How A Nonprofit Can Best Use Google Analytics

February 28, 2012

Recently, the brilliant Brian Honigman wrote a blog post here at LunaMetrics about How Nonprofits Can Get The Most Out Of Foursquare which got me thinking about how a nonprofit could get the most out of Google Analytics.

There are some estimates that 60% of websites don’t use any type of Analytics tracking, and that the number is even higher for nonprofits.

We’re not sure why this is. It could be that some people view tools like Google Analytics as very commercial and profit oriented, and therefore something that a nonprofit wouldn’t, or even shouldn’t use. It could be that Nonprofits tend to have passionate people who wear more hats than they would at a commercial enterprise, and they’re doing their best, but data analysis isn’t in their wheelhouse.

(If you’re a Nonprofit and aren’t using Google Analytics for another reason, drop us a comment after this post and let us know why! We’re honestly curious.)

Sometimes people at nonprofits feel that this sort of analytics and tracking is about “selling” and that as a nonprofit it’s somehow gauche to look at their websites as places to track “conversions”, however all the major Nonprofits do just that. There are plenty of things you can and should track as far as Goals and Conversions on your sites. You might not be selling anything, but you’re still engaging people in calls to action.

How Can you Use Google Analytics to track a Nonprofit goal?

If you're losing it, just hold on, it gets better

If you're losing it, just hold on, Google Analytics will make it better

Well let’s look at something like “Donor Activity”. You might have a place on your website for people to donate money. With Google Analytics you can parse all those donations with various other data points to help you increase your Donor Activity.

For instance, you can see where they came from, whether it was a Google Search, or an Email, or a Facebook page, or another website. You can then compare where they came from with donation patterns. Maybe certain emails generate higher levels of donations than others, which can help you tailor your email campaigns to better grab and engage your network.

If they arrived via an organic Google Search you can see what keywords they used, and you can take those keywords and tailor your Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) to get even more people to visit your site. 

You can look through your visitors and see what pages they looked at, how long they stayed on your site, and which content engaged them, or which content “bounced them” from your site. You can what pages were more likely to get people to donate.

There are so many things you can do to track and improve your efficacy with specific conversions, and so many different types of conversions you could track besides Donor activity.

  • How many people are hearing and reacting to your message?
  • How many people are visiting your site when you post something on Facebook, and what do they do on your site?
  • How much information do they read?
  • Are there better ways to get your message out?
  • Do people respond better when they come to your site from various social media, or from email campaigns?
  • Which campaigns?
  • Which methods?
  • Which referring websites?
  • Are you increasing your networking and email lists?
  • What methods work best for that?
  • Are you increasing attendance and participation at your events, fundraisers, participation and number of people served by your Nonprofit, or the number of volunteers or volunteer hours?

There are plenty of things that Nonprofits can and should track to help them improve their entire organization.

Why Should A Nonprofit use Google Analytics

There are a number of reasons why a nonprofit would want to use Google Analytics over other software. First of all it’s one of the most sophisticated analytics packages available. It allows you to do more types of tracking, segmentation, conversion tracking, than other pieces of software, sometimes offering more options in certain areas than even paid solutions.

Which brings us to the second reason: It’s free. Nonprofits don’t necessarily need to pinch every penny, but if one of the most sophisticated analytics software packages is available for free, you have to question whether it’s worth paying tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for a paid solution, that might not give you any additional functionality that you would use. It’s also a hosted solution, which means that Google hosts the data. This frees up your IT department, if you have one, from maintaining a server devoted to your analytics, and simply let Google take care of that.

In addition, it’s easy to use. Google provides free tutorial videos that are quite excellent  and there are plentiful resources, websites, and books that can help. On top of that there are opportunities for training both on site, as well as  at the Google approved training programs the “Seminars for Success”  which are offered by only a few Google certified trainers.

All in all it’s a solution that makes sense even for large and reputable Fortune 500 companies, down to the local Mom and Pop shop, as well as Nonprofits.

Getting Started – Step 1: Don’t Panic

Don't Panic (From the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy)

Yes, I stole that from Douglas Adams.  It’s applicable though, and something you should hold onto before we go any further. The world of Analytics might be scary, particularly if you’re not technical, but I promise you, that if you follow a few simple steps, you’re going to find that Google Analytics is a tool that can really help your Nonprofit in many ways. So whether you’re taking the initiative or your boss told you to get this done… Don’t panic. Don’t worry. It’s honestly not painful.

Step 2: Check out Google for Nonprofits

If you aren’t already using it, I highly recommend you head over to Google for Nonprofits and sign up. There are a number of benefits, including free or discounted versions of Google Apps, Free (with a catch) Adwords advertising, Premium branding and increased uploads on YouTube, Free licensing for Google Earth, the Maps API and more. If you are a Nonprofit and you’re on the internet, you have no reason not to sign up for this. They also provide a handy checklist for Nonprofits entitled “12 actions to expand your reach” which gives you great ideas of things you can do to help your Nonprofit reach out online.

And guess what the very first item on their list is?

Step 3: The Most Technical Part

Google Analytics Asynchronous Tracking Code

Google Analytics Asynchronous Tracking Code

It’s like ripping a band-aid off, and it’s really not that scary. You need to get the Google Analytics Tracking Code  installed on your website.  To do this first you need an Analytics account. Head over to Google Analytics and create a new one.

