Overcoming Declining Nonprofit Website Traffic | npENGAGE

Overcoming Declining Nonprofit Website Traffic

By on May 23, 2013


Blackbaud’s just-released Online Marketing Benchmark Study for Nonprofits found nonprofit website traffic was down 14 percent in 2012 compared to 2011.

The study reported traffic decreased across 18 of 19 nonprofit verticals, with Canadian organizations being the exception. (It should be noted, like other benchmark reports, nonprofits within the study vary from year-to-year.)

What’s the reason?

Well, of course, this is all just speculation. But some possibilities include:

  • Email: Sharply declining nonprofit email click-through rates likely played a role.
  • Elections: You might guess last year’s elections were a factor. However, the study didn’t find a negative relationship between political and charitable giving.
  • Social: Constituents may be turning more to social media to interact with nonprofits, as the study’s authors point out.
  • Mobile: With the rise of mobile devices, websites not optimized for mobile devices could have seen fewer return visitors.

What can nonprofits do?

First, you need to find out if your website traffic is decreasing. Benchmarks are helpful, but your data is what matters most.

Assuming you’re using Google Analytics*, here are 4 steps you can take:

  1. Year-Over-Year Comparison

    Setup Google Analytics to do a year-over-year comparison. This allows you to evenly compare traffic from annual events, programs, etc., though you’ll still have one-off happenings each year.

    If you don’t have two years’ worth of data, compare quarters or months. But know seasonal events/activities could affect that comparison.
    Nonprofit Google Analytics Dates

  2. Examine Visits

    In Google Analytics, go to Audience > Overview to see whether your Visits have increased or decreased.
    Nonprofit Google Analytics Visits

    You’ll also get a year-over-year comparison of traffic spikes. Below, we can see there was a large traffic spike in late August 2011 (orange line) that didn’t occur in 2012 (blue line). By identifying when traffic spikes occurred, you can start digging into the why.
    Nonprofit Google Analytics Visits Timeline

    It could be that traffic came from an email campaign, important announcement or community event that only happened in 2011. This will get you thinking about ways to replicate that traffic.

  3. Identify Traffic Sources in Decline

    Now, dig into which traffic sources specifically decreased. Was it search engine visits? Or visits from other websites?

    In Google Analytics, head to Traffic Sources > Overview. Hover over each pie chart section to compare whether Visits have decreased year-over-year from Search, Referral or Direct Traffic (Campaign Traffic might also be visible).

    Nonprofit Google Analytics Traffic Sources

    Once you’ve identified which source(s) generated fewer website visits, continue digging to find out why.

  4. Analyze Traffic Sources in Decline

    • Search Traffic

      If search traffic decreased, identify which search engine keywords generated fewer website visits (in GA: Traffic Sources > Sources > Search > Organic). Add “Landing Page” as a secondary dimension to identify the landing page that corresponds to a keyword.

      Below, we see it’s the volunteer page getting less search traffic. Now, we can review how well that page is optimized for this keyword and search engines.

      Nonprofit Google Analytics Search Traffic

      There’s also helpful info in Google Webmaster Tools, like seeing the click-through rate of keywords. It may be an indicator that you need a better meta description.

    • Referral Traffic

      Identify specific websites that are driving less traffic (in GA: Traffic Sources > Sources > Referrals). For referral websites with significant declines, think about why that might be. Was there a one-time partnership you had? Did they promote a one-time event or fundraiser?

      Nonprofit Google Analytics Referral Traffic

      If not, dig deeper by clicking on the URL. You’ll see their web page that contains a link to you website. Visit that page. Is the link broken? Is it still there? What expectation are they setting?

      Nonprofit Google Analytics Referral URL

    • Email Traffic

      Unless you’re consistently using Google Analytics’ URL Builder to build your email links, email traffic will be more difficult to track in GA. Recipients with desktop clients (Outlook) will appear as Direct Traffic, while those with web-based clients (Yahoo) will appear as Referral Traffic.

      So you might just use your own email reports to analyze declining email traffic. Look at when your click-through rates declined and for which types of messages.

This is really just the start – though an important one – when it comes to overcoming declining website traffic. In future months, I’ll continue to examine the topic. Please share your tips in the below comments.

*Note: It’s recommended to setup Google Analytics, even if you don’t know how to use it yet. When you learn how, you’ll have data waiting.

Cover Photo Credit: medicalhealthplus via Compfight cc


Mike Snusz brings 18 years of fundraising experience to his role as a Senior Team Lead on Blackbaud’s Professional Services team. He leads a team of digital consultants and works with nonprofits to improve their digital fundraising, monthly giving, email marketing and peer-to-peer fundraising programs. Prior to Blackbaud, Mike managed the turnaround of the Ride For Roswell from 2003 to 2005 in his hometown of Buffalo, NY. When he’s not contemplating fundraising, Mike enjoys hide and seek, tag, and dance parties with his two kids.

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