On the one hand, it’s obvious. It’s 2017, you have to have a website. Because everyone’s got one.
On the other hand, have you ever stopped to think about what the purpose of it is, and how you measure its success?
For an ecommerce or business site that’s easy to answer as those organisations have an obvious sales/profit driven bottom-line, and therefore great clarity that the purpose of their site is to sell stuff or generate new business leads. The total and ‘conversion rates’ of those website events can easily be tracked using Google Analytics and they’re great measures to judge of the success of a website. All the content, SEO, marketing and advertising campaigns can then be assessed as to how well they contribute to this success.
It’s a different story for 99% of charities
Charities obviously don’t have a profit driven bottom-line, which makes it harder to answer the question of ‘what is the purpose of our website?’ Most blogs and articles you read about charity websites concentrate on optimising online donations. And if you’re a charity giant like Cancer Research UK then you probably can judge your website by tangible measures like online donations and Race for Life entries.
Whilst online donations are nice and simple to measure, they’re not the raison d’etre for most charity sites, especially small charities that might only realistically get a few website donations per week/month.
There’s an important information-dissemination role that most charity websites play. If people look you up then you want them to find out what you do, where you are, and what impact you’re making. The success of this information dissemination and soft marketing / brand building is a qualitative thing that you can’t easily measure – which is probably why it’s rarely analysed or discussed.
But without a clear focus like ‘how many widgets did we sell last week, how can we sell more next week?’, your website and its content tend to drift aimlessly along without you having any means of measuring how successful it is and without a clear direction of how to make it better.
This lack of focus is evident across charity sites, and spreads into their email newsletters. The content often ends up becoming very inward looking and charity-centric rather than audience-centric. It’s why you often end up with homepages cluttered with too much stuff and with sliding carousels to squeeze in even more choices.
Quick content checklist:
What do you do? What makes you special? Can you sum that up in one or two short, plain-English sentences? Am I going to see that sentence within 10 seconds of landing on your homepage? If not, then that’s something to think about.
Which page on your site sells you the best? If a site visitor could visit one page to inspire them about your work which would it be – a What We Do/Impact/A powerful case study? If you can’t think of one, then maybe you need to build it. If you’ve got a ‘best’ page then can you signpost to it better from other pages, or is it just hidden away in your navigation menu?
Why do people visit charity websites?
If you run a website that sells T-shirts then it’s safe to assume that the average visitor to your site is interested in buying a T-shirt.
On most charity sites it’s much harder. The vast majority of visitors aren’t in ‘donating’ mode and they didn’t arrive on your site with that intention. If your content is compelling enough then you might convert a small handful into donors, but most visited for another reason. And the truth is that it’s very hard to know or infer what that reason is.
Some visitors may be funders, or fellow sector professionals, or local residents, or potential beneficiaries, or school children with a homework assignment. They’re visiting for any one of a hundred reasons. And if you don’t know why they’re visiting, can you measure whether their visit was a successful one?
Yes and no. Without expensive audience research and interviewing you don’t know if they were happy with their visit and found what they were looking for (and hopefully stuck around to read some other stuff they didn’t know they were looking for). But we can assume and infer quite a bit. That’s way better than just not bothering.
More visitors equals more success, right?
In my experience, most charity site owners never look at their Google Analytics reports, or they just measure the success of their site by comparing the total monthly visits to previous months.
Having some measure of success is better than not having any. But I think you need to scratch a bit deeper beneath the surface. I’d liken it to a funnel: The more water you can pour into the top, the better. But unless it’s directing that water to right destination, all you have is a big sieve.
Measuring isn’t always a simple science
A word of caution before we jump into the Action Plan; It can be hard to assign success to your website when it’s just one of the variables involved. For instance you might have increased your corporate income, but you won’t know how much of that success is down to your better website content. Maybe you’ve got a bigger corporate fundraising team now, or maybe you just got lucky with a Charity of the Year application. It’s impossible to isolate your website as the variable and keep everything else the same, so how do you attribute the website’s contribution to the overall success?
