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Cracking the Code of Nonprofit Website Metrics With Laura Quinn of Laura S. Quinn Consulting

Introduction

So, we have a website. Is it working?

On this episode of Nonprofit Thrive, Ben Freda welcomes Laura Quinn, of Laura S. Quinn Consulting and the Nonprofit Website Insider newsletter, one of the most valuable resources in our sector. Together, we dive into the intricacies of measuring success in nonprofit websites. Laura emphasizes grounding metric selection in fundamental goals, such as credibility and engagement. She explores the relative challenges nonprofits face in defining and measuring website success. Additionally, Laura delves into practical strategies for setting up Google Analytics to track metrics.

Today's Guest
Laura Quinn

Laura Quinn

Laura Quinn is a Consultant and Nonprofit Website Coach at Laura S. Quinn Consulting. She has extensive experience leading website projects, crafting digital strategies, and bridging the gap between technologists and nonprofit staff. Laura has worked with hundreds of organizations, including leading animal welfare and climate change groups, and has managed the full lifecycle of over 20 website projects, from strategy to launch and maintenance.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [3:17] How nonprofits can avoid getting stuck in costly, unnecessary cycles
  • [4:11] The importance of continuous improvement over large-scale overhauls
  • [6:19] How Laura’s background in technology led to nonprofit consulting
  • [10:54] The art of maximizing impact with limited resources
  • [23:07] Why WordPress often serves as the default choice for nonprofits.
  • [27:37] How metrics in nonprofits differ from for-profits
  • [29:09] The importance of starting with fundamental goals for your website
  • [29:45] Why website goals shouldn’t be superficial like “better visual design”; but should focus on impact
  • [30:27] Proxy measures are vital; they indirectly indicate progress towards goals
  • [36:54] Why donations are a straightforward metric if Google Analytics is set up properly
  • [38:22] Where visitors come from to tailor donation strategies

In this episode…

The priorities for developing a website for a nonprofit organization are tangibly different from those of a for-profit company’s website. What approach can a nonprofit take to facilitate informed decision-making and iterative improvements?

According to Laura Quinn, grounding metric selection in the fundamental goals of a website is very important, steering away from superficial aims like visual design improvements. Instead, she advocates for goals that reflect tangible impact, such as increased credibility or engagement. Laura stresses the significance of proxy measures, which indirectly indicate progress toward these goals. For instance, she suggests using bounce rate and time on site as proxies for measuring credibility. Additionally, she offers practical advice on setting up Google Analytics to track metrics like donations effectively.

On this episode of Nonprofit Thrive, Ben Freda welcomes Laura Quinn, of Laura S. Quinn Consulting, to discuss the intricacies of measuring success in nonprofit websites. Laura emphasizes grounding metric selection in fundamental goals, such as credibility and engagement. She explores the relative challenges nonprofits face in defining and measuring website success. Additionally, Laura delves into practical strategies for setting up Google Analytics to track metrics.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by BFC Digital.

At BFC Digital, we help nonprofit organizations thrive on the web so they can improve the world.

Our team of creative and tech experts understands that an online presence can help foundations and organizations accomplish their missions. That’s where we come in. Over the last decade, we’ve advised our clients on web design, front- and back-end development, and tech support.

We’re committed to supporting a select set of clients who continually inspire us with their vision for a better world.

To learn more on how BFC Digital can assist you in realizing your organization’s mission, visit bfcdigital.com, email us at info@bfcdigtal.com, or call 646-450-2236 today!

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:06

Welcome to Nonprofit Thrive podcast where we learn from the humans who are helping nonprofits succeed in the digital world. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Ben Freda 0:21

Welcome. I’m Ben Freda, host of the show, where we share the stories of leaders in the nonprofit tech space — the people behind the organizations, the foundations, the companies that help nonprofits change the world. This is episode number eight. We have had a lot of interesting episodes in the past, including an interview with Eric Brown of Brownbridge Strategies, who is ex of the Hewlett Foundation. We talked some interesting stuff about messaging about communications, and he mentioned how there’s no such thing as the “general public,” which was an interesting thing for me to learn.

We also had another past episode with, for instance, Elise Newman of Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition who talked about this great program they have where they’re getting supporters to each adopt one mile of Oregon coast and walk their mile every quarter and fill out a report about issues related to litter and stranded animals and crowds. It’s really interesting, so check that out if you’re looking for an interesting way to engage some supporters in the environmental space.

We have an excellent guest today that I’m super psyched to bring on somebody I met through her newsletter, actually. Before we get to her, though, I have to let you know that the podcast is brought to you by BFC Digital, where we help nonprofits thrive on the web. If you work at a nonprofit or a foundation or another type of social change organization, I’m sure you know that unless you’re doing a big old project, it can be really hard to find friendly, reputable, reasonably-priced web technology development help for your web presence. At BFC Digital, we help our clients succeed on the web by being your friendly neighborhood web tech partner, we can help you fix your bugs, evolve your web presence, integrate your new donation system to your site at cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And we do the whole thing without ever making you fill out a support ticket … because support tickets are the worst. Go to bfcdigital.com to learn more.

So today, I am super psyched to have Laura S. Quinn on the show. She has helped nonprofits with websites for over 25 years. So,  she’s the exact sort of person I want to talk to. These days, she’s a nonprofit website coach who supports nonprofits staff with weekly or bi-weekly calls as they work on website projects. She also serves as a website strategist. And she has a ton of experience doing this, which is why I’m super psyched to have her on.

And here’s how I learned about her: she has an excellent newsletter. And this is not me plugging it for no reason;  I actually enjoy this newsletter, I read this newsletter, you should too. It’s called Nonprofit Website Insider. It comes out every two weeks. And actually I reached out to her to join the podcast today because I read an awesome article on her in her newsletter. So you must check that out. Thank you for joining the show, Laura.

Laura Quinn 3:26 

I’m so excited to be here. And this is interesting hearing about BFC Digital’s mission, because in fact, the goal of the newsletter is exactly the same: to reach out to those nonprofit people who have a website who aren’t in the middle of a project. I feel they are so often, you know, the industry doesn’t talk to them. It’s all about these giant projects. And obviously, of course, in the nonprofit space, often it’s not about a giant project. It’s about just doing the everyday things to make your website great.

Ben Freda 4:13

It’s frustrating for us too, because we see we see these big projects happen, and then organizations can get stuck for years with something that doesn’t really change. They can’t really change it until there’s another multiple 10s- or 1000s- of thousands dollars project. And it doesn’t really need to be that way. I mean, yeah, it shouldn’t be that way. It shouldn’t.

You can really evolve your presence as you go along. So we’re trying to make that happen more. So yeah, we are on the same page with that.

But so so before we get into that stuff, and I really want to get particularly into the articles you wrote in your newsletter about website metrics, because that’s something that listeners of the show will be interested in. I’m also interested in cracking this nut and figuring this out because metrics for nonprofit sites, of course, can be totally different from metrics for for- profit sites.

And there’s so much information out there about for-profit sites! But for nonprofits it can be a little different. And it’s hard to know what to measure and why and how.

But before we get there, I just wanted to start with, you know, your personal history. So I know you worked out of college at Accenture, which is big consulting firm. How did you get involved in technology first? And then also why nonprofits?

Laura Quinn 5:24

Yeah, I did. I started at Accenture back when it was actually Anderson Consulting, which now has a bit of stink on it, even more so than Accenture. So it was kind of a Hail Mary out of college because I actually — this is a little known fact about me — I actually have a degree in Apparel Management. As one of those things that of course ties into exactly what I did. So I decided coming out of college, after having a few internships, that that was a terrible place to work.

And so I did have an interest in technology, so I went to Accenture doing doing technology stuff there. The internet technology boom of the 2000s came upon us. And I said to the far-off bosses that be at Accenture, I’d really like not travel outside New York City. They had this model where, you know, they fly you off to a place like Toronto for the week.

Ben Freda 6:35 

I remember this. I remember this. This was a big deal in the late 90s, early 2000s. They would send you somewhere for the weekend, and you come back for the weekend or something.

Laura Quinn 6:42 

Yeah. Which is crazy. The carbon footprint of that is like, amazing. So I told them I’d like to stay in New York City, and I’d like to work on internet sites. And they’re like, you can’t have both those things. And I said: I can. And so I left, and I actually worked for another company. And the actual premise of that company sounds like a joke: I worked for a consulting company that specialized in startup Internet businesses in the 2000s.

It was a fabulous company with super smart people, at a time when a lot of these consulting internet companies were very fly-by-night. So I learned a lot there for the, you know, two-and-a-half years before the entire internet sector went boom. I was one of like the four last people there. A whole story, like a whole episode in and of itself right there.

Ben Freda 7:44

For sure. So this is like 1999-2000, right? Because that’s when I graduated college: in 2000. And I was in Silicon Valley and stuff, and I remember watching all of this implode as I was a senior, thinking: what is everybody gonna do now?

Laura Quinn 7:59

Totally. For a while living in New York City. it felt like everybody I knew that was in that sector was out of a job. My partner worked in data analytics, and he was out job for like, like three weeks and then got hired again. I worked in UX and user research and was a little less employable. In fact, it almost leads to my nonprofit story because I for a long time for a job and having trickiness finding a job, so about six months later, I settled very much on a job that was UX and business analysis, which wasn’t my background. It was what I could do. But it was with a consulting firm that worked primarily with large businesses including primarily Pfizer, and I was pretty unhappy about working primarily with Pfizer.

So I actually worked there for some time, but as a sideline, I started a company that worked with nonprofits called Alder Consulting. We were working with a small- to medium-sized nonprofits to do clever technology solutions, like websites on a shoestring, for content management systems like Drupal or WordPress. I worked with a independent guy — who’s now at Capellic, his name is Steven Musgrave — and he had his own content management system. We didn’t integrate an entire system, but we would have a bunch of static pages, and then we would have a CMS underneath it for the things that needed it, like an event management system or things like that. And we worked with a fabulous independent graphic designer.

