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Google Analytics and Its New Tools for Nonprofits

Posted by Taylor Dankmyer on July 12, 2012

Google Analytics recently announced three new features that expand the already excellent job they do tracking website visitors and activity. Before we delve into the details of these new features, however, let's take a moment to recap some of the reasons why web analytics are a necessity for your nonprofit’s website.


Why use Analytics?

Some estimates have found that just 4 in 10 websites use any kind of analytics tracking, and that even fewer nonprofits use them. That means the majority of websites – and likely a larger majority of nonprofit websites – aren't tracking any kinds of activity on their websites. Fission uses Google Analytics to help develop the best strategies for an outreach or advocacy campaign by understanding what keywords and social networks people are using to find an organization’s website, how people are accessing the website, and what types of information they utilize the most (among other things). Why should your organization use them?

Not tracking web activity and using analytics would be like sending out a direct mailing that included a response card, then then shredding the responses that came in without looking at them. It might, in fact, be even more extreme. Response cards only give information about recipients who chose to send them back; web analytics give information about every user's habits, even if they only land on a page for a few seconds before leaving again.

One of the most valuable aspects of web analytics is creating a record over time. While it may not feel pressing to know the click-through patterns of your users right now, as you increase your web presence, you will appreciate the body of information about user patterns built up over months or years.

Implementing some kind of analytics will also help you catch problems today. Analytics that show many visits to a "404 Error" page might indicate a broken link, or incoming searches with a misspelled keyword might help you find misspellings on your own page.

Likewise, you may find surprisingly effective elements of your website. If you find 15% of your users are going directly to a customized page someone made on a whim a year ago, perhaps you should put more information on that page and feature it more prominently, or apply the successes of that page to others around your organization’s site.

There are dozens of solid analytics platforms and dashboards available. Perhaps the most obvious reason to use Google Analytics specifically is that, like most of Google's products, it is free. Likewise, the analytics are hosted by Google, so nonprofits don't need to use server space or tech support to keep the analytics running.


Google Analytics' New Features

The three new features supplement the Google Analytics platform in very distinct ways, but all have the potential to be enormously helpful for nonprofits using the platform.

Content Experiments

The new Content Experiments bring website testing into Google Analytics, rolling much of the functionality of the sunsetting Google Website Optimizer into Google Analytics. Content Experiments will allow developers to test up to six versions of a single page simultaneously, measuring how each performs when compared to the others.

In setting up a content experiment, web designers will be asked to assign a specific goal to the experiment, and then to specify what percentage of visitors should reach each page. Repeat visitors will always be shown the same version of the page. Over time, Google Analytics will measure how well each page does at achieving the assigned goal, and end the experiment either when a page emerges as the "winner" or when it becomes clear that two or more pages perform more or less equally. 

This kind of experiment will drastically cut down on the time required to test new pages, meaning that nonprofits can evaluate which new messages and strategies work more quickly. It will also allow a nonprofit to keep the majority of their users going to one page while they experiment with a smaller group of users.  Finally, by running the experiments simultaneously, rather than switching between versions over a period of time, nonprofits will be able to avoid external factors influencing their comparison and traffic.

For more information on the new Content Experiments, take a look at Google's introductory video:

 

Social Reports Trackbacks

The second new feature, Social Reports Trackbacks, is a new, more effective spin on an old technique. In 2002, websites began introducing a protocol that notified each other of referencing links; the system as it stands, however, requires websites to explicitly implement the protocol.

Google's new tool uses the power of Google's web crawlers to create a new kind of trackback. Google already crawls the web, so its servers already know how websites link to each other. The new tool provides Google Analytics a window into that knowledge, informing users where links to their pages appeared, how much traffic those links facilitated, and how users from those links behaved.

The new trackbacks will give nonprofits much more insight into which campaigns and communications are drawing the most traffic, and what kinds of traffic are most likely to generate the desired action. They will also give nonprofits a better idea of which websites are (and are not) sending traffic in their direction, so relationships can be expanded, improved, or established with organizations and individuals likely to increase traffic.

For more information, see an example here.

Dashboard Library

The final new feature is perhaps the least accessible not non-designers, but nevertheless a big step forward for Google Analytics: the Dashboard Library.

No two organisations – and especially no two nonprofit organisations – need exactly the same set of analytics. Some websites may focus more heavily on their social media linkbacks, while others may care more about donations or downloads from their pages. The Dashboard Library allows designers to customize how they chart Google Analytics data, and takes care of the hard stuff for you: authorization, queries and visualization. This means the website designers merely need to input their specific requirements and continue to check back as the charts and data change over time.

The addition of the Dashboard Library will help web designers to customize their Google Analytics to facilitate use as well as make it easier for programmers to share their insights with others within their organization(s).

To see the library itself, click here.

The three new tools add to the already excellent body of tools that make up Google Analytics, providing new tools for organizations and individuals to optimize their web presence.  We’ve already used Google Analytics to help clients such as Standing on the Side of Love to understand information such as how emails impact web traffic and how Facebook strategy drives people to the website. With these new tools, we’re excited to see what else we can discover! 

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