Where faith meets analytics

As a manager of a church denomination’s website, I often get asked how I measure success.

We don’t sell products on our site. We don’t take donations. We don’t consider other denominations “competitors.” So how do I tell whether or not our site is getting the job done? Or any job for the matter?

There’s no short answer but I can at least tell you where I start and break it down from there.

Figuring out an online identity

When I first joined the Communications team at Foursquare, we were lots of things and none of them were extremely clear from a visitor’s standpoint. We were a children’s department, a church planting department, a missions department and so many other things under this one banner that indicated we were some organization that believes in Christ.

Yeah, lots of things but nothing in particular. We were a conglomeration of departments moving in different directions with different ideas of what “success” means.

It’s taken a couple years, but Foursquare has been able to hammer down who it wants (and needs) to be online. I won’t bore you with the details but it boils down to this: one church with one voice.

What’s your niche?

Having your online identity pinned down is like your road map for the rest of the ride. Knowing who you are enables you to define what your objectives are which—wait for it—gives you something to measure!

And if you don’t think a church can have objectives outside of communicating service times (which is a good one) and increasing the tithe dollar (another decent, though self-serving one), think again.

Try considering:

  • Plugging individuals into a small group
  • Connecting people into a church ministry
  • Centralizing information for multiple campuses
  • Making sure all pastors have the resources they need to do the work of their ministry
  • Telling stories of real-life people in the church making real differences in the community because of their faith

I mean, really, this list can go on and on. The point being that in order to exist online, a church should consider what they are adding to the Interwebs so it has a clear direction of what to do and how to measure it.

So, what are we doing?

Glad you asked. Knowing what you want to accomplish online tells you nothing about what to actually do online. So that’s where strategy comes in.

What’s the best way to motivate people to join a small group using your website (or some extension of it)?

Here’s a hint: there may be more than five correct answers and each one is just as good as the others. Or one may be better than the others. Maybe worse.

How do you know?

Measure, measure, measure!

Finally, where faith meets web analytics. Having come up with several ideas for communicating online, a church can safely put them to test.

And this is where I believe a lot of organizations (not just churches) can get analytics flat wrong. When no one opens those email newsletters or the Twitter account hasn’t immediately equaled Ashton Kutcher levels, companies tend to blow off the strategy as a #Fail.

Remember, an objective does not fail just because the method did.

So back to the original question that opened this little diatribe…how do I measure success for the website of a church denomination?

I have a set of key performance indicators (KPI) that tell me certain things.

For example, I care a lot about bounce rates on my site. But not the one I see when I first log into Google Analytics that has the word “Average” in front of it. I care about which pages bounce more than others and why people saw that one page then ditched me for someone else, so I look at which keywords and referring sites brought them in. If I know what brought them in, I can know what they’re looking for; and if they didn’t find what they were looking for, then I know how that page needs to be fixed.

Another thing I really care about is how many phone calls and emails we get into our office asking for a church recommendation in their area. Yes, phone calls and emails are KPIs because I want people to be able to find a local Foursquare church online, so if they call or email saying they could figure out our church locator, then I know something needs to be fixed.

Yeah, sure, the person calling could be the thing that needs fixing, but I can’t always blame it on that. :)

I also really care about the stories we tell online. We’re a pretty big denomination and keeping the Foursquare family feeling connected to another is an important objective for our website. We do that by telling the stories of people, church ministries and even world events as long as they are told through the lens of Foursquare.

So posting articles to our site and measuring pageviews is one thing, but we also see how social networking leverages our storytelling ability by stirring up conversation or how many people are referred to our site through our Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Vimeo accounts.

Can’t think of how to measure the effectiveness of your social networking tool on your overall web strategy? That could be topic for another post, but there are a lot of tools out there.

✏️ Handwritten by Geoff Graham on January 27, 2010

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