If you’ve ever been tasked with “generating buzz,” “creating momentum,” “getting people excited,” or “putting us on the map,” you know that it’s really difficult to both define what that means and tell if you’ve been successful. The thing about measuring awareness is that it can be done in a hundred different ways depending on how you go about building it.

That’s one of the reasons why we put together the Awareness Accelerator Nonprofit Marketing Plan. It gives you a roadmap for an entire year of awareness-building tactics focused on four specific strategies. And with each strategy, there’s a set of corresponding metrics to help you assess your progress.

For this post, we’re going to dive into the first strategy that we cover in the plan: Increasing traffic to our website by X%. The amount of growth for X depends on your existing baseline and marketing goals.

While there are a lot of ways to increase website traffic—we even have a whole guide about it— making it happen with an awareness mindset means that you’re treating your website as a core destination for both existing and potential new supporters. And to know if things are going in the right direction, you’ll have to measure where you start and end up.

Before You Begin Measuring…

No matter what your awareness campaign looks like, there are some essential things to know about measuring your marketing efforts.

  • Measure what matters. Stay focused on the end goal(s) of what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s not traffic for traffic’s sake: you’re probably looking for new or different types of visitors who are relevant, engaged and ready to take action.
  • Connect the dots. A single number doesn’t tell a story. Move away from looking at individual data points in favor of evaluating changes over time, especially in correlation to the types of things that were happening in your campaign during that period.
  • Turn information into insights. I’m guilty of taking notes on a dozen sticky notes as I’m trying to answer a question in Google Analytics. But we can’t stop there. Take the time to put your findings into a document so that you (and others) can benefit from what you learn and the recommendations that come from those lessons. Here’s a report template to get you started.

What Website Traffic Tells You About “Awareness”

If thinking about how to measure awareness campaigns is overwhelming you with possibilities, channeling your energy into website traffic is a relatively simple and approachable place to start. But we understand that a website measurement tool like Google Analytics is a wild jungle of data. To help you navigate the jungle, we broke down key metrics with a basic definition and what you can hope to learn.

(Tip: Newbies and experts alike can take a traffic data-gathering shortcut with our free Google Analytics dashboards, especially the Acquisition Overview.)

% increase in website sessions

Simply put, a website session is a period of time when someone is visiting your website. One person can have multiple sessions over days and months. Or many people can have one session, never to return. While it’s a basic metric that doesn’t give you a ton of insight, it can be a jumping-off point for further investigation.

There are lots of rabbit holes to go down from here that can tell you about the quality and engagement of your visitors, such as the percentage of new vs. returning users, how many pages per session that they view during a visit, and any changes to your overall bounce rate (more on that below).

What to Look For: In addition to an overall increase, pay attention to whether or not your jumps in sessions are likely to be evergreen or more short-term. Best case scenario? You’ll see sustained growth with an upward trend, even after your planned tactics are complete.

% increase in organic search traffic

Organic search traffic is made up of visitors that arrive on your website by typing a phrase into a search engine and clicking a link on the results page.

What to Look For: As you ramp up your nonprofit’s public profile, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people will search for you online by your organization’s name. Keep an eye on how long it takes for search-related tactics (like optimizing a page for a keyword) to turn into traffic gains, especially since optimizing website content for search is notoriously slow in most cases.

% increase in email traffic to the website

Email traffic means visitors arrive on your website by clicking a link in an email from an email provider, including email newsletter services like MailChimp or Constant Contact.

What to Look For: Assuming that you’re sending out regular emails that link to your website as part of your awareness-building, looking at this traffic can give you insight into the top interests of people who are on your email list. If you ramp up your email frequency, definitely be on the lookout for impacts on traffic, as well as open and click rates on the messages themselves.

% increase in paid search traffic

Paid search traffic refers to visitors that arrive on your website by typing a phrase into a search engine and clicking a link in one of your paid search engine ads. This includes ads that are running as part of Google Ad Grants.

What to Look For: Even if Google Ad Grant money can only be used to pay for your ads, you’ll want to see that the investment of time and budget is growing your traffic with relevant visitors. Seeing a nice increase in ad traffic is most awesome when these visitors seem interested in what you have to say and stick around long enough to look at a few pages.

% increase in referral traffic

Referral traffic is made up of visitors that arrive on your website by clicking a link on another website. Examples of referral traffic would be from links on a partner website or from online media articles written about your nonprofit that include a link.

What to Look For: One of the best things about referral traffic (assuming that the website doing the referring is relevant and not spammy) is that you shouldn’t have to do a ton to keep the traffic coming over time. If your awareness efforts are going well, you should start to see an increase in referral traffic from a wider range of high-quality sites that link to your website in meaningful ways, like sending people to a page about a specific program or a compelling impact story.

% increase in blog post pageviews

Pageviews are the number of times an individual page on our website is viewed. In this case, you could total the number of views for the blog as a whole, or focus on the posts that are specific to your awareness campaign.

What to Look For: Wondering if blogging is worth it? This metric will help you take a high-level view of your blog’s contributions as you work to grow your reach online. Even more telling would be to look at the types of traffic sources that are sending blog readers your way (or not). Then you can adjust your blogging strategy accordingly, like the topics you write about and how you distribute your posts beyond your website.

Bounce rate for new/returning users

Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors that land on a page of your website and leave without visiting another page. For this metric, you’d compare what the bounce rate looks like for people who haven’t visited your website before versus those who are repeat users. While some awareness campaigns are all about reaching new people, watching what returning visitors are doing can be a good measure of how effective your efforts are for re-engagement.

What to Look For: One of the dangers of measuring awareness via website traffic is that it’s so easy to get caught up in quantity over quality. This metric is a good check on how you’re doing with quality traffic that doesn’t get to your site and then immediately hits the road. Track how your bounce rate changes as you get more visitors, and if certain traffic sources are doing worse than others (in which case your strategy might need tweaking). Aim to bring in new users that are sticking around for a couple of pages as they get to know you.

Taking Traffic to the Next Level

When you get to the end of your website traffic data mining, don’t be surprised when you arrive at a “So what?” moment. After all, a great awareness campaign is going to collect all this newfound buzz and channel it into something positive… right?

Maybe you’re asking people to subscribe to emails, attend an event, sign a petition or something else. When you use your website to spread awareness and get people to take action (a.k.a. converting) you gain the ability to take these traffic metrics and ask some new questions:

  • Did our website conversion rate improve with more visitors?
  • Which traffic sources have the best/worst conversion rates?
  • What pages or posts do people look at before they take an action?

This brings me to my final point about using website traffic for measuring awareness. Getting traffic and sustaining it is the foundation of building awareness for your cause. But don’t just focus on traffic without a plan for what’s next. Imagine the change that’s possible when traffic turns into advocates, community ambassadors, volunteers, donors and more.

Have you noticed any surprising results from measuring awareness at your organization? Or are you struggling to come up with ways to quantify awareness-raising efforts? Let’s chat in the comments, and feel free to share your ideas on how to measure awareness levels for nonprofits.