Whether your church’s website is relatively new or you’ve had it for years, you may wonder if your website effectively reaches people, especially with emerging interactive technology like social media and texting. We’ve come a long way from the late 1990s and early 2000s when website counters at the bottom of the page displayed the number of site visitors.
Maybe you want to track more than the number of page hits, or maybe you’re tired of partying like it’s 1999. If so, Google Analytics™ is a free tool to help you measure just how effective your website really is.
What is Google Analytics?
Google Analytics provides website usage data that you can use to bring and monitor traffic to your church’s website. Using Google Analytics, you can produce standard reports that tell how many individuals visited your site, the length of time visitors stayed on the site, a visitor’s city, how many visitors are new or returning, the browsers and operating systems used to access your site, and where your traffic comes from. You can also see which pages on your website receive the most views, return views, and unique page views.
If you’re even more of a numbers nerd, you can create custom reports in Google Analytics to track dimensions and metrics. For example, you could create a custom report to see how long new visitors stayed on your website compared to returning visitors. You can also view in-page analytics that display a visual representation of how people interacted with your website, such as which links individuals clicked and the average amount of time spent on the page.
What do I do with that information?
Once you know how to interpret it, the information you gather from Google Analytics can help you make your website more effective, because you can analyze how people get to your site, what brings them to your site, and what keeps them coming back.
First, Google Analytics lets you see how people access your website. You can view which browsers and operating systems your visitors use. If most visitors use Internet Explorer®, which comes standard on most computers, your site should be very easy to navigate straight “out-of-the-box”. However, if a significant percentage of your visitors use newer browsers such as Firefox® or Chrome, they may be more tech savvy. Knowing which browsers your visitors use also lets you make sure your site is compatible with them.
Along with browser compatibility, don’t forget about devices such as smartphones, tablets, and iPads®. You can see how many views your website receives from mobile devices, and if a large number of visitors use mobile devices, you could even consider building a mobile site.
Second, you can see what brings traffic to your site. You can see which search keywords visitors use to find your website, and analyzing what draws people in lets you work backwards and create content that visitors enjoy. You can also see which language visitors view your site in, which could be helpful if you serve a large Hispanic population or want to consider translation for your site.
Finally, you can see what keeps people interested and if they’re coming back to your site. With in-page analytics, you can see the percentage of visitors that click links, which lets you determine whether visitors are finding the information they need or if you should tweak your design so they can. You can also see how many pages visitors view when they visit. If you find that most visitors view only one or two pages before leaving, you could think about reorganizing your site to keep them lingering for more.
In addition, Google Analytics displays the bounce (percentage of people who leave your site from the page they enter) and exit (percentage of people who leave a page without clicking a link) rates. These rates let you know which pages you should devote more time to developing or see which website design elements may turn people away. Sometimes seeing how many people leave a site is tough, but bounce and exit rates let you decide which resources are worth your time and which may not be. For example, if you spend hours building a sermon library or uploading long videos, but find that few people view them, you may want to reconsider expanding another area of your site instead.
While Google Analytics isn’t intended as a tool for ministry or organizational decisions, tracking and understanding visitors to your site can help you address issues with usability, content, and features. With analytics, you have the tools to create a well-designed website that draws repeat visitors to your website and to your congregation as well.
Amy Scott-Lundy is a technical writer for ACS People and Financial Suites and also assists with editing and support documentation. When she’s not busy with “manual” labor, she relieves stress by coaching track, painting, yoga, traveling, and exploring her new town of Charleston, SC, by running various road races.