Your nonprofit has a brand new website. The project that birthed that website is done. It’s up, it’s live, and it’s yours.
So the question you ask yourself is….now what?
Do you leave it alone? Do you simply let it do its magic? Is that how it works?
If you have the feeling that leaving it alone is the wrong thing to do, you are correct. If you don’t know what exactly needs to be done, keep reading.
A website is a living, breathing entity that needs care in order to work for you. The more you put into it, the more it will give back to you.
Here are three things that you can do to ensure that your website will flourish:
1. Make sure your website software and its components are updated
If your website is built on a content management system like WordPress, then it is essentially built on software. You have the core content management system and possibly additional parts for added functionality.
All individual pieces of software that put together your website need to be updated regularly.
What could happen if you don’t regularly update your software?
- You could be missing the latest in security standards, leaving your site vulnerable to hackers.
- If you add any new software parts to the website, they might be incompatible with the existing parts and cause your website to break.
I realize that you’re not a website developer. No need to worry. Updating the software doesn’t have to be difficult. There are two ways to do it:
- Many content management systems, including WordPress, have one-click updates that you can use. If you use a managed website hosting service, they may even do some updating automatically for you.
- If you’d rather not deal with it at all, you can always pay a vendor a reasonable monthly fee for website maintenance. This would include regular updates of all of your software components.
A website built on consistently updated software is a healthy website that will not be easily broken.
Now that you understand the importance of software updates, the next thing you can do to make sure your website works for you is:
2. Track your website analytics data to see what’s happening on your website
Website analytics can be a really complicated animal, but it can be as simple as you want it to be as well.
There are lots of analytics vendors that you can use. I recommend Google Analytics if you’re just starting to experiment in these waters. They have basic reports right out of the box that can give you helpful metrics, such as:
- How many people are visiting your website
- Which website pages are receiving the most visits
- Where people are coming from to get to your website, i.e. Google search, social media sites, someone else’s website, etc.
- How many people are simply visiting one page of your website and then leaving AKA the bounce rate
These simple metrics alone can quickly uncover whether or not your website is working for you. For example, a very low number of people visiting your website can tell you that you need to get more traffic to your website.
If a particular blog post has much higher traffic numbers than the others, then try writing more posts about that topic or expand on it.
If many more people are finding your website through Facebook than any other site, then double down on your promotional efforts on Facebook.
If people are coming to your website and then leaving after visiting one page, then you might want to try and figure out ways to get them to stay longer.
PRO TIP: in the age of blogging, bounce rates have increased. Someone may click a link to your blog post, read it, and then leave. This would be considered a bounce, though they may have loved the blog post and will come back for more.
Use the bounce rate metric with caution.
You can get incredibly deep into website analytics and become a data ninja to increase the success of your website. Or, you can use some very simple metrics and basic analytical skills to find quick ways to improve your website and make it work for you.
Now that you know the importance of software updates and website analytics, the only thing left to do is:
3. Engage in user testing with website visitors, family, friends, colleagues, and anyone else who will help you
User testing is incredibly important because it uncovers our blind spots.
When we initially create websites, we are operating on a series of assumptions. These assumptions include:
- People will clearly understand the website navigation links we want to use
- People will be able to easily find what they need
- People will take the actions that we want them to take by going the route that we have set up for them
Every time, our assumptions are proven wrong. At least some of them, if not all of them.
This is why user testing helps. Let’s say you have a personal relationship with at least some of your website visitors. You can ask them to help you with user testing.
You always want to build a test around taking a specific action.
Let’s say you want someone to create an account on your website, which will enable them to subscribe to your newsletter and easily make recurring donations. You recruit one of your website visitors for user testing. You can either invite them into your office and look over their shoulder while they try to sign up for an account, or simply have them share their screen with you.
Either way, you have to see what they’re doing in order for the testing to work.
Ideally, you will watch as they click through screens and they will tell you what they’re doing and what’s going through their mind. If they’re having an easy time, they’ll simply say “and now I’m going to click here because clearly this is how to get to step 2.”
If they’re having a hard time, they’ll tell you “I’m trying to find how to get to step 2, but I don’t see how to do so” or “none of the links I’m clicking are taking me to step 2.”
This is when you see your website through the visitor’s eyes and realize that you could do a better job of showing the user how to get to step 2. The solution of how to do so may even be apparent in that moment.
You don’t have to limit user testing to website visitors. You can recruit your family, friends, colleagues, and anyone else who’s willing to help you.
If you recruit colleagues, stick to those who don’t work in the website every day. You need a fresh, unbiased set of eyes.
Go forth and do awesome things with your website
Now that you know how to care for your website through software updates, analytics, and user testing, you are way ahead of most other nonprofits.
I understand that as a nonprofit, you’re stretched for time and resources. However, taking at least a bit of time to take deliberate action towards making your website better will help you in the long run. It’ll help bring you new and keep existing donors and constituents.