And so it’s interesting now to come back around to the coaching work that I’m doing. And I did that for 4, 5, 6, 7 years. So quite some time — and not all of it full time — but I got all of this experience working with small nonprofits, asking “what can we squeeze out of this budget in a responsible way?” Like, not “let’s build something crappy with this budget” but “what can we build that’s great and sustainable, that is designed to be low budget” is one of the things that I’m passionate about, that is really exciting to me. That was also really interesting.

Ben Freda 11:19

So how did you do this? How did you know what to … I mean, obviously, with a small budget, and everybody can probably relate to this, you’re making some trade-offs, right? Like, you’re not gonna get everything.  This is like 2000, early 2000s, I would imagine —  how did you decide what to leave off the table in those tiny engagements?

Laura Quinn 11:39

It would feel a little … Well, I don’t know, I was going to say it would feel a little different now, but I don’t know that it would.

It was primarily a feature set that we were leaving off the table. So relatively inexpensive, we were simply making pages and text. We felt that graphic design was important, and we also, in that circumstance, didn’t really have to think about it because I worked with a fabulous graphic designer who didn’t charge any more for a great graphic design.

So one of the things that we didn’t do, which was certainly one of the ways to save on graphic design, is that we did not do a million iterations of graphic design. So there was the understanding that it’s going to be one version of the thing. You’re not going to see five possible directions for your homepage, you know — you’re going to see one version and do some tweaks. We were lucky in that it was also cheaper, because — and this is something I  talk people through as a coach — we were a bunch of independent consultants, tied together by me as a project manager. We were lucky that we never got into a bad situation where either one of the one of the partners I was working with decided that they hated all of us, or one of the clients decided they hated us, because it wasn’t a very protective structure

Actually, as a nonprofit, if you have project management skills internally, hiring three or four independent consultants, or hiring a graphic designer and hiring a functional designer, and then hiring a website development firm to do some other things, can actually be notably cheaper. You do take on more risk, as you know, if they don’t talk to each other or do things right.

Ben Freda 14:07

That’s really interesting. And I don’t know if I’ve had that experience where I’ve seen a nonprofit do that, but I could absolutely see how that could work. I mean, when we do big projects, we’re doing it all. However, we’re more expensive than doing it internally. I mean, we just are, because we’re an agency.

So you’re saying you could have, let’s say, the communications person or whoever in the communications department be like, “I know enough about websites to be able to project manage this,” and go out and hire a designer, do the iterations with the designer, and then go out and hire someone to code that design out.

Laura Quinn 14:41 

I would add on to that mix that I think it’s important, unless that communications person internally in your organization just knows a ton about website, I think it’s important to have a strategist or a functional designer to define what the site is, what the sitemap is, to do the wireframes to do the structure of the page.

And then yes, the graphic designer takes the structure of the page to build them out.

But then yes, absolutely, there are a fair amount of firms that only do the back end. And in fact, if you go to them to do the whole site, the firm will, in fact, contract out the graphic design themselves.

Ben Freda 15:28

Oh, interesting. Yeah, sure. Some firms will do that. Yeah, no doubt. That’s an interesting approach. And I would suggest people try that too. I mean, I think the difficulty would be, at least for our clients, not knowing how these things typically go, you know. Not being able to expect to set expectations for how they go.

And then number two is, you do need somebody who’s watching the designs, because the choices made in the design and strategy phase can really affect the the amount of effort and cost the build will take. Plus, like, future concerns, like: how are you going to keep this maintained?

But but if you could bring someone in to do that, or if you knew to do that yourself, you could absolutely, I think, put those pieces together. That’s interesting.

Laura Quinn 16:14

I 100% agree with all of those risks. that I think that it is something that you should approach with a lot of caution, knowing that either you’re incurring risk that things are going to go awry and you’re gonna have to start over, or that it is going to take a fair amount of time internally to manage it. It’s not just that everybody is, you know, silly for not having done this strategy.

Ben Freda 16:47

It’s tough.

Laura Quinn 16:49 

Yeah, it’s tough. I do think not to plug myself too much, but I think that what I’m doing now as a website “coach and guide,” which is officially when I call myself, is the idea of making stuff like that a little more accessible.

So basically having somebody who is meeting with you weekly to be able to say, “oh, have you thought of this?” Or, “oh, I’m really worried about what that designer has given you, I think that that’s going to cause you a lot of trouble.” Or, even, “I don’t think that graphic designer knows what he’s doing.” Or, even, “that looks fabulous! Pay that graphic designer more.”

But I think it can both add  kind of confidence to somebody who isn’t … I mean, I feel like in the nonprofit sector, there are so many people who are wearing so many hats, and they can’t possibly know everything they’re doing to 100%. You know, like, “oh, I’ve done it all 100 times before,” adding confidence to somebody who may not feel like they know everything they need to know for that role. And then actually decrease risk and possibly, I think, in a real way, decrease the amount of money you need to spend for your project.

Ben Freda 18:23

I love this. I love this because a lot of our clients are — we call them accidental techies. Somebody made that term up, we didn’t make that term up. I don’t know who did.

Laura Quinn 18:36

It’s been well-used in and around the sector.

Ben Freda 18:41

Yeah, it’s a well-known thing. But yeah, accidental techies. They have joined the nonprofit, right, because they’re sort of mission-driven, they’re interested in the mission, they want to do good with their life. They are usually experts at communication or something like that, or being a program manager.

