Counting Your Website Hits? The Real Scoop.

executive punching monitor to mimic website hits

Website HITS, or

How Idiots Track Success: A must-read article.

Most in philanthropy are not that tech-savvy. And if one does not understand the basics, it’s much too easy to go down a misguided path by taking advice from someone not as much interested in his or her institution’s long-term interest.

Website “hits” mean nothing.

It does not matter how many hits you’re getting (although we’re using the term “hits” for now, it really is the wrong term to use… but read on). What matters is how many hits you are getting compared to a relative date. Why?

Everyone gets hits, and they could get more (and they should). What is critical is to measure your hits relative to a planned giving marketing campaign like a targeted postcard mailing filtered by a data-miner and measure the success of the campaign based on your mailings and other promotional efforts.

Another reason not to count “straight hits” is because many of them are from search engines indexing your site (also called “crawling”) and bear no relation to human visits to your site. So unless you are analyzing your web traffic with a professional’s guidance and support, properly filtering out the junk data, you’re “counting up the wrong tree.”

On the web, 2 + 2 might not equal 4.

Don’t simply count hits. Count:

  1. Visitors
  2. Unique visitors
  3. Loyal visitors, and
  4. How much time they are spending on your pages

A hit may be from a search engine robot, you visiting your own website (especially if you have bookmarked it as your home page), a browser view (which includes tiny graphic pieces of your page — all sites have them, sometimes dozens per page). It’s not uncommon to have hits in the thousands, while unique visitors to the same site are but a handful.

When analyzing your site’s traffic report you can, for the most part, ignore raw hits. (Or, if you’re awed by large but insignificant numbers, linger for a while. Then get over any infatuation with “hits”.) It’s much more useful to review the trends in visits, page views, and length of stay.

Tracking your overall website sessions is the best and most accurate way to determine your site’s performance. A session is a unique visit by a single individual whether the visitor looks at one page or every page on the site. It is possible, through deep analysis of your web logs, to “follow” each individual user as they navigate through the site.

If your vendor can’t provide this critical level of analysis to you, if they’re only showing “hits” and don’t even know about the concept of counting sessions, it´s time for you to upgrade.

You need to make your website “sticky” so prospects stay longer.

Do not get obsessed about counting hits; instead, use your planned giving website as an online brochure that´s available 24/7, and then drive prospects to that website.

Develop something exciting, interactive, and fun to use online and offline. Use exciting photos, bulleted lists, callouts (85% of people are visual). Create a campaign that doubles the amount of visitors (it’s easy and cheap). Make an incentive for them to call you, not just ask for more boring, repetitive brochures on planned giving through electronic forms. Chances are they won’t even bother since most of your information is online already! Why duplicate it and confuse your prospect? They are already in information overload, and not just from you.

Go ahead, make the ask.

When they call, offer a personal illustration and a visit, not just more brochures. “Go ahead, make the ask.” Why add a middle step? The average American is inundated with over 3700 advertising messages a day. You can make yours the one that counts by making that personal connection in the first phone call.

One word of caution: stay away from mass emailing prospects unless you follow strict guidelines.

In short: you need to deliver methods to convert your website visitors into phone calls, so you can cultivate them as donors. And that´s exactly what we help you to do.

It’s the wrong question to ask.

Don’t ask: “How will we know how many visits our site gets?” The answer is easy to determine (and we do it well), but the question, by itself is the wrong one. It´s similar to asking, “How many times did the phone ring in the Office of Planned Giving on January 7th?”

Ask instead, “How has the internet been an integral part of our overall marketing strategy?” Think about the ways your site can expand your marketing reach and put your message in front of your best prospects, at the right time, when they are in their most receptive moods.

“We’re not getting many hits because our site isn’t fresh every month.”

Lame excuse. A total cop-out. Well, actually, it’s only misdirected energy. Although it’s a good idea to keep your site fresh (we do it daily with quick tips), don’t compare your website to Time Magazine. Yours is not a repeat-visit kind of site. Planned giving prospects will not visit your site month after month looking for exciting news in planned giving. Not quite.

Experience with many planned giving sites tells us that prospects visit, gather their information over a few days, and then contact you if they decide to do so. Some may even contact you months later.

How about financial planning tips, you ask? Their daily mail is full of it. One more rate-of-return table or tax advisory is not going to win them over.

Getting off-course

Should you obsess over Web hits?

Your planned giving website is used in conjunction with other marketing materials to inform and inspire prospective donors to contact you to make a gift. Therefore, focusing strictly on traffic volume is only a small part of the story.

Being pushed into focusing on website hits is strictly a sales-driven marketing effort that deliberately drives you off-course from facing your true challenge: you now have a website; how do you incorporate and use it as part of your overall campaign? A website can’t close gifts by itself, you know.

Cause and Effect

Rather than worrying about how many sessions your site receives on a daily basis, understand how site adjustments and marketing efforts impact the overall traffic patterns. Therefore, tracking session data from month to month, and watching for jumps in the charts after an advertisement has gone out are excellent ways to analyze your website traffic reports. (Can you say cause-and-effect?) If your marketing is done properly you will very likely see growth in your overall session traffic over time. Don’t sweat the day-to-day figures.

And remember: if a prospect calls you for information, refer them to your website, and schedule a meeting. If they are not online (highly unlikely), print the pages off your website and mail it. Period.

What is your main challenge?

To maintain a coordinated, proactive, consistent marketing campaign � online and offline. And do not be a “binge marketer”.

We offer 12 solid tips for our clients — most of them cost nothing and take little time. Following these tips will lead you to success. It’s like watching your health. You can focus on exercising but if you ignore the other facets of your health, you will almost certainly fail.

Planned Giving is boring!

Most of us in planned giving started out doing something else. We were volunteers, annual giving officers, ministers, financial planners, insurance brokers, teachers. I know of one who was a cab driver.

And some of us (including one of the authors here) were, yes, lawyers.

Initially, we faced an unintelligible jumble of arcane terminology and obscure tax regulations (Contingent bequests? Four tiers? Interpolated terminal reserve? You value a racehorse’s stud services how?)

Eventually, we became proficient in this second language. We could hold our own at the lunches of the local planned giving council. We even ventured our first posting on a planned giving list-serve like GIFT-PL.

And then came the disconnect: We forgot how boring planned giving is to civilians. Remember, they’re not immersed in this profession, you are.

Don’t be swayed by numerous “hits”. Instead, measure your coordinated marketing efforts.

Oh, and one more thing. Don’t forget to put your phone number on the site! (It can be so easy to forget the blatantly obvious. Especially for professionals.)

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