your site that might cause visitors to walk away, like fields on your form that usually aren’t filled out or how far potential donors get in the donation process before abandoning it. 

Both of these data points are valuable because you’ll have a better idea of your site’s strengths and weaknesses.

When you’re viewing Events on your Google Analytics dashboard, they’ll look something like this: 

viewing Events on your Google Analytics dashboard

Overall, Events should be used to track simple interactions that may or may not affect the success of a campaign your nonprofit is running. If you’re focusing on a fundraising campaign, you might be tracking Events related to donation forms, donation buttons, and PDF downloads. But you may also want to know about other Events unrelated to your specific campaign, like how often visitors share your social media or watch an informational video. 

Take some time to explore your website and determine which Events you’re most interested in learning more about. Try thinking through the different things you want visitors to do and the steps they’d need to follow to complete them. This way, you’ll know exactly what to look for when you’re navigating around your Google Analytics dashboard.

2. Goals

Next on our list of valuable Google Analytics data for nonprofits is Goals. Goals are trackable user interactions that measure whether a specific Event has been completed. In your dashboard, you can identify certain Events as “high value” and worth learning more about. Essentially, with Goals, you can keep an eye on these top Events.

Goals also differ from Events because they are meant to measure actions that specifically affect the success of a campaign. This could mean filling out a survey, writing to a state legislator, or submitting a contact form. Conversely, an Event may or may not have to do with a specific campaign. 

Your Goals can be configured in five different ways: 

  • Destination (e.g. a user ends up on a specific page)
  • Duration (e.g. a user spends X amount of time on the site) 
  • Pages/Screens per one section (e.g. a user visits X number of pages while exploring your website) 
  • Event (e.g. a Google Analytics Event occurs, like clicking a “Download” button) 
  • Smart Goals (a new type of goal that measures your most engaged users — Google recommends using this type of goal when you aren’t measuring conversions)

You must enable Goals in a View, and you’ll need to configure them yourself (or with the help of a nonprofit web consultant). Another important tidbit: you can only have a maximum of 20 active Goals at one time. However, you can have an unlimited number of Events. So remember to choose your Goals carefully! 

Here’s an example of what Goals will look like on your dashboard: 

Goals view in Google Analytics dashboard

You measure Goals based on their Conversion Rates (which is number four on our list). In short, the Conversion Rate is the number of sessions in a time period versus the number of Goals that were completed during the time period. In other words, it’s the number of times a Goal was completed in a certain period of time. 

Goals are a helpful tool that your nonprofit can use to identify key areas of strength or improvement when it comes to a specific campaign. This way, you can make data-driven choices based on actual actions taken on your site. You’ll be achieving those Goals in no time!

3. Reverse Goal Path

Now that you know what a Goal is, let’s take a look at a Reverse Goal Path. A Reverse Goal Path is the path that a user took in order to reach one of your Goals. 

A Reverse Goal Path consists of the three previous pages that a user viewed before landing on the page where the Goal was reached. For example, let’s say that a supporter made a donation. They started on your homepage, then viewed an article about your recent accomplishments, and finally navigated to your donation page. 

Now, you have a clear trajectory illustrating what might have motivated your supporter to follow through on a Goal. Here’s how you’ll see a Reverse Goal Path in Google Analytics:

Reverse Goal Path in Google Analytics

Overall, this data can help your nonprofit figure out how a user got to a page, what happened before an Event was captured, and how they might better optimize the funnel leading to a Goal so that it can start motivating even more visitors to take action. 

4. Conversion Rate

And now we’ve come to our last data point: the Conversion Rate. As we mentioned, the conversion rate is the total number of sessions in a time period versus the number of goals that were completed in that time period. 

Some examples of conversions might include making a donation, signing up for your email newsletter, or joining your volunteer program. It’s when you can finally pump your fist in the air and cheer, “Yes! Our supporters are participating!” 

Conversions are one of the most important data points you can track in Google Analytics, as they indicate how successfully your website drives users to engagement. 

How can my nonprofit use this data? 

Now that you’re an expert in all things Google Analytics, you might be wondering how your nonprofit can effectively use the data you’ve gathered. It’s great to understand your web engagement data, but you’ll need to apply what you know to your site in order to see measurable changes. Here are a few ways that you can use the data you collect: 

  • Improve your fundraising strategy: One of the greatest advantages of having Google Analytics data is that it gives you a fuller understanding of how and why donors are contributing, which you can use to create a more strategic fundraising plan. For instance, maybe you realize that many of your pages successfully result in supporters subscribing to your newsletter and so you begin to incorporate fundraising calls-to-action more regularly into your content. Cornershop Creative’s guide on nonprofit email marketing suggests linking directly to your donation page and maintaining consistent branding to increase conversions from your email materials.
  • Increase your nonprofit’s visibility: Another crucial aspect of a nonprofit’s success is your visibility, meaning that increasing the public’s awareness about your organization and cause is crucial. With Google Analytics, you can see how visitors come to your website and what they do once they’re using it. This way, you can focus on what is most interesting to your supporters and share content and events that they care about and might even share themselves!
  • Obtain and use a Google Ad Grant effectively: The Google Ad Grant is a funding opportunity that provides nonprofits with $10,000 in ad credits to advertise on Google for free. According to Getting Attention’s guide on the Google Ad Grant, nonprofits can see an increase in their conversion rate using the grant because you’ll be able to get in front of the right audience. With your Google Analytics accounts (which is a prerequisite to receive the grant), you can track the progress of your ads so that you can adjust messaging to better reach your audience. 

These are just some of the possibilities that Google Analytics opens up for you. However you decide to use the data is up to you — just be sure it’s aligned with your long-term goals so that every minute spent on reviewing your data is worthwhile.

Google Analytics is a fantastic tool for nonprofits, but only if you know how to use it. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of the ins and outs of Google Analytics and how you can use the data you’ve gathered to your advantage. Your web traffic and conversions will be up in no time!

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