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What Is A Conversion? What Are Goals?

By Matthew Edgar · