(Since this is a blog post on "surveys"...I'll ask a question right from the start! Has your nonprofit used online surveys regarding your website? Did the results help you to implement some improvements? Share your thoughts in the comments below.)
I'm always encouraging people to use website analytics tools, such as the free Google Analytics, to track how their website is performing. You can learn A LOT from watching statistics such as how people click through your pages from one to the other, the time they spend on your most important content, the pages that cause them to exit your site every time, or the search words that brought them to your site.
Your website analytics can give you some great insight into what your website visitor wants to do on your website and if their needs are aligning with your website goals. In the world of digital analysis however, we can lose site of one of the best ways of learning about your website audience....asking them direct questions.
Three simple questions that reveal so much
I just read an old blog post by Avinash Kaushik, a web analytics guru, called "The Three Greatest Survey Questions Ever". In the article Avinash talks about asking three questions of your website visitors...as an informational companion to all of your analytics data. Those questions are:
- What is the purpose of your visit to our website today?
- Were you able to complete your task today?
- If you were not able to complete your task today, why not?
What sort of answers would your nonprofit get if it started asking these questions, which essentially translate into "Why are you here...did we help...and if not, how can we fix it?"
Building your own website survey
The details of "how" you ask your website visitors your survey questions will require some thought. You want to be sure that your methods are not intrusive, causing your visitor to leave. Personally, I have been frustrated many times by website surveys that pop-up the moment I land on their website. My perspective is that since I haven't had time to "get" anything from your website yet, you don't have the right to "ask" for anything yet. Again, that's a personal opinion. No matter how you decide to configure your survey some people will be ok with it, some people won't. That's to be expected.
From a technical point of view, there are several different tools you can use to survey your website visitors including:
- Third party survey tools like SurveyMonkey. You can have reasonable functionality with their free version of the tool, or upgrade to a paid version. Surveys can be hosted on the SurveyMonkey website or embedded on your own nonprofit website (requires copy/pasting some HTML code).
- The author of the "three questions" blog sits on the board of a company that enables simple surveys, which you can find at 4Qsurvey.com. They offer a free trial, and after that you need to convert to a monthly subscription. There are benefits to this particular tool, based on my cursory glance, such as being able to only show the survey to a fraction of your website visitors. This can be useful in the event that your survey popup is viewed as intrustive...meaning you risk losing only a fraction of site visitors while you adjust your approach.
- Perhaps you are using a website CMS (Content Management System) that allows you to create simple polls & surveys? I am currently working on creating this very survey for the IT For Change website. I'm just wrestling with whether to do it in Drupal or use a 3rd party tool. It's important to strike a balance between showing your website visitors that you respect and want their opinions, versus interrupting their visit.
Here is a sample of the popup that shows up on the 4QSurvey.com website. I liked how it emphasized the survey would happen after my visit.
Interpreting your survey results
If the answer to questions #2 and #3 of the survey illustrate that your website is having a problem, you will probably find that the issues funnel into one of three areas:
- Your website is drawing the "wrong" visitor, and you do not intend to meet their needs.
- Your website is drawing the "right" visitor, but you cannot presently meet their needs.
- Your website is drawing the "right" visitor, you can presently meet their needs, but they can't find what they are looking for.
The solution to issue #1 is to determine why you are attracting the "wrong" visitor to your website. Your analytics data will be helpful here, showing you things such as what site directed them to you, what keywords they searched to find you, what geographical location they are coming from etc. This can serve as a starting point for re-vectoring things such as the keywords you use in your content creation, the metatag descriptions you use for your pages, and other SEO related tricks.
For issue #2, where the "right" visitor is leaving your website with unmet needs, there isn't too much magic that has to be done here. These needs are generally "information" related, so it's a question of prioritizing which of their needs you are going to meet, aligning them with your website goals and available staff time, and committing to a schedule. The needs might be simple to remedy, such as providing event information or creating a media page...or be more complex such as building up a library of online information in your area of expertise. With persistent effort over time the gap between your website "supply" and the viewer "demand" will narrow.
Solving issue #3 is both challenging and easy. It is easy in the sense that you have already done the bulk of the work...the content is on your website. It is challenging in the sense that your website is confounding your potential supporters and causing them to "bounce" from your website (you can track the bounce rate in Google Analytics).
Creating an intuitive website "information architecture"
In order to keep your website visitors (and potential supporters) from leaving your website, you need to help them get to the information they are looking for. This means you need to take a step back and consider the "information architecture" of your website. Get that right and you will find your website analytics numbers start to grow in a very positive direction.
The concept of a website information architecture refers to things such as how you configure your primary and secondary navigation menus, what tags/categories you use to organize your website content, how you incorporate "advanced search" capabilities into your website, and whether or not you use "breadcrumbs" (the series of progressive page links that shows you where you are on the site) to guide your visitor through your content. It is a big, important subject and is worthy of an entire series of blog posts. I won't dive into it here...but I will strongly advise that if you are considering a website redesign or presently have an underperforming website, you start having conversations with the necessary folks around the topic of information architecture.
To help get you started, here is a link to a great blog I just read from the Google team, called "Using information architecture techniques to improve long term conversion rates". It is highly informative and I encourage you to go give it a read. I will simply summarize a few points here to reflect on when you start to think about how you might improve your website usability and navigation:
- According to studies, people aren't good at absorbing more than 7 pieces of information in any one "chunk". Keep this in mind when designing menus, taxonomies (tags), or other methods of categorizing on your website.
- Visitors to your website follow an "information scent". As they click through your proposed navigation structure, the logical flow should keep them on this scent. Get it wrong and cause them to retrace their steps too many times, and they are going to leave.
- Card sorting experiments are great ways of learning how "real people" would logically navigate through your content. Not only is it a very useful exercise, but it can be fun to write up all the major segments of the website information, then watch as different people show how they would group & sort everything.
- Your analytics are an absolute treasure trove of information on not only what you are doing right, but also what you are doing wrong. You can gain a lot of insight by reviewing exit pages and bounce rates. These are areas where small improvements can reap large rewards.
- All nonprofit websites should be taking a regular look at their analytics to gain insight into how visitors are using their website. These numbers are invaluable, and acting upon them will help you realize steadily improving website performance.
- Surveying your website visitors directly takes out any bias you might use when interpreting your analytics data, and gives you a very nuts & bolts way of knowing where your primary focus needs to be re: fixing your website in the short term.
- If your website is drawing the wrong people, you can fix it with minor tweaks. If your website is missing content, a content creation calendar will get you where you need to go. If you have the content but it's not easy to find, an exercise around your "information architecture" is very much in order.
Some nonprofits might view their website as just a website. I view it as a highly strategic, very cost-effective marketing tool. If you learn how to effectively use your website, social media and a select suite of other online tools out there, your nonprofit will experience online growth. That's a simple (and comforting) fact.
Has your nonprofit used surveys in the past? What are your thoughts on this method...is it more invasive than informative, or can this be done successfully?
(Flickr "Checkmark" image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/lwvc/6306132745/ on Flickr Creative Commons)