September 28, 2011 | Anna Belle Leiserson
Do you want to know what’s really happening on your congregation’s website — basing it on hard data instead of your best guess? Or would you like a few compelling graphics about your site to show leadership?
It’s surprisingly easy to do this with a new breed of software tailored to websites, loosely named “analytics.”
Analytics actually is more than just software. It’s a process — a process of matching core goals with objective numbers. In other words half the equation is the number-crunching software; the other half is people culling the most meaningful trends out of these numbers.
It’s a beautiful thing. Analytics move you and your site past opinions, past committee-think, past politics, and even at times past individual design sensibilities. You can tell which pages are most attractive to users, which least, the technologies used, sites users came from, how long they stay on your site, the most popular search terms, and a ton of other helpful information.
The sooner you can use analytics in your redesign the better.
The leader of the analytics software pack is Google Analytics. It’s free, relatively easy to install, gives you a wealth of data, and automatically gives you handsome, dying-to-be-shared graphs of what’s happening on your site. The information it generates is always helpful, but never more than in the early stages of a redesign.
If you’re already using analytics for your site, now is the time to review the data. If you’re not yet using analytics and have a site, now is the time to start. Within a month, you’ll be getting invaluable insights from this data.
To install Google Analytics, go to their site at google.com/analytics/ and set up a Google account if you don’t already have one. (This is the same account used for Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google+. If you have any of those, you’ve already got one.) Just sign in and follow the instructions.
Usually the most challenging part is adding the code. The code looks like this, where UA-XXXXXXXX-X is your account number:
Most people do this one of two ways. Either you have your webmaster add it to the site or else your content management system has a way to add the account number and takes care of the code for you. If you’re using WordPress, it’s easy to add with a plug-in like Google Analytics for WordPress.
The second challenge with Google Analytics is learning to swim in the sea of numbers. Much of the data isn’t that useful, so where do you find the good stuff?
Going through the menu on the left, the following are my top picks:
In fact, you can use as many types of analytics on the same site as you wish. At work I use AWStats in addition to Google Analytics. But for my church I just use Google Analytics — and it’s plenty.
There are a two other applications closely related to analytics that you might want to consider for your site — both from Google. Google, it seems, rules the analytics roost.
Google Webmaster Tools helps you with your site’s placement on Google. It tells you the most popular search terms used for your site, records pages that aren’t found and a number of other helpful, if rather geeky, things.
Feedburner is analytics for blogs and other sites that syndicate content with RSS feeds. One of the neatest things about Feedburner is it lets you email your syndicated content to those who are interested. That’s what I use at the top of the sidebar of this very site.
For those interested in learning more about analytics, my favorite resources are:
Next week we’ll start the formal kickoff of redesign — rolling it up to leadership with needs assessments. Until then, have fun digging through web data.