I recommend that if you’re doing this for your Nonprofit, you should create an administrative account in Gmail first, if you don’t already have one. This way you don’t do it on your personal account. Don’t worry. After you create your new administrative account, you can give your personal account admin privileges to the analytics so you’ll be able to access it without constantly changing your login.

So create your new “ account, and then create the analytics account using that account.  It’s quick and relatively painless, and at the end the Google Analytics page provides you with the code to use which you can have your developers cut and paste onto your webpages. OR if you’re using a WordPress site there are a variety of plugins that will help add the code to all your pages for you. I recommend Google Analytics for WordPress if you go that direction.

Be sure to install the newest Asynchronous code and place it in the <head> section of your website code for the best tracking results.

Once the tracking code is installed I recommend reviewing a number of our blog posts including Phil Anderson’s excellent series on increasing conversions from website traffic starting with The Infinite Conversion Loop  and moving onto 10 Things to Check in Your Google Analytics.

Step 4: Get Addicted To Your Data

Be careful! If you haven’t had Google Analytics before on your site, it can be a bit addicting to track your numbers, checking day to day… Before you know it you’ll be talking to someone about Custom Reports and they’ll just give you a blank stare in return. Don’t worry! This is normal.

So what can a Nonprofit do to really make use of that data. Well a lot more than I can put in a single blog post, but here are a few fun starter ideas.

1. Google Analytics in Real Time: Watch your data update within seconds.

Real Time Google Analytics

Are you placing a television commercial, or participating in some sort of event and want to see immediate data? Well with Google Analytics you can watch that data come in in real time. It’s unfiltered data, so if you have a large number of filters on your profiles, it won’t be totally accurate to a profile, but you can see those hits. If you normally only have 10-20 people on your site, it can be exhilarating to see an immediate and real time impact of your marketing efforts and watch people actually click through your site, submit forms, donate money, etc.

Google Analytics in Real Time: Watch your data update within seconds.

2. Tracking Your Marketing Campaigns

It’s amazing how many people, even those who already have Google Analytics installed don’t use Campaign tagging. Campaign tagging allows you to parse your data based on your marketing efforts. Sending out an email? You can see which email specifically did better than another. Posting on social media? Does Twitter or Facebook generate more interaction with your information? By using Campaign tagging in all your links you can find out what efforts you are doing are working better than others, and help tailor your ongoing marketing efforts to attack those channels that really work for your Nonprofit better than others.

4 Steps to Better Campaign Data in Google Analytics

3. Tracking your SEO Progress


SEO seems like magic sometimes, and people want to see what kind of success their SEO campaigns have, or if it’s even worth their time.  However Google Analytics provides some great ways to track how many people from which keywords found which pages, and their change over time. You can use it also to track your referral traffic and link bait. If you’re doing SEO for your nonprofit website, and you should, then you can use your Google Analytics data to help in your efforts to improve and gain even more traffic. It’s useful to see the top 20 words and phrases that people search for your website and organization on. What do people want from you, and what are they looking for? This lets you develop content for these terms, and catering to your users helps you build traffic.

You can even look at the bounce rates for keywords (bounce means that the visitor leaves the site without interacting with it at all). Then by seeing keywords with high bounce rates you know to avoid those keywords, because they are bringing in visitors who aren’t finding what they want on your site. OR if it’s a keyword you do want to emphasize then maybe you need to look at your website to see how you can better grab those users on your site who come in via that keyword.

How to use Google Analytics to Track SEO Progress

4. Tracking Your Social Media Engagement


Google Analytics comes pre-installed tracking Google+ sharing, but with some extra tweaking you can track which of your users are logged into Facebook, Twitter, etc while they’re on your site. With some additional page code you can track how many people visit your Facebook pages, how many “Like” your website or specific page content from within your website, etc. Social Media is a big way for nonprofits to communicate with their audience, so it’s very important to track their engagement with your website, rather than relying simply on something like Facebook’s internal Insights. By tracking engagement on your pages, you can tell more about your users behavior, as well as which social networks to target, which content grabs users better, and more.

Tracking Social Media Engagement in Google Analytics
Event Tracking or Social Tracking or Both?

5. So much more

You can view high bounce rate pages, and review how people got to those pages, and determine if you need to change the content, the keywords, or anything to better retain users to those pages.

You can ensure that the most viewed pages include calls to action, so that you are getting your goals into people’s faces as much as possible. People can’t convert if they aren’t offered an opportunity to do so.

You can do the same on high exit rate pages, and find ways to keep people on your pages rather than pushing them away. Give people an easy out on a donation page for instance to somewhere else on the site, and make them feel ok with not donating.

Use Goals. Determine what you want to do on the site, and set Goals in Google Analytics so that a form has a conversion rate. A donation process has as goal and a funnel so you can see where you lose people along a process. Use the goals in conjunction with other data to determine if some users are more likely to convert than others and leverage that information.

Moving Forward with Google Analytics as a Nonprofit

We’ve only brushed the surface here.  Really anything you’re doing on your site you should be tracking to see how you can make it better. Always be testing. Always be checking your data. Always try and improve and do better, and Google Analytics is a great tool for nonprofits to use. It’s powerful, it’s free, and it’s fun to use! If you aren’t leveraging Google Analytics in your efforts on a daily basis, then it’s time to start.