This guide is aimed at charities, non profits and social enterprises and will take you through a series of steps to create a Google Analytics measurement plan. It will also give you links to more information and learning where appropriate.
We’ve invested a lot of time going through this process ourselves so we know the challenges and how to overcome them.
Warning, this guide is long and implementing this advice will take time and dedication. You'll probably want to bookmark it for reference and sign up to our newsletter for updates.
Creating a measurement plan
- An overview of measuring impact
- Start with your charitable objectives
- Align your online strategies and tactics
- Select key performance indicators
- Segment your data correctly
- Set appropriate targets
Implementing your measurement plan
- Document technical infrastructure
- Create implementation plan
- Implement analytics configuration
- Test, feedback and refine your plan
We've created a free template that you can fill in as you read this to create your own Google Analytics measurement plan. This will help you make the most of the guide by putting it into action straight away.
1. An overview of measuring impact
In order to review the effectiveness of your charity website you need to have clear goals and key performance indicators (KPIs). For example, increasing donations is a suitable goal and measuring the traffic and drop off rate for the donate page are therefore good KPIs.
The data available is vast and without a measurement plan it can be overwhelming. It’s easy to get distracted by statistics that are not relevant to your goals.
Successful impact measurement should continually repeat the 5 stages shown in the diagram below. The better you get at running this process the faster your feedback will be and the quicker you can make effective changes.
Creating a measurement plan is stage one of this cycle and the topic of the next five chapters. We will show you how to create your measurement plan using real world examples. This diagram summarises the five steps of the planning phase.
2. Start with your charitable objectives
The whole point of measuring your website is to determine how to make it work best for your organisation. Start with your charitable objectives and ask how your website can help you to achieve them, either directly or indirectly.
In this guide we will use our client MLDI as an example. Their mission is as follows:
To provide legal help for journalists working in challenging and dangerous environments across the world.
3. Align your online strategies and tactics
Unfortunately, you can’t just tell people your objective and have them perform a desired action. You need to be smart and find just the right strategies and tactics to achieve a response.
Think about which strategies best align with your charitable objectives. Most charity websites have a variation on one or more of the following goals:
- Raise money
- Collect potential leads/enquiries
- Encourage engagement or visitation
- Acquire new members
- Help visitors find information
- Raise brand profile and loyalty
You may feel that all of these strategies apply to some degree but it is important to prioritise carefully here in order to make sure you are not overwhelmed by data further on.
Let’s say the priority strategies to meet our overall objective are the following:
- Raise money from individual donations
- Receive help requests from journalists in the field
- Attract more volunteer legal consultants
In order for these strategies to work you will need to employ the right tactics on your website. These might be as follows:
- Provide clear links to the donate page
- Express the impact a donation will have
- Provide a simple and intuitive payment process
- Provide a contact form for prospective legal advisors
- Provide a help contact form for journalists in the field
- Offer a monthly newsletter subscription to gather email addresses
Here’s how the measurement plan looks arranged as a grid, only half filled in so far.
4. Select key performance indicators
Your key performance indicators (KPIs) are the measurements of your charity's strategies and tactics. These are the numbers you will review through Google Analytics regularly to measure your success. This is where your plan will enable you to focus in on the statistics that really matter without getting distracted by other data.
Take a look at this blog post about KPIs for a broader perspective on what to measure.
To assess the performance of our strategies and tactics in this example, among others, we would measure the following KPIs:
- Monthly donation page views (a measure of interest in donating)
- Monthly donation form submissions (a measure of follow-through)
- Average amount donated (compared with predefined fields or ‘other’ option)
- Monthly help form page views and submissions
- Monthly advisor form page views and submissions
- Monthly newsletter subscriptions
Here’s our grid again, getting there.
5. Segment your data correctly
The next part of the plan is to segment the data collected into meaningful streams. This enables you to make assessments of which streams are working for you and which are not, and can inform future marketing strategies to either improve weak streams or capitalise on strong ones.
Typical segmentation methods include the following:
- Device used (mobile, tablet, desktop)
- Location (country, region, city)
- Source (referral, search, social media, advert etc.)
- Demographics (age, gender)
Useful segmentation for the above KPIs could include:
- Country of origin of help page views and submissions (to help determine awareness of your organisation in different countries among journalists needing help)
- Device used to make successful donations (to determine if the mobile platform is successful at receiving interest in and action towards donations)
- Source of advisor form submissions (to determine which sources yield the most interest in offering pro bono legal advice)
Our grid is almost complete now.