And then because they are, I don’t know, because they have the newest phone or because they like are younger, or whatever, they’re all of the sudden in charge of the technology. And they’re like, crap, I have to figure out how websites work and what the technology is, and someone said the server is going down, what is the server? You know what I mean?

So you have these people are doing tons of stuff. And given that the technology is always changing — it’s a very quickly evolving world — it’s hard to know everything.

I mean, my job is technology. And I still don’t know, for instance, the ins and outs of how AI might be used in different things, you know what I mean? It’s impossible to keep up!

So I can absolutely see having someone like you around to bounce ideas off of, to know if I’m doing the right thing. To ask what are the things I should be looking out for? I mean, yeah, like the technology is really interesting, and you can get into it and you can work on WordPress and stuff, but, but really having somebody who can sort of back you up would be hugely helpful. Yeah, yeah, that’s absolutely cool. Anyway, but I want to talk quickly before we get Min i You know, it’s fun doing these interviews when they kind of go off on a tangent because you know, it’s interesting. So before we get into the the metrics, questions, I wanted to, uh, just get back to that early, early career stuff you end up doing ideal. Where is that? You know, is that how the consulting stuff kind of turned into ideal where or how did that work?

Laura Quinn 20:27 

Yeah, the consulting stuff kind of led me to ideal where so the for those who are not familiar ideal Where is so it no longer has the same name, but it’s still around. So a nonprofit that is all about helping other nonprofits choose the most effective software and technology solutions based on research based information? Yes, you’re looking for that it is now. It’s, it’s one of the programs of Tech Impact. So they have the Tech Impact Learning Center with a lot of so like, for instance, there’s a consumers guide to low cost donor management systems, which is a very rigorous review of donor management systems and what they’re kind of strengths and weaknesses are.

Ben Freda 21:16

I remember when these I remember first seeing these in maybe like 2008, or something, I can’t remember what the year was, but thinking oh, my gosh, this is such a good resource, you know?

Laura Quinn 21:24 

Yeah, yeah, it kind of came out. And it came about because I really wanted it. So I really wanted to have these resources as a consultant. And it didn’t make any sense as a independent consultant to do it for one for one client, but it absolutely makes sense as a sector to have these resources. So yeah, I was the founding executive director. And for a while it was kind of a very expensive hobby, for sure. While we got off the ground, I’m sure a lot of people who have founded a nonprofit, no expensive hobby of not having a, you know, a funding stream to start. And then over the next 10 years, grew it to about a half million dollar organization, we had about six, seven people, another executive director, and then merged with Tech Impact. So yeah, so I felt like that’s a, you know, successful stage of my career. Also, just so useful to understand the ins and outs of the actual nonprofit world. You know, it’s one thing to consult to nonprofits, which I’ve started, other, I’ve consulted in one way or the other for basically my entire career. But understand, as from an executive director perspective, what that means is, it’s pretty invaluable.

Ben Freda 22:58

So here’s the question for you. What did you choose as your CMS for my own website, for ideal where ideal there?

Laura Quinn 23:08 

We were on. Actually, I don’t completely remember I think we were on Drupal, I it was either Drupal or WordPress. And it was actually picked because we had a friendly, we knew it didn’t matter that much was actually B, which is an important thing to know. So we knew it didn’t matter that much. And we had a developer who was going to develop it at like half cost or something like that. So yeah, so picking something that you know, you can maintain in the long run, it certainly wouldn’t have done that if it was something you know, crazy or obscure. But neither of those were crazy or obscure. The firm would do it for us. So we That’sit.

Ben Freda 23:53

That’s a that’s a good reason. I know we always tell people to, you know, it’s up to you, the CMS and there’s some some ways there’s you know, they can both do the same thing. And there’s some some maybe fingers on the scale either direction, like what you like using betters a good finger on the scale or if you have certain types of technology that you’re looking for functionality or looking for there’s certain things they do better, but that’s somewhat rare. It really just has to do with you know, some use some particulars to you, you know what might work so when your particular was we have a good vendor who will give it to us for half price.

Laura Quinn 24:28

That’s great these days. I do I think things have changed also a little since then. These days. My finger is on the scale pretty hard towards WordPress, unless there’s a spec so to me, WordPress is the default, unless there’s a reason to suspect that something else might though they’re certainly on the low end like my own personal. Laura s. Lor s queen.com is on Squarespace. So there’s a it’s a low end solution that doesn’t need you know, something as complex as WordPress. But otherwise I think WordPress is a good default unless You have some really white complicated cases that and then it’s worth weighing. And it’s not to say that that WordPress can’t take on those use cases. It’s just that okay, Drupal then enters the equation, right?

Ben Freda 25:21 

Yeah. And for us, those things are really like, a lot of different access users, for instance, levels, for instance. So like, if you have a lot of different access levels, that might be a good you know, good reason to do it or a fairly complicated integration or web services something or other. Yeah, but but same in general recently, it’s it’s been moving towards WordPress, just for us like usability, like admin usability, more or less.

