Why Do You Have a Website? (Episode III: Return of the Jedi)

One of the big things that Whole Whale does is help nonprofits and social-impact organizations build websites that drive long-term impact. In this 3-part series, we break down the essential question: “Why do you need a website?” The third episode in this series digs deeper into the discussions that we began in Part I and Part II, and leaves you armed with the information you need to make your website work for you.  

Picking up from where we left off in Part II of Why You Need a Website, we’ll continue to provide specific questions that your team can use to better harness the power of your web traffic. Asking these questions and applying your data to answer them gives you actionable insights into your own performance, and will allow you to best understand the overall purpose of your organization’s website.

(PS, yes we also know that Return of the Jedi is Episode VI, not Episode III… but let’s pretend those prequels never happened.)

How is organic traffic doing year over year?

When assessing organic traffic, looking at the time frame allows us to analyze data over time. In the top right corner of every single interface in Google Analytics, you’ll be able to not only choose an exact time range, but also compare the chosen time to another time in past site history. This is the characteristic of the time frame that allows us to compare apples to apples instead of looking at this month versus last month.

The comparison of consecutive months is affected by seasonality, so it offers less useful data. For instance, December (which is full of holidays and therefore less time spent online) might consistently drive less traffic to your site than the following month. We could compare these two months to assess the differences, but it’s more helpful for us to compare the data from one month of this year to data from the same month of last year.

power poetry growth
Let’s make this practical: Using Power Poetry’s organic traffic data, we can compare traffic from November of 2016 to November of 2015. Here, we can see that the total aggregated organic traffic is very high. However, the year-over-year comparison shows that this traffic isn’t growing. This is unfortunate news, since organic traffic should be growing by at least 5% year over year.

If you are not seeing the desired year-over-year growth in organic traffic, there are a number of actions you can take, including performing an SEO audit, pushing your content team more, or hiring a firm that does this type of work for you (a firm like Whole Whale!) You can also set up Google Search Console to make sure that you understand the key terms coming into your website and can see how people search for them. This will give you insights into traffic patterns and bring your attention to what is working, so that you can do more of it. (You can also learn more about writing for the web to attract humans in our course module in Whole Whale University!)

The big picture takeaway from this example is that by asking the question, “Why do we have a website?” and defining their KPIs, Power Poetry has gone from zero to 350,000 teen poets on their platform since 2012. This small organization has been able to make a tremendous impact on a shoestring budget by focusing on the metrics that make the boat go faster.

Are we reaching decision makers?

To answer this question we are going to look at data from the National Aphasia Association, which seeks to foster the understanding of aphasia as the inability to express oneself due to the onset of stroke or something similar, rather than looking at aphasia as a mental disorder.

In this example, the organization cares about how people and educational institutions across the country are accessing their information. So we built a segment that allows the organization to track the .edu traffic on their site. If someone from NYU logs into their network and then goes to the site to learn more about aphasia, we can see it.

It’s also possible to set up a segment that allows us to see which educational institutions are looking at which content. In this situation, we can view the performance of the pages visited by users from specific schools. It’s a very powerful tool to be able to see what your decision makers are doing: By focusing on general traffic and reaching decisions makers, we have been able to direct 4x the traffic to the National Aphasia Association’s website, which greatly increases their impact.

Your most relevant decision makers might not be schools: Maybe they’re government departments, or the press, or particularly wealthy users, or any number of other target demographics. You have the ability to create a segment that tracks the behavior of each of these decisions makers.

SO, why do we have a website?

Ultimately, the reason that you have a website depends on what you’re tracking and how you’re getting there. Regardless of your specific metrics, in order to understand and effectively use your website, it’s crucial to promote the distribution and comprehension of data.

Organizations can’t survive with a single gatekeeper; there is too much information out there and this leads to an unhealthy data analysis process. Practically speaking, it’s important that all the people within an organization that need data have access to it, at least to the extent that they can do their jobs, create better content, and build feedback loops for themselves. Immediate feedback loops are critical because they influence behavior.

Think of a speedometer:If I press the gas pedal, I can see that I go faster, and if I press the brakes I can see that I go slower. That’s what the data from your website has the power to do.

We also have to remember that numbers are people too, and that there are multiple ways of saying the same thing with numbers. For example, in the case of tracking newsletter signups, we might report that 315 signups have occurred at a rate of 10.5 signups per day. The way you communicate these data matters:If you really dial into it, you can also say that the 315 recent newsletter signups should lead to 31 new donors in the next 6 months. That’s a better KPI, and that’s a statement that someone in the donations or development department wants to hear. Give data context: Reiterate that these data are not just newsletters, they are people that care about the organization, and these people are more likely to donate now that they’ve joined the email list.

In order to both understand and explain why you have a website, look at your data, identify the right data, and know what it says. When you’re discussing the reasons for having a site, bring data into the conversation and share the numbers. Some numbers may still need to be defined or improved, but understanding what these data say will help your organization decide for itself why it has a website and make a greater impact.
This is the third (and final) in a 3-part series on why you need a website. Watch Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. Also, check out the accompanying resources that help you apply George’s advice to your own site. Finally, subscribe to Whole Whale TV below to have more great content delivered straight to your inbox!