Measuring Digital: Aligning High-Minded Goals with Website Realities

  • Andrew Blackmore
  • October 31, 2014

Digital marketing technology is evolving at a blistering pace. As organizations make significant investments to keep up, it’s more important than ever to measure the progress and impact of your digital programs—and make sure they always tie back to your organization’s goals and performance.

What Should Be Measured?

Unlike corporations, nonprofits aren’t constantly chasing a bump in stock price or measuring their organizational impact in terms of dollars. But, like any organization, nonprofits do need concrete ways to measure the success of their projects.

Deciding what to measure is key. It starts by discussing the organization’s mission and identifying KPIs for every digital initiative. These don’t need to be directly measurable on the website yet. For example, they could be to increase membership, to increase readership of content, or to increase event attendance.

Take for example the Brookings Institution. A private non-profit organization devoted to independent research and innovative, nonpartisan public policy solutions, Brookings has an overarching goal to strengthen American democracy. As an organizational goal, this is difficult to measure directly. Instead, Brookings worked with my company, Velir, as an outside partner and digital experience agency to lay out the goals to be achieved with an enhanced digital presence.

Correlate These Goals to an Improved Digital Presence

By framing KPIs in a way that was measurable, Velir was able to begin assisting Brookings by organizing its digital content (all 500,000+ pieces) and optimizing the site for desktop, mobile and tablet usage. As a result, Brookings saw impressive results, including a 65 percent decrease in page load times, a 10 percent increase in site visitors and a 16 percent decrease in bounce rate for mobile.

Next, Brookings decided to look at metrics relevant to audience engagement. We realized that measuring visitors’ interactions with certain content could be directly related to the impact of Brookings’ digital presence and hence, its organizational goals. To give us a more manageable set of data, Velir looked at the website’s visitors segmented by geography, focusing specifically on the Washington, D.C. area. Measuring changes within the D.C. area across site variations, and other external events, gave us a sample that was representative of the whole.

Determine How You Are Doing, Then Fill In the Gaps

Having established these goals and criteria, organizations can identify if they are capturing all of the necessary data to assess the impact of digital investments or if there are gaps that need to be filled. If all of the necessary data is being captured, organizations can then review where their strengths and weaknesses lie and make adjustments accordingly.

Typically, an organization will have gaps in its data that need to be filled before progress can be shown. Given an organization’s current state of digital maturity, it might not be possible to leap to directly measuring the impact of online investments on organizational progress. Steps can be made in the right direction. But it’s imperative to be realistic.

When Brookings began its journey, it was immediately apparent that we couldn’t directly measure the impact of Brooking’s digital presence on American democracy and the country’s economic and social welfare. Instead, Velir helped them move from measuring simple page views to evaluating comprehensive measures of on-site behavior. We conducted workshops with key Brookings stakeholders to determine high-value site activities and scored them using Sitecore’s Engagement Value Scoring mechanism. This gave Brookings a topline metric for gauging relative site performance.

It’s also important to note that, for a donation-seeking organization, the collection of eCommerce data is a relatively simple process that can shed a powerful light on many aspects of the organization’s web presence. Not only does the website have a dollar value associated with it in terms of donations collected, but those donations can be attributed to different acquisition channels as well. This makes it easier to see what is working and what isn’t—for example, it allows them to ask, “Did your last email campaign drive donations or was it those Facebook ads you purchased last month?”

Analyze and Retarget

Before jumping into complex site personalization or email automation, organizations need to analyze the data they’ve recently acquired. It’s important to assess inbound channels, primary landing pages and website conversion points. This gives organizations visibility into where they’re spending their efforts and where they’re getting the greatest return. Are you focused on social media, which only drives 5% of traffic? What if an email campaign that drove 5% of traffic had a 75% conversion rate to donation? Are your landing pages engaging visitors or turning them off? Inspect pages with the highest number of entries over a given time period, look at bounce rates and on-page events, and determine if the numbers are in line with your expectations.

This type of valuable information requires thoughtful analysis. There are easy-to-use and inexpensive tools on the market, like Visual Website Optimizer and Optimizely, that can help you run A/B and multivariate testing on a website. Mailchimp and Constant Contact can do the same for email. By continuously testing results, organizations can keep budgets lean and drill down on incremental improvements that need to be addressed before making a larger investment.

Aligning Expectations and Outcomes

When it comes to digital measurement, it isn’t always about having more data, but rather the right data. By addressing gaps in measurement first, it’s easier to analyze and modify early on.

If conversions are less concrete, find indirect ways of measuring impact: articles read, clicks on cross-promoted content and engagement value scoring. It is imperative to test everything. Every project won’t be small and consumable, but start with incremental improvements and validate them before taking the dive into larger investments.

Ultimately, your digital presence should provide an enjoyable experience to every site visitor—but those interactions should constantly relate back to your organization’s goals and performance.

A version of this article first appeared on the Nonprofit Technology Network here.