Laura Quinn 25:41

Yeah, and more. There’s more and more people moving into the WordPress world and fair, I apologize if this is a system that you specifically, if you specifically maintain Drupal, but people moving out of the Drupal world, so is looking like WordPress is going to be I mean, like five or 10 years from now somewhat easier to find somebody to maintain for you, for sure. I don’t think that’s a current concern.

Ben Freda 26:13 

Yeah, yeah, exactly. I think that’s absolutely true. I mean, we’ve we’ve, we’re sort of agnostic between them all, but and we were in we work on WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, all that kind of stuff. We actually we started as a Joomla. I used to work but I used to work with Ryan osmek at suboxone gauge. Great dude, he was actually my number one. He’s a great dude. But back when I worked with him, it was all Joomla. I mean, what we were doing was Joomla. And that is sort of died out.

Laura Quinn 26:39 

Unfortunately, we’re not recommend Joomla these days.

Ben Freda 26:43 

Anyway, but so that the all that is to say, when your reports when I first saw your reports in 2008 2009, and that was that you had reports on CMS is donation systems, all that kind of stuff. I was like, wow, this is a great resource. So, so good. And then you when that ended, you ended up jumping into consulting that you’re doing now. Right?

Laura Quinn 27:01

Yes, and kind of various forms. So I’ve been essentially an independent consultant since I had a brief stint with a an agency that works with nonprofits. But yes, so I certainly would summarize that up as yes, I’ve been doing website consulting to nonprofits since then.

Ben Freda 27:25

So let’s get into the thing I wanted to ask you about, which was the article that I read in your newsletter about metrics, because metrics is a big black box to me in some ways, there are a lot of things you can measure. And we have measured a ton stuff in the past. But the hardest part for us is like, conceptualize what to measure and why. And, you know, and you know, a lot of the stuff you read online, or the the people that I speak to or in web development who are doing for profit sites, it’s pretty, it’s much more obvious. It’s almost like a math equation. Like we want people to buy a pair of shoes, and each shoes, pair shoes, 50 bucks. And we know exactly how much money we can spend on ads, multiplied by the drop off rate multiplied by the whatever the conversion, blah, blah. And it’s almost like a math equation. And in nonprofit world is not like that, really, so. So can you talk a little bit about how to conceptualize what to measure. And one of the things I loved about your article was that you do have like a process that you’ve laid out for people to follow to start to get at these. It’s a big question open ended, but but I think people really, you know, find it useful to hear about.

Laura Quinn 28:27

Yeah, so I feel like there’s kind of two whole buckets of thoughts here. There’s the what do I measure? And why? And I’ll talk about that first. And then there’s, I feel like, it’s important to think about not just, what do I see? So even once you’ve decided, alright, I’m going to measure these six things, because these reasons, you need to, in fact, embed that in a process and decision making, if you expect to actually do it, and to have value in it. So I feel like there’s a what do I measure and why? And then how do I actually do that? So starting with the what to measure and why I think it’s really important to to back up to what are your fundamental goals for your websites, and hopefully, you’ve defined it, hopefully, you’ve defined your goals at all. But if you’ve defined goals, you’ve defined them as to what you want to increase or decrease in the world. So too often people define goals is things like better visual design, I would say, not a goal, that’s a tactic. So So basically to say, I mean, I’ve chosen a hard example for myself because it’s so the goal there would imply like so if I feel like my visual design is is not great. It implies that I am hoping that you know, over the course of you know, I redesign ended last year, I’m now engaged in trying to measure whether I have increased credibility. Joseph a hard one for me, but I’ll walk down that path, or you might have. So you might have a much more tactical, and let’s choose to more tactical, like more donations is an obvious one or more increased engagement on our articles. So we want people to actually read and learn from this informational information, informational information on our website, so, so you start from those goals. So you then say, what can we measure, which is either directly measuring those things? Or is what we in the research world call a proxy measure for those things? So a proxy measure is basically, okay. It’s not exactly that. But we would expect to see an increase in X, if we are doing a good job it like, for instance, credibility is a good one, like, unless you’re going to literally go out and survey people and say, Do you think this is a credible website? And I mean, you could actually do user research and stuff like that to actually, you know, pre and post, you know, you could do user research to determine that. But if we’re looking at it through website metrics, then you want to think through how what, what actions would someone take on your website, that would imply they find you more credible? And actually, although I’ve chosen a hard one conceptually, I think this is a fairly straightforward one to measure. Because you would expect that people, you have less people just kind of looking at your website, briefly, and then saying, for me,

Ben Freda 32:04

oh, no, no, I said, So longer engagement time.

Laura Quinn 32:06

Yep. So longer engagement time than what I just said it looking at your website and saying they’re not for me. That would be your bounce rate. Bounce Rate is a confusing metric. But it’s basically people who leave your site after only 10 seconds, or less than 10 seconds. So it’s basically they, you know, not necessarily completely bad. But in if you compare it over time, certainly you would see about page and bouncing would be a bad metric, because no one I have your contact information is on your about page, possibly. But if you are just if someone is going to your about page to understand you, then logically, they probably want you wanting to go someplace else, they’re not there to understand you. That’s not logically probably the goal. I now have a big caveat for your contact information. Because there’s probably a lot of people who come to your website just to find your contact information.

