Measure Your Site: Analytics and Beyond

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.

Google Analytics

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 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:

<script type=”text/javascript”>
var _gaq = _gaq || [];
_gaq.push([‘_setAccount’, ‘UA-XXXXXXXX-X’]);
(function() {
var ga = document.createElement(‘script’); ga.type = ‘text/javascript’; ga.async = true;
ga.src = (‘https:’ == document.location.protocol ? ‘https://ssl’ : ‘http://www’) + ‘’;
var s = document.getElementsByTagName(‘script’)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s);

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.

Quick Wins with Google Analytics

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:

  1. Visitors / Overview. This will give you a good idea of how many people come to your site — plus trends on when they come and don’t. For example, on snowy Sundays visits to our website tend to double or triple — data I can later report to the Board and staff; it also lets me know we need to incorporate space for an emergency banner into the redesign.
  2. Visitors / Browser Capabilities / Browsers and OS. This quickly tells you what people are using to see your site. It’s here I learned that over 9% of visitors to my congregation’s site are using smart phones. I also learned that Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) is used less than 1%. Not having to worry about IE6 is going to made design much easier in the coming months. IE6 renders sites differently than other browsers and is a pain for web designers to accommodate.
  3. Traffic Sources / Referring Sites. What sites aside from search engines are sending people to your site? Facebook is high up on our list — something our Board needed to know, given how little we use Facebook.
  4. Content / Overview. This tells you two things: first how many page views are made and second the overall “bounce rate.” Bounce rate measures visitors that look at one page and then leave your site without going to another page. This isn’t always a bad thing. In fact a bounce rate of 50% is usually not a problem.
  5. Content / Top Content. This lists your most popular pages. On our site, #1 is the home page (no surprise), #2 the visitor page (hooray — great news!) and #3 for now is construction (a surprise, but it makes sense since our sanctuary and social area are being renovated). One other easy win: in the table on this page click on the “Pageviews” column header. It will reverse the order and you can see pages with very little traffic. Now you know what’s hot and what’s not.

Alternatives to Google Analytics

Analytics software comes in two basic types. The first, including Google Analytics, is JavaScript-based. You put a snippet of JavaScript code in your site and then visit the mothership to read the results. The big advantage of this method is that it’s relatively easy, both to set up and use. The disadvantages are it’s third party (out of your control), users have to have JavaScript turned on, and it doesn’t measure files that don’t have the snippet of code (including PDFs). Clicky Web Analytics is an increasingly popular alternative that falls in this category.

The second type is server-based software that analyzes what are called “log files.” Server log files keep track of every single transaction. Thus advantages include the ability to track all media types (including PDFs) and users don’t have to have JavaScript on. Most of all, it’s in your control. If you make a mistake all is not lost forever. On the other hand, it can be difficult to install and the free ones don’t render your data in a way that’s as obviously meaningful as their JavaScript cousins. The most popular free log analyzers are AWStats and Analog. If your host comes with either pre-installed, by all means, use it.

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.

Beyond Analytics

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.

Further Resources

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.