6. Set appropriate targets
Targets should always be S.M.A.R.T (there are lots of variations on this, look them up here).
- Results focussed
To begin with, targets will of course be a little arbitrary as you may not a have anything to compare them to. The entire feedback loop of measuring impact will help you refine these over time.
Here are a few good S.M.A.R.T targets you could set in our example case that follow on from our KPI’s and segmentation.
- Receive 200 help form submissions from 20 different countries per month
- Receive 100 donate form submission on desktop and 20 on mobile per month
- Receive 3 advisor form submissions whose source was social media per month
That’s your measurement plan done.
If you would like to know more about the foundations of Google Analytics and more about how to measure your impact, check out Google Analytics Academy. They have great resources to help you get started. Here is the video tutorial for creating a measurement plan.
Plan for continual improvement
You’ve invested time and money in your website and the launch date is not the end!
Continuous improvement will help you capitalise on your investment. Don’t be afraid to change things and see how your audience responds - access to measuring technology allows us to see how even the smallest changes make a difference.
7. Document technical infrastructure
With a measurement plan created, goals set and KPI’s established you next need to understand what’s already in place. You may have a legacy to unpick, multiple websites or missing code.
Below is a list of things to check. If you are a small or new organisation or don’t already have a Google Analytics account, this step will be very straightforward. Consider this a quick introduction to the system.
The three main categories of things to check are shown in your Google Analytics Admin area; Account, Property and View.
Check your Account
The most important thing to check regarding permissions is that you own your Analytics account. There is no way to transfer data from one account to another. Under Account > User Management check that:
- you have full administrative and user management permissions,
- no one has permissions that you haven’t authorised and
- someone else in your organisation has access in case you are indisposed.
It’s best to reserve administrative permissions for the few people who have been involved in this process.
Check your property
Each property has a unique Tracking ID and you can have multiple properties connected to your account.
We recommend having one property and therefore one Tracking ID for each of your websites. Your Tracking ID is shown under Property > Property Settings. and looks like this: UA-12312412-5.
Your Tracking ID should be on every website page. The easiest way to ensure this is to have your web developer include it in the header.
Read more about how to add tracking code from Google here: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1008080?hl=en
At this point you may need to make a decision about whether to use Google Tag Manager. If you’re fairly new to Google Analytics we would recommend passing on Tag Manager.
If you’re experienced, it can be a good way to manage event tracking without having to modify any code on your website.
Check your Views for filters
A View processes and aggregates data for any given Property based on various settings and filters. You can create multiple Views for each Property.
Data that is recorded will be sent to all the Views that you create based on any preprocessing criteria that you set up.
Some view settings manipulate your data before it hits your dashboard and cannot be changed retrospectively. For this reason, it is good practise to make sure you have an unfiltered View where ALL data is recorded. No filters, no Goals, just untouched data, all the time.
The second View you’ll want is a filtered View. This should be set up to create a more useful data set.
We recommend a lowercase filter so that visits to /PageName.php and /pagename.php are recorded as the same.
We also recommend trying to filter out your own activity so that your administration of the website doesn’t get recorded as visits. You may be able to do this by asking your internet service provider to set a static IP address for you.
Check your Views for goals
Setting Goals is the best way to measure whether your website is proving effective.
You have a limited set of 20 Goals per View in Analytics so use them wisely. If you need to configure more Goals you can create an additional View for the same property and create a fresh set of Goals. You cannot delete Goals but you can disable them or reuse the Goal ID for a new purpose.
Unless you know you are already using Goals to good effect, now is probably a good time to disable them all, organise them into sets and redefine them based on your new measurement plan.
Check your website
Last but not least it’s important to check your website.
A sensible sitemap and content structure will make a big difference to the ease with which you can interrogate your data. Look for problems and get ready to plan actions in the following categories.
- Name pages sensibly so they make sense out of context when you’re reviewing your analytics data.
- Bring orphaned pages within the sitemap so you can easily drill down to them in Google Analytics.
- Where possible, ensure form submissions lead to confirmation pages that can be tracked.
- If you can, make sure that the URL path of key content types matches your site map. For example, it’s helpful if ‘Blog Post Name’ is found at /blog/blogpostname/php no just /blogpostname.php
8. Create implementation plan
Creating an effective measurement plan is all about documentation. Planning prevents mistakes and creates a useful summary for future reference. Various people will likely be involved in the implementation so it’s useful to establish exactly who needs to do what.
Various actions will have been created by the step above. List out all the actions that need to be carried out.
- Check your account: do permissions need changing?
- Check your property: does the tracking code need changing?
- Check your views: do you need to create Goals or filters?
- Check your website: do you need to restructure your content at all and who can do this?
Let’s pick up where we left off with our example plan to show how to create the right sort of Goals. Here is a recap of our example measurement plan.
All of the KPIs in this Measurement Plan, with the exception of ‘Monthly newsletter open rate’ can be measured using Google Analytics Goals.
How Goals work
There are four simple Goal types to choose from:
- Destination (eg. thank_you.html)
- Duration (eg. 5 minutes or more)
- Pages/screen per session (eg. 3 pages)
- Event (eg. played a video)
Duration and pages/screens per session are very simple and self explanatory. There is only so much data you can get from such Goals so their use is limited.
Creating goals based on destinations
This is the easiest way to set Goals as it doesn’t require you to add any special code to your website. Based on our measurement plan we will set the following Goals.
Set Goal values
Assigning monetary values is a good way to aggregate your Goal data and measure success month by month. For this to yield meaningful data you will need to choose appropriate values and not change them very often or at all.
Where possible, it’s good to try and align the Goal value with the real-world revenue that it will generate. This is of course very hard to quantify, especially for charities whose targets are not often very measurable.
You can change the currency used in your Google Analytics account in the admin area under View settings.
Here are some appropriately weighted values for our example Goals. Remember, for our example Measurement Plan we’re looking for:
- legal advisors to give their time and
- journalists around the world who need our help.
9. Implement analytics configuration
Now you simply have to do it all. Follow all the actions you’ve set out in your plan. Once everything is in place and working well, here are a few extra things you can do to help understand your data.
Our example measurement plan sets the following four segmentation objectives.
- Which devices (mobile/desktop) are people using to donate?
- Which countries are people in when they view the ‘Get Help’ page?
- What is the lead medium and source (Google, Twitter etc.) of people looking to become an advisor?
- From which pages do people most frequently sign up to our mailing list?
This means we need to segment pageviews by the dimensions shown in bold. You can do this just by drilling down into the content in the reporting interface but it is useful to save a view of this data so you can easily refer back to it. There are two useful ways to do this.
Segmenting with dashboards
A dashboard is a great way to save almost any data snippet for easy reference.
Objective 1 above can be done this way.
- Drilldown to /donation-confirmation and add the dimension Device category.
- Hit Add to dashboard in the quick action bar at the top of the page.
- Rename the dashboard widget and check the settings.
Then you’ll end up with this.
Segmenting with Custom Reports
Sometimes you’ll want a bit more detail or control than a dashboard widget can offer. Here’s where custom reports come in handy. Objective 3 above, determining the lead medium and source, is a good candidate for a custom report.
- Click the customisation tab at the top and create a new report.
- Give it a title and a tab name.
- Choose Page views as the metric and Medium as the main Dimension.
- Add Source as the secondary Dimension.
- Filter the report to Include the Pages that have the exact text /become-an-advisor
10. Test, feedback and refine plan
Test in real time
With your plan implemented and reporting interface customised you need to check that everything is recording properly. You can do this using the Real TIme feature in Analytics. Compare data between your unfiltered view and your filtered view side by side in two separate browser windows.
We recommend you check the following.
- Is the Tracking ID recording? Can you generate data at all in Analytics?
- Is the filtered view filtering properly? Eg lowercase and IP address filters.
- Are your form submissions triggering on the right confirmations pages?
- Do these page views trigger goal completions?
- Are device categories being logged?
3 months later
There is nothing to gain from sitting and watching the real time view for days on end. Check in each month for a quick update but wait at least 3 before drawing any conclusions or making any changes.
Every time you make a change to your website structure get into the habit of adding an annotation to Google Analytics. This is a simple comment on your timeline referencing the change that was made. This makes it so much easier to interpret data in the future.
If there’s a spike in traffic due to your IP address changing and office activity being inadvertently recorded - annotate it. It you run a twitter campaign and get lots more traffic, note it for future reference.
If your overall goal conversion value suddenly increases because you’ve added a new Goal - annotate it.
The annotations panel is hard to find, it’s hidden under a little arrow beneath the main timeline on any reporting page.
Keep your Documentation up to date
If you make changes to your overall objectives based on your testing and analysis, roll these changes back to your measurement plan.
If you implement any changes to your website or overall analytics configuration document them in your implementation plan.
Take 5. If you’ve got this far you deserve a break.
If you’re keen to truly understand Google Analytics read more at the Analytics Academy and complete their self assessment exercises. And if you want to help drive more traffic to your website use our guide on Mastering SEO for charities.