My advice is to not worry about that too much, which is why the Action Plan talks about your mindset. It’s important that you start looking at your website through a proactive lens rather than a passive one.What's the point of your charity website? Maybe you need an Action Plan: Click To Tweet
So here’s what I’d be looking to do if I were in your shoes:
‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure.’
Without defining and measuring your charity website’s success, it tends to sit passively in the corner, a bit like the office photocopier – you only really pay attention to it when it goes wrong. But you spent good money on it and it’s probably the most powerful marketing tool you have, so give it some TLC and start expecting things from it.
The act of measuring your site – and actively trying and tweaking new content – changes your relationship with your site. You’ll start thinking it more like an employee than a photocopier! You’ll begin to manage it properly and give it objectives that it’s expected to contribute to.
At the start of this article I asked what the point of your charity website is. And I said that most other articles like this tend to assume that the only point is to attract online donations. Well, here’s some potential answers. They won’t all be applicable to all charities, but you should find some in here that are relevant to yours.
Things you can quantitatively measure:
- Donations – These are a bigger deal for some charities and niches than others, and many charities mainly rely on other kinds of income. But they’re still an obvious thing to track and measure. I’d be interested in the total number, the average donation value and especially where the donors were coming from.
- JustGiving/Virgin Money Giving fundraising pages set up and income from them. The more inspirational/compelling and fundraiser-friendly your site it is, you’d expect to see more people becoming supporters.
- Event tickets sold or reserved.
- More challenge event fundraising place (e.g London Marathon) orders/enquiries.
- Sign-ups to your email list. Email is still the strongest digital marketing/fundraising channel. Don’t put all your eggs in the Facebook/Twitter basket because you ultimately have no control over how many people your message will reach on channels you don’t control.
- More website contact enquiries from people who want to help or do something good.
- Fewer website enquiries from people asking questions that they should be able to find answered on your site.
- Visits to one or two of your ‘best’ pages.
- Volunteer enquiries / applications.
- Job applications.
- Number of successful Trust/Foundation funding proposals (There’s a good chance that they’ll be coming to check out your website).
- Number of referrals from other charities or service providers (If you’re a counselling charity, for example).
- Income from corporate fundraising. You can bet that potential and existing corporate partners will be looking around your site!
- Income from Major donors / Philanthropy. Ditto – you can guarantee those people will spend a fair amount of time poring through your site.
Anecdotal things that are hard to measure but are worth keeping a mental note of :
- Positive feedback from target audience – beneficiaries, supporters, public etc
- Compliments from your CEO. Just kidding – your CEO is not your target audience! He/she is a ‘tapper’, your target audience are ‘listeners’.
- Better knowledge and awareness within the sector about what you do.
- Fewer people ringing you up to ask something they could/should have found out on your website (that’s probably where they got your phone number from!).
- Get yourself a Dashboard that tracks some of the metrics you identified in the previous step. The Google Analytics website can be pretty overwhelming but you can pull out custom graphs/tables and display them on a one-page Dashboard so you don’t need to trawl through all the other screens. And there’s a Google tool called Data Studio which is great for making user-friendly Dashboards. I’d go for that as my first choice most of the time.
- If you don’t have any ‘best’ pages then make some. See my ‘10 things I learned from 10 years of fundraising communications‘ article as a useful reference.
- Link to those best pages from within the text / in sidebar / at bottom of pages. Not just in your main navigation menu. You want to channel people into them once you’ve made the effort to create them.
- Start taking your SEO seriously. This is a whole other kettle of fish, but a really important one. I’ll look at charity SEO in more detail in a forthcoming blog post.
Get started with your Dashboard:
In a forthcoming blog post I’ll share some concrete examples of implementing this mindset, and what I learned from running a web-design business website and a successful small charity one…