November 27, 2017

How data can make your website better

As the food bank serving Chicago and Cook County, we have a variety of audiences for our website—all with different interests and needs. Many are looking for pantries and food programs in their neighborhoods, or they’re social workers seeking food assistance for their clients. Others are interested in donating, volunteering, or starting a food drive. Still others want to know about our programs, our staff, and the scope of the need for food assistance in our area.

When we launched a new website last year, we knew that we could improve both the structure and the content of our site to better serve the needs of these many audiences. By continually monitoring our site’s analytics, we’ve been able to increase engagement and reduce bounce rates on our landing pages. We’ve added content that demonstrates our daily impact and made it easier to locate some of the most frequent pages that people visit on the site.

In response to a topic on the NTEN community forums, we completed a Venn diagram of our site’s contents:

A Venn diagram: In the left circle under What We Want people to find is donation form, additional donation options, stories of impact/blog, program information, email signup. In the right circle, under What People Are Looking For is job opportunities, annual report donor lists, mission statement, event registration. In the overlap of the circles is agency locations, volunteer signup, staff bios
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In this post, I’ll explore how we drew attention to the content we want our audience to find on the site, identified and surfaced the content they’re looking for, and how we use analytics to continue improving.

Placing emphasis with color, placement, and call-to-action copy

When we developed our site, we knew that people looking for food pantries and programs were one of our key audiences. Google Analytics indicated that our map of food pantries and programs is consistently one of the most-visited pages on our site. We made the “Find Food” link a prominent component of our top-level navigation. Since usability research indicates that people usually read web pages in an F-shaped pattern, scanning across the top of the page before scrolling down, we positioned the button in the top right. We also drew additional emphasis to it by making it the only element in bright orange in the top navigation.

Here’s the navigation in our redesigned site:

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Compared to our old site:

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The decision to narrow down the items in our navigation was also based on Google Analytics results. By reviewing the Navigation Summary for our homepage, we observed that some of the links drew very little traffic. We moved these items further down the homepage and into the subnavigation on the new site. They’re still present and discoverable, but they now have more context on the page.

Helping people find what they’re looking for

To make sure we’re providing our audiences with what they’re looking for, we have to know what they want to find. We have a few different methods to identify these needs. By reviewing the Search Console section of our Google Analytics, we’ve learned that most of the search terms people use to arrive at our site are either general queries (like “Chicago food bank”) or searches for food pantries and programs in specific neighborhoods. This information informed our decision to make the Find Food link prominent in the navigation and to call it out on interior pages of the site: for instance, the page about our food pantries and mobile programs has a call-out asking “Are you looking for food near you?”

Since around 40% of all traffic to our website comes from search engine result pages, we also took search engine optimization into account when developing our site content. By writing clear, readable, and organized pages and including informative meta descriptions of each page, we ensure that search engines can successfully index our site. As a result, we’ve seen an increase in traffic from search engine result pages compared to the previous version of the site.

In developing our new website, we incorporated a site search feature. By auditing the terms that are entered into the site search on a regular basis using the Google Analytics Site Search report, we’re able to assess whether we should feature certain content more prominently. For example, an increase in searches for a specific event might prompt us to feature that event on the homepage.

Data-driven decisions for continuous improvement

Regular data analysis helps us continuously improve our site to meet our audiences’ needs and achieve our digital communications goals. Each week, we review key statistics about our site’s performance, such as the top landing pages, top referrers, and the amount of traffic we’ve received. This helps us anticipate when we might see higher than usual traffic on our site.

In addition to Google Analytics, a heatmapping tool like Hotjar can be helpful in tracking how people interact with our pages, and how behavior differs between mobile and desktop users. Heatmaps and scroll/click tracking provide an extra layer of information about the content on our site. We can see how far the average user scrolls before clicking to another page, and which buttons and links drive the most clicks. This has helped us reorganize content to ensure that people see what they’re looking for right away. It also helps us test variations in button color, call-to-action text, and different images to see what resonates best with our site’s visitors.

Like many organizations, we’ve seen a steady increase in mobile traffic to our website. Designing a fully responsive site was a high priority for us. We use tools like the Pingdom Website Speed Test and the Page Speed Report in Google Analytics to identify areas where we can improve our site’s performance, especially for users who may have slower internet connections.

Our website is an integral aspect of communicating our mission. By prioritizing our most valuable content and improving our users’ experience on the site, we ensure that we’re reaching the people who want to be part of the work to end hunger in our community.

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Erin Watson