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  • Writer's pictureRyan Panzer

What Every Church Leader Should Know about Google Analytics

This is the latest in an ongoing series on digital marketing for church leaders - be sure to check out the companion post on advertising with Google!

"You can't manage what you can't measure."

-Peter Drucker

If you're a church leader, you've likely grown accustomed to measuring some key numbers in your church. You likely know (approximately) how many attended a worship service, or more recently how many watched an online worship service. You might know how much money you have in your budget, and how much you received in tithes and offerings last Sunday. It's likely that somewhere in your career you were trained to think about the"butts and bucks" numbers as the key performance indicators for your congregation (for more on how to move past "butts and bucks," check out Katie Langston's blog on Faith+Lead).

Doing church online requires a new approach to measurement. What matters in the virtually distributed church is the effectiveness with which your church's digital presence (ie, its website and social media) connects with your community. We can measure this level of connection with free digital tools, the most insightful of which is Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is an application that automatically collects data on website traffic, instantly organizing that data into reports and dashboards. Fully customizable and completely free to use, Analytics is a must-use tool for determining whether digital efforts are achieving the intended results.

When you start using Google Analytics, you'll be able to measure how many visited your website, what they did there, whether they stayed and engaged or quickly "bounced," if they viewed multiple pages or just one, and if they eventually returned. This data helps church leaders to determine when, where, and how communities are coming together on the church website. All of this data, of course, is aggregated and anonymized to protect user privacy. In this post, we'll look at some of the first steps you'll want to take as a church leader during COVID.

To get started, you'll need to sign up for Google Analytics with a Gmail account. Once you've signed up for your website, find and add the Analytics "Tracking Code" to your church website. The code snippet is what sends website data to Google Analytics, enabling you to view important reports on site visits and user activity.

Installing the "Tracking Code" tends to be the most confusing implementation step for new Analytics users, so don't be alarmed if takes you a moment to complete the implementation.

Simply copy the code from Analytics and paste the tracking code beneath the <head> tag of your website.

What's a <head> tag, you might ask? It's the "header" of your website, appended to all pages on your domain. If you can find the HTML for your website, all you'll need to do is paste the code near the top. Google Analytics will do the rest.

Once the tracking code is added to your website, you'll start to see site data in Google Analytics, which will look something like this:

With the code properly installed and site data showing up in your Analytics accounts, it's time to start measuring. While Analytics offers millions of datapoints and segmentations for you to analyze, a beginner Analytics users should focus on users, session duration, and pages/session.

"Users" measures the number of unique visitors to your church website as determined by the date range in the upper-right corner of the Analytics UI. A key question for a church during COVID is the number of users relative to the size of your congregation. If your website is effectively connecting to your community, the number of users in a 30-day window should be similar to your unique monthly attendees. If a church saw an attendance of 350 on a typical pre-COVID Sunday, it should strive for 350 monthly website users.

"Session duration"is the average time spent on your webpages during a single visit to your site. If I visit your homepage for 60 seconds and then leave your website, my session duration is 60 seconds. If I visit five different pages on your website for 10 seconds each, my session duration is also 60 seconds. Since all churches and all websites are different, there isn't a benchmark "session duration" that we ought to strive for. Rather, session duration is a metric of directionality. A key question for today's church leader is whether session duration is trending upward or downward. When church communities find relevant, spiritually-edifying content on a site, session duration increases. As you build out your site and add new types of content like blogs and video pages, see if session duration increases.

"Pages/Session"is the average number of pages a site visitor views per each unique visit to your site. If I visit your site but remain on your homepage, my Pages/Session is 1. If I visit your site and view your Worship page, your blog, and your Contact page, my Pages/Session is 3. Pages/Session is a helpful metric in evaluating whether your website is efficiently funneling traffic to key pages within your site. As a church, you'll likely have a page for worship times/streaming, a blog/videos page, a giving page, and many other pages that are vital to your ministry. Your site should make it easy for a user to switch between pages. A key question for today's church leader is how to maintain a Pages/Session average of 1.5 or more, indicating that the average user connects to more than one resource during their session.

Google Analytics can be overwhelming to those without backgrounds in tech or marketing. If you're feeling like there's too much data and it's hard to know where to get started, take a step back and review some of Google's self-paced learning materials.

Then, identify two or three key performance indicators (KPIs) that you will commit to tracking over the course of four weeks. At the end of four weeks, consider what these numbers might tell you about the quality of your website.

What changes might you make based on this data? That's fundamentally what using Google Analytics is about - not numbers, not graphs, but deriving insight from data. With enough practice and sufficient patience, every church leader can use Google Analytics to strengthen their connections with the community, particularly in an era of disruption.


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