Ben Freda 33:14

For sure. bounce rates always been a tough one for me too, because it does seem like it’s capturing heavily you’re communicating you’re doing but but it also was capturing the quality of the traffic coming in. So like let’s say someone meet, there’s a big Link in New York Times article about something and they link to your site, but they actually meant to link to like a different site. And so you get a bunch of people like mistakenly coming in, they’re all gonna bounce is that? Are you doing anything wrong there is that you know what I mean? So like, sometimes it has to do with traffic coming in, which is tough to

Laura Quinn 33:43

I totally agree that it is tough. And it is I feel like people take it too seriously as holy crap. We’ve got a you know, 40% Bounce Rate, we need to decrease that to 5% likely that one that’s never going to happen that you know, people are going to bounce and also there are reasons to bounce. So Oh, actually I there’s a good article that I suspect by the time this podcast launches, my my issue of my newsletter will be out so look for you know, the website Insider. It’s actually I finally gotten I’m very excited. I You can google nonprofit website insider and you actually find my, my excellent writing.

Ben Freda 34:38

That is excellent. Yeah. So

Laura Quinn 34:40

I have a something coming out, which is I have an article on metrics for engagement of sorry, I’m measuring the engagement of informational articles. And also it has a list of helpful articles, one of which is bounce rates and reasons that people might bounce which Is and one of them is exactly what you said like there is a offsite link, which is incorrect. There is like a not all of these reasons are bad. Like they found your phone number and have left. Like, that’s great. I mean, if that was what they were trying to do, or they, you know, they’re in crisis, they found your they found the number that they need to call in less than 10 seconds. Fabulous. That’s awesome.

Ben Freda 35:35

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So this is that’s a tricky one anyway. But anyway, so so so I interrupted your train of thought, which is what happens with this, right? Because you go on tangents. But anyway, so So you’re, you’re you’re looking at? Not not the tactics, but what the goals are. Right. So you’re, yeah, so So continue on that vein, if you don’t mind.

Laura Quinn 35:58

So we we talked through, so kind of one flow of so kind of starting at the goal and thinking through metrics and proxy metrics. So we talked about kind of increasing credibility as what one might measure. So things like bounce rate and time on site, conceivably returning visitors or returning visitors is always hard for a bunch of race accurate, take that off, nevermind returning. So let’s see. I mean, I feel like donations is a fairly easy one, if you’ve set up your Google Analytics, with the right stuff, when you think about these very tactical, conversion based things. He really wants to set up Google Analytics with actual what’s called events, and analytics. So basically, to say, alright, somebody clicking on your page about donating is an event. And then someone actually submitting a donation is an event. And if you set that up, it will actually show you like, Okay, where were people when they got to your donation page, how many people on your donation page actually submitted the donation form? So it’ll show you what’s in the corporate world called off the funnel? How people got through that. So that one is, and it’s not hard. It’s not time consuming to set up events in Google Analytics. It is it takes either know how or some pretty detailed study and step by step through stuff some instructional I have a for that reason there. That is another article that is coming in this this issue is on basically what do people know and wonder what are they out to?

Ben Freda 38:03

Yeah, and it has gotten more complex that Google Analytics interface has gotten quite complex. So you can always call us to we’ll do it for you. But you can add an absence. But you can also do it yourself. It’s really not something that you need to know what a code to do, if you can follow along anyway. Yeah, yeah.

Laura Quinn 38:17

It’s kind of like I call it like, if you’re a technology, and if you’re a technology Intrepid. Yeah, exactly. We like kind of, you know, machete through the jungle of you can make it happen.

Ben Freda 38:32

For sure. Yeah, for sure. Okay, so you’ve got your donation page. And you’re, you’re measuring the funnel. And in the point of that is to sort of figure out where people are dropping off and maybe make changes over time and measure whether those drop offs are decreasing.

Laura Quinn 38:46

Yes, absolutely. And also, too, you can with something like that also very useful to look at where people are coming from. So oh, people are coming from this impact story, which has a link to donate, ooh, we should do more of those, or people are coming directly from the homepage, interesting and plot or directly from Google search, intersect, implying that they are looking for you in order to donate, that would be a pretty that’s not a very common scenario, but certainly would be interesting if they are. So basically, you can think through what is working in order to move people to donate and do more of that. Gotcha.

Ben Freda 39:32 

Gotcha. And then when you talked earlier about you the process of it, so you knowing to measure and then and then I guess there’s a part of a process where you’re like, I’m gonna measure for a while and I’m gonna make changes and re measure or how does that work?

Laura Quinn 39:45

Yeah, so the process is critical here, because I feel like so many people have, they’ve defined the list of things they’re going to measure. But then their process of actually measuring it gets kind of lost in what it gets lost. again in what you could measure so somebody may be is responsible for measuring. But as soon as you go into Google Analytics or whatever tool you’re, you know, you’re using which is likely to be Google Analytics, it’s so easy to go down the rabbit hole and wander away and get lost and spend hours, sort of basically say, all right, to make a plan, we are going to measure these six, I mean, you certainly going down the rabbit hole, sometimes it’s useful is not necessarily a bad thing. But our metrics plan is we’re going to measure these five things, we’re going to do that every two weeks, with the idea that we are going to set a meeting every month to talk about what our metrics are telling us, then we’re going to make changes because we’re going to make changes in content or other things, but likely content every month or two months, in reaction to what we’ve learned that fundamentally, if you’re not going to change anything, based on what you’ve learned, you’re not measuring anything. So it all should be it should all be based on what information do you need to make the decisions that you want to make about the site? How often are you going to make those decisions? And how often are you going to actually make changes? Right, right. And there’s more, you know, there’s more process than that, potentially, if you’re a larger organization, because you need to decide who does what do you need to summarize it up for the powers that be? So the decisions that can be made, it can be made all of that stuff. But as if you imagine yourself as a small team, it’s pretty straightforward. It’s like, okay, there’s a couple of people gathering to say, Oh, this is working well, oh, we tried this experiment last month, we put this thing up, that didn’t work well. So let’s not do more of that. Let’s do let’s try this other thing instead. So just think of it as a metrics not be the metrics themselves can be a static process of what you’re measuring. But it is part of this incremental improvements of my in my experience, usually content, you certainly could improve other things. But not everybody has, you know, a partner like the BFC, who can easily tweak things over time for them.

Ben Freda 42:45

Is what are so so it’s mostly, I’m also interested in just in your experience, like, what are some things that have changed that have actually had an impact? And what are some things that you change that you thought would have an impact that didn’t? You know, if you haven’t, I know it’s tough to put you on the spot, right like that. But I’m just curious.

Laura Quinn 43:03

Yeah, I can certainly give some examples I’m trying to think through. Yeah, like so for example, A, so in a lot of my work is around deep informational websites. So it’s people who have a lot of content and are trying to educate visitors. And so there’s always a lot of work to be done and thought to be put into, is this plain language enough?

Ben Freda 43:40

Is this plain language? So not jargony? You mean?

Laura Quinn 43:44

Oh, not jargony? Yes. Sorry. And not jargony. And plain language is a specific term that you can go out and Google for far more information than you ever wanted to mean, I’m not very many clauses in the sentence at a low reading level. So particularly, like if you’re like, so for instance, I work on some legal aid sites. And yeah, if you’re working in educating people about government programs, a lot of times you are trying to reach out to an audience that might not have a high literacy rate. And stuff is far too, like you get stuff that’s put up there by lawyers that I have trouble reading. So yeah, so basically, to say, Isn’t plain language enough? But then there’s often stakeholders are asking, essentially, is it too plain language and you’ve got a lot of people who, especially content matter experts, subject matter experts who say, Well, this is so dumbed down then not useful. And so trying to think through things like that, you can get metrics that will so looking at site metrics of Like, time on page, or how many people scroll down 50% of the page? A little bit of issues with that one as well. But um, so you can, those are pretty good proxies for. I mean, obviously, if no, if people spent 30 seconds on your very detailed article about how to get a divorce, they probably got less information from it than somebody who spent, you know, two minutes on it.

Ben Freda 45:42 

Yeah, or scrolled? I mean, to see the article, you have to scroll some. So so let’s say, you know, only 10% of people are scrolling. So yeah, you can measure that kind of stuff.

Laura Quinn 45:52

That’s yeah, yeah. Scroll rate is a good rate, it tends to be a little inflated, because it’s a common user behavior to scroll all the way down and all the way back up to see

Ben Freda 46:01

is that right? I didn’t know that. It’s a common user behavior to do that.

Laura Quinn 46:05 

That’s testing. It’s, it’s very common.

Ben Freda 46:09

And I do that too. Now that I know that I think about it, I have this instinct to just see how long it is. That is so weird. I never considered that. Yeah.

Laura Quinn 46:20

Yeah, so you hear a lot with websites about scanning the page that you need to make your, your stuff scannable. So that’s one of the reasons is that people are scanning for headers and stuff like that. So they are seeing how long it is they’re seeing if it seems like it’s worth their effort too. Long. Can they skip ahead, you know, all of that totally. But regardless, so that was, you know, that’s why your scroll rates might be inflated. But comparatively, you know, this article to this article, you know, or this article that we’ve now improved exactly what it was two weeks ago, or we think we’ve improved. So yeah, so that’s the type of thing. Yeah, very tactical example of what you might do. Donation stuff tends to be very tactical. Well, and if you want to get super tactical, and you have a large audience, you should absolutely think about a B testing, which is totally a different thing. But assuming you don’t have a big enough audience, for a B testing, which is probably a lot of the nonprofit world, you can do things like, Alright, I’m going to change the wording on this. On my donate page, you know, I’m going to talk about I’m going to add something about our impact onto this donate page. I’m gonna wait a month, I mean, you’ll have some trouble if you have a lot of traffic in order to have any kind of idea as to what’s actually, yeah, what’s just noise and what’s you know, but if you wait long enough, you should be able to track the metrics to say, oh, that actually seemed to it seemed to go in a good direction, maybe let’s do more of it, and see if it continues to go in a good direction. That’s always if you don’t have a ton of traffic, and it’s hard to know whether what you’re seeing is just, you know, random fluctuation, to go in to go in small incremental steps and just see metrics with you. In small incremental steps. It is, it’s more likely to be real, if it continues to go up over time than if it you know, it went up, even up for two periods, and then it dropped and gosh,

Ben Freda 48:41

you guys, you because you’re Yeah, I guess you’re right, you do need a high enough end, I guess, in stats world to like have a result when you’re talking about just so people know, can you explain what a B testing is? And why that’s different from this testing tweaks over time testing? Yes. And also what kind of traffic you would need to actually do a good A B test?

Laura Quinn 49:00

A, yes, a detailed question. Um, so an AV test, it means that you’re going to actually have two different so as opposed to measuring kind of a baseline that I have today. And for the last two weeks, whatever how I’m doing, and then for that, I’m going to change it. And for the next two weeks, I’m going to just see what happens. An AP test is I have both of those options up on the site at the same time. And I’m going to essentially, you can decide how many people you want to see one, but you usually you say, Alright, I’m gonna show 10% or 20% of people this alternative option, and I’m going to see what happens with it. It used to be the case that there was a Google tool that would help you with the implementation of a b testing. That’s not as true anymore. And so this has become a little harder to do as a DIY DIY approach. Right? I actually need to now look into it. I’m actually sure, if you can, it’s definitely not free. I don’t know whether it has gone from free to, you know, maybe you can pay $100 for two months and just do it, get out of it. But it is and those tools then help you to understand how much traffic you need and how long it will take. Right? So the and it depends on it depends on how big the what’s called the lift.

So what the difference is. So if immediately like so for instance, let’s talk about a donation page just because it’s easy to talk about.

So if you have you’re doing an A B test, and every single person donates for your be variation, so this new thing you’re trying while No buddy donates old saying that it doesn’t take all that many people for statistically to be very likely that this thing is making a difference. Right, right. However, in the real world, what we see is this thing has a, you know, like a 5% increase would be quite substantial. Yeah. And then you might so either you need lots and lots of people. So you need 1000s or 10s of 1000? Well, well, what you need is 1000s or 10s of 1000s people coming through. And so and that is either a lot of site traffic, or it’s a really long period of time.

Ben Freda 51:56

I see. Okay, yeah. Like I don’t,

Laura Quinn 51:59

I’m, it’s not typically done for a long period of time, or you’re done for like four months. I, I kind of feel like so much changes over that period of time that exactly,

Ben Freda 52:11

I have all these external factors that can screw up your data and stuff. Yeah, from what I understand. It’s usually a day or two, you know, exactly.

Laura Quinn 52:17 

Yeah. So I’ve certainly seen them for like, a week, or like that. My partner works for llbean Yeah, and it’ll go up for a couple of hours.

Ben Freda 52:28

Exactly. And they get a ton of data from a couple of hours. Exactly.

Laura Quinn 52:32

And it’ll, and in fact, they’ll just put it on a very small slice, you know, they’ll only you know, like 1% of people will see it, they’ll put it out for a couple hours. And the advantage there is because a lot of things you could do might have a detrimental effect. And if you’re talking about something like you know, you know purchase a boots or clothes or outdoor equipment or all of the things that elevate sales not to you know, sell then you could have I mean, so certainly don’t assume that anything you’re going to do to your donate form is the good fight.

Laura Quinn 53:15

Yeah, you might screw it up. Listen a lot I feel like we could talk for hours about this. Unfortunately, we are reaching the end of time. I swear we got to do this again, though, because there’s so much more to cover here, not just about metrics, which is a huge topic itself. But I know you’re you’re a huge expert in user experience and user research and how to get people through and get people what they need on the site and etc etc. We got to do this again. Okay, but but before we do, the last thing I should ask you is just where can people find out more about you? Your work where can people sign up for this newsletter that I keep saying is so great because it is and people should sign up for it? Give them that information?

Laura Quinn 53:16 

Fabulous, Um Yes, I am pretty findable on the web. So Laura s Quinn exactly like it sounds. I am googling all by my name to find my site which is exciting which is in fact simply Laura s quinn.com. And the there’s a page there for the newsletter but I won’t try to give it to you verbally if you go to the site it’s scroll down and it’s in the footer or it’s it’s pretty hard to escape

Ben Freda 54:26

Click on newsletter. Because the whole reason we’re having this conversation is because your newsletter, that’s how I found you and yeah, it was super useful. It has been for a long time.

Laura Quinn 54:36

So I’m so glad that it is yeah, it’s intended to be I feel super strongly that I don’t want to send out crap that people don’t want to receive. Yeah, I want to send out things that will actually be valuable to you know, all of the incredibly hard working people in the nonprofit space.

Ben Freda 54:54

Yeah, and this honestly I’m I don’t I’m saying this completely honestly. I mean it it is very useful and valuable and full of really good information. And there’s a ton of newsletters people do for marketing reasons or whatever. But this this one is actually very very useful so people should sign up yeah it has been so good to talk to you thank you so much for coming on and we got to do this again

Laura Quinn 55:14 

absolutely this has been such a pleasure Ben thank you so much

Outro 55:19

Thanks for listening to the Nonprofit Thrive podcast. We’ll see you next time and be sure to click Subscribe to get future episodes.

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