Why Visitors Abandon Your Website (And How to Fix It)

Spencer Brooks

Don’t let your website visitors get away! Use these tips from Spencer Brooks of Brooks Digital. ~Kristina

Guest Post by Spencer Brooks

Last year, I uncovered some data that shocked me.

I was browsing through one of our client’s Google Analytics reports when I came across an alarming trend. There, in the demographic data, lay a discovery: visitors over the age of 55 were half as likely to come back to the site than those in any other age range.

Now, at first glance, this may not seem like an especially shocking discovery. But for this particular organization, it was a serious problem.

Not only were those 55+ visitors the primary audience for this particular nonprofit (focused on diabetes care), but their entire mission was to provide ongoing help and online education for those living with the disease. They were hemorrhaging hundreds of thousands of their most important visitors for an unknown reason. Scary.

When we began to unpack this problem and try to understand what factors were actually causing it, we quickly narrowed it down. The website’s design had been created to mimic popular viral news sites like Buzzfeed. This may have seemed like a wise choice at the time, but we now saw that the information overload of this design was actually driving away the very users the organization was most interested in reaching.

The lesson we learned that day was simple: if you craft a website strategy without considering your audience, even the best-laid plans can fail miserably.

The thing was, this site was designed based on the instructions of the director. And although they were well intentioned, the director’s vision wasn’t rooted in actual data or usability insight. Now they’re in need of a redesign to solve these problems.

Many nonprofits have a website design that serves their needs or tastes but doesn’t serve their constituents as effectively as it could. In many cases, it’s even disproportionately impacting the most important visitors to their website and hobbling their ability to serve the people they’re trying to help.

In order to avoid this kind of outcome for your nonprofit’s website, here are four key things you can do.

1) Understand your audience and set clear website KPIs

First and foremost, your nonprofit should clearly identify which audiences are most important to your cause.

Then, set key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the effectiveness of your site at serving these audiences. In our case, we used the number and frequency of return visits as an indicator because it aligned with the organization’s mission of providing ongoing, comprehensive support.

Your KPIs may include overall visits, time on site, bounce rate, goal conversions, or whatever other metrics may be important. Track these numbers over time to monitor how your website is performing.

2) Use your data to identify problems on your website

Almost everyone these days has Google Analytics set up on their website. And most nonprofits do some basic monitoring of web traffic and possibly conversions.

But, how deeply have you drilled into your data?

Google Analytics and similar software offer a lot of robust functionality for measuring and understanding trends with your traffic. You can uncover insights about which visitors are most engaged, where there are issues, and which traffic sources are generating the best results.

For our client, I used the “Age” report on traffic demographics to identify that behavior among visitors 55+ was an outlier when compared to the rest of the visitors. (See the end of this article for detailed instructions on the specific report I ran, plus additional resources on using Google Analytics to reveal hidden website issues.)

3) Conduct user tests to uncover insights about your audience behavior

If your data points to a specific anomaly or problem on your website, the next step is to figure out where exactly the problem lies.

Although Google Analytics can tell you what’s happening, it often takes conversations with real people to uncover the true insights about why it’s occurring.

In the web world, we call this “user testing” or “usability testing.” You can do it in-person or with remote tools, but the most important part is that you observe people who closely match your target audience. In our case, we recruited a panel of users ages 55+ to help us identify problems with the organization’s website.

Design a series of specific experiments where you instruct participants to complete a set of common tasks on your website. Observe them using your website, then identify where they struggle the most.

After your experiment is complete, make the necessary changes on your website to fix your problem areas. Measure the results based on your KPIs, and segment the data to look specifically at the audience that is most important to your organization.

4) Focus on objective measurement and goals rather than “gut” feelings

The most important part of this process is to then use the data that you’ve gathered to drive future decisions. Instead of choosing which designs, buttons, or features you think would be best for the site, consider your audience and test your ideas with a series of experiments. This allows you to act on cold-hard data coupled with insights you’ve gleaned from watching people use your site.

Through this process, you’ll be able to continuously improve your nonprofit’s website and better serve all of your visitors, including the ones who are most important to your mission and your organization.

Test, learn, repeat.

Want to learn the specific techniques Brooks Digital uses to reveal website issues in Google Analytics (including the demographics report we mentioned in this article)? Download 5 Google Analytics Reports to Uncover Website Problems.

Spencer Brooks is the founder of Brooks Digital, a website support firm built for nonprofits with mission-critical Drupal sites. Part entrepreneur, software engineer, and project manager, he relishes the craft of designing systems that deliver amazing websites while building tech capacity in nonprofit organizations. In his free time, Spencer volunteers as a drummer for his local church and experiments with different ways of hand-brewing insanely delicious coffee.

Author: Kristina Leroux, Community Engagement Manager

I am the Community Engagement Manager at Nonprofit Marketing Guide.com.

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