Google Analytics for Nonprofits – Getting Started

Web Analytics

Understanding where your website visitors are coming from and what they do while on your site can help you create better user experiences—and, in turn, increase donor support.

One way of gathering and viewing relevant data is with Google Analytics. Google analytics is a free web reporting tool that can be added to any webpage through a small snippet of code.

Most Content Management Systems (CMS) have the ability to add tracking codes to templates that will be included on all pages. Get Google Analytics set up on your website.

Beware of Analysis Paralysis

Most people that log into Google Analytics for the first time either A) Immediately experience a complete brain overload from the shear amount of data, new terms, and realization that another piece of software has to be learned. OR, B) Immediately experience a euphoric sense of enlightenment from previously unavailable information, followed closely by a complete brain overload from the shear amount of data, new terms, and realization that another piece of software has to be learned.

A logical first question would be “Where do I start?

Great Question!

You will always receive benefit from using a qualified Google Analytics expert that can provide training and customize your reporting settings and dashboards based on your objectives. But, if you don’t have the resources, there IS a path where you can become the resident expert! There are many free online courses and other data analysis tools that can be found on Google if you want to become an expert or just have a general understanding.

But in the meantime, here are some items that will help you get started.

Key Understanding

The first concept to become familiar revolves around the accuracy of your analytics reports—Google Analytics will provide very accurate tracking data, but it won’t be perfect. There are many technical reasons that data inaccuracies can occur and most are beyond your control—including service interruption, javascript loading challenges and general connectivity issues. There may also be configuration issues—from specifying the correct home page filename to proper AdWords account integration.

Analytics Terms

It’s a good idea to understand some of the more common reporting terms, which will help make sense of your reporting, but can be a bit confusing. Here are a few of the most common:


A session amounts to all of the activity for a specific user’s visit to a website – from the first page accessed until the visitor leaves the site, shuts the browser or the session times out. Sessions typically end when the user navigates away from the website, shuts the browser or a session timeout occurs. Session timeouts occur each day at midnight and after 30 minutes of user inactivity. A user may have several sessions in a day.


A general term for a tracking ID. In instances where a person accesses the internet through only one browser on one device, User reporting will be fairly accurate. For those that utilize many devices ( workstation, laptop, mobile phone ) each device will be identified as a different user. Additionally, each separate Internet browser on those devices will generate a different user. One person can represent one User or many Users.


One pageview for each page the user visits is the general concept, but that can vary based on how and when the Tracking Code sends the data. Sometimes the tracking code may load on the page, but the rest of the page may not load due to an error. A pageview is created, but the user didn’t actually see the full page. Additionally, Google Analytics can be programmatically altered to create additional pageviews when items are clicked—whether they load the page or not. Most times this is setup in order to work with goals, which we will discuss later.

Bounce Rate

This is essentially a user session with only one pageview. The concept of a bounce is that a visitor enters via a webpage and exits from that same page – they don’t have any other activity on the site. Bounces can be good or undesirable based on the context of the visit. For a potential donor that is evaluating your organization, you want the visitor to review several pages which would be represented by a low bounce rate. For existing donors that are looking for your phone number or how to buy tickets for your upcoming event (that is on a third-party platform like Greater Giving’s Online Payments) you will be happy with a high bounce rate and short amount of time on the website—because your visitors found what they were looking for quickly.

For a good look at all common web analytics terms, check out Alexa’s full glossary blog post.

Standard Reports

Get your tracking code setup on all of your pages so you can start collecting data and we’ll take a look at the reports that will be most beneficial in the next post. Remember to familiarize yourself with the common web analytics terms and let me know if you have any questions.

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