Nonprofit Web Design Process Part 2a: Analytics Data as User Research | npENGAGE

Nonprofit Web Design Process Part 2a: Analytics Data as User Research

By on Jul 22, 2013


Note: This is the second in a series of posts about the Nonprofit Web Design Process. See the end of this post for a linked index of other posts in the series.


Most nonprofits already have Google Analytics installed on their website to track online traffic. If you don’t have it, I’d highly recommend going out and installing it right away. It’s totally free, really comprehensive and easy to install. For some good how-to posts, check out my co-blogger Alissa Ruehl, perhaps starting with her Intro to Google Analytics.

This post is about how we incorporate Google Analytics data into our Design Process. It’s typically the first step in our User Research phase, providing a good overview of the visitors to a nonprofit website and how they behave on the site. Our purposes for using Analytics as User Research are:

  1. To learn about current visitors to the website
  2. To understand how visitors interact with the site
  3. To establish benchmarks for measuring success of our design efforts



Once we get access to a client’s Google Analytics data, we first establish a timeframe for reporting. Ideally, we’d evaluate the previous year of data to observe patterns in different giving cycles. If a client hasn’t had Analytics for a year, 3 months would be the shortest timeframe we’d want to evaluate to ensure we get a clear enough picture of trends over time.
Screenshot showing Date Range selection in Google Analytics

Research Questions

Once we’ve set the timeframe, we then start digging into the data to answer some key questions:

    1. What are some benchmark stats for improvement?
      • Overall site visits
      • Percentage of new vs. returning users (hint: more returning visitors = higher loyalty)
      • People who leave the site (bounce rate)
      • Time spent on the site
      • Number of pages viewed per visit
    2. What content on the website is most popular?

Screenshot of Traffic Sources pie chart from Google Analytics

  1. How are users getting to the site (search, typing in the URL or from referral sites like Facebook)? (see the Traffic Sources pie chart on the right for an example of this data)
  2. What search terms do people use to find the site and what search terms do people use within the site?
  3. How many users access the site from mobile devices and how are their behaviors different from desktop visitors?
  4. Is there anything significant about the geographic location of users or their browsers and operating systems?
  5. What pages typically lead to exits from the website?

There are a number of other things you can learn from Google Analytics but these are the main findings we begin with.

For a more in-depth Analytics review, we might also establish some Goal Tracking to measure conversions on the website via email sign-up and/or donations. Alissa has a great post on Setting Up Goals in Google Analytics if you want to learn more.


A deliverable for this User Research technique might be a series of slides that answer the questions listed above along with any other questions that are relevant to the project. It’s always great to pull screenshots from Google Analytics to show reports and add some interest to the slides.

Additionally, after the design is complete, we try to revisit the Analytics data and do some comparison to measure how successful the project was. We like to confirm that we were able to decrease the bounce rate, increase the percentage of returning visits and/or increase the time spent on the site. If we set up Goals, reviewing them post-launch is another great success metric.
Line graph showing how User Research is Qualitative vs. Quantitative and Attitudinal vs. Behavioral

What’s Next

Analytics data is great on its own but it’s even more informative when we can combine it with other User Research data. In each project, we try to triangulate our data, getting a balance of quantitative data vs. qualitative data and also of attitudinal data vs. behavioral data. See the graph to the right for how different Research techniques might be triangulated in a project. In the next few posts, I’ll be covering some more User Research techniques so you can see how they all work together.

Other Posts in this Series

  1. Introduction
  2. Stakeholder Discovery
  3. User Research
    • Analytics [this post]
    • Surveys and Interviews
    • Card Sorts
    • Usability Tests
    • Personas
  4. Content Strategy
  5. Information Architecture
    • Sitemap
    • Wireframes
  6. Visual Design
  7. Solution Design

Lacey Kruger, principal information architect for Blackbaud, designs online properties for nonprofits that delight and inspire. Whether a full scale website, a campaign site or a peer to peer fundraising site, Lacey guides clients through a research-based and user-centered approach to design. In her 15+ years at Blackbaud, she has developed a deep understanding of nonprofit web presences. That knowledge, along with her years of experience in information design, have established her as an industry expert.

Lacey has written a Blackbaud eBook, “A Guide to the Nonprofit Web Design Process” and her article, “Designing Nonprofit Experiences: Building a UX Toolkit” was published in User Experience magazine. She has presented at industry conferences including bbcon, IA Summit and BIG Design.

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