Defining Website Success Before You Start Building

People get excited about websites. It’s common at the outset of a website project for folks to want to rush right into discussing design and functionality.

But before diving headfirst into the look and feel of your new site, you need to spend a bit of time thinking about measuring “success.” Specifically, how will you know if your new website is actually helping your organization do more of that good stuff you do? After all, that’s really the whole point of the website, isn’t it?

Below is a plan to develop such a data-driven mindset. These suggestions are tool agnostic and begin before you start measuring a single thing.

1. It All Starts With Organizational Goals

Before thinking about content, structure or design, you need to give some thought to your goals. Why do you want a new website? What’s the point?

Your answers should be tied to your goals as an organization. I’d guess you’ve already outlined goals for the near future dealing with various aspects of your nonprofit’s operation. Develop website goals to further these organizational goals.

And get concrete. The more tangible outcomes you can identify, the stronger foundation you’ll lay. Are you looking to boost online donations by 20% in the next quarter? Or register 250 new volunteers through your site in the coming year?

Starting with concrete organizational goals will help you avoid measuring website metrics that don’t matter. More search traffic or increased average time on your website don’t matter if they aren’t ultimately helping your nonprofit somehow do more good in the world.

Whatever your desired outcomes, list them out and take them to heart. Sleep with them under your pillow if you’d like. They’ll inform many of the decisions you make about your website.

2. Identify Website Events That Correspond to Website Goals

You’ve got a strong list of concrete website goals. Now it’s time to start thinking about measurement.

Identify the specific website events that will signify your goals have been completed. Maybe it’s landing on your “Thanks for Donating” page after completing the donation process. Or arriving at a confirmation page after signing up to volunteer.

Whatever it is, these events should inform the design and development process of your website. Identifying these events can help you decide what content to create. It can help you figure out how to design individual pages. It can help you figure out what to prioritize site wide as well as on a specific page.

3. Configure Your Website Analytics Tools

Regardless of which tool you decide is right for your website, you’ll need to configure it to measure what it is you want to track.

You’ll want a tool that allows you to set a goal that’s triggered by specific events as discussed above. Doing so will allow you to analyze the behavior of those visitors that ultimately convert, or successfully complete your goals. You can gain insight into what’s working for these visitors, and what you can improve to lead to an increase in conversions.

4. Develop a System for Tracking Success

Once you’ve started collecting data, you’ll need a place to record it. Developing a system for tracking success will help you monitor the impact your website is having on your organization as a whole.

Sure, your analytics tool will likely store much of the relevant data. But it will store irrelevant data as well. And it won’t tie your website goals to the organizational goals you’ve identified as being important to the overall functioning of your nonprofit.

Come up with a data tracking system that will allow you to focus on those metrics that matter most to you. A fairly simple spreadsheet can work wonders. You can gather data from a variety of sources and see the way all your various metrics work together.

For instance, maybe you saw a huge spike in visitors reading your blog last month. How did that spike in traffic correlate to the success of that fundraising event you held? Or maybe you had a particularly strong month of volunteerism. What percentage of those volunteers signed up through the website? And how’d they find out about the opportunity to volunteer in the first place?

Creating a central repository for your nonprofit’s most important data can help you piece together a more complete picture of how your organization is functioning. It can also help you figure out the most pressing questions to ask and develop methods for discovering answers.

Data often leads to as many questions as it does answers. But these deep-rooted questions often yield more fruitful, albeit more complex, answers.

5. Celebrate Successes

At this point, you’ve gone to considerable lengths to define “success” and develop a way to measure and record it. When you achieve your goals, it’s important to celebrate. Celebrate not only the achievement, but why that goal is important. What good will meeting that goal help you to achieve in the world? How does your community ultimately benefit?

On the flipside, failing to meet a goal need not be an earth-shattering event. Instead of making excuses, focus your energies on creating explanations with actionable next steps. What will you do differently next month?

Meeting a goal can be a great rallying point to renew your passion and remind your team why you’re fighting for your cause. It’s also a tangible reason to feel good about the work you’re pouring yourself into each day.

Have you outlined concrete goals to help you determine the “success” of your website? Are they tied to your goals as an organization? Have you found an approach to data and analytics that’s helped you maintain your passion for the work you’re doing? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

David Hartstein
Wired Impact
David Hartstein is a partner at Wired Impact, a web design company that builds websites for nonprofits. He spends most of his time helping nonprofits tell their story in a more compelling way and using data to measure the benefits they can glean from their website. You can catch up with him on Twitter at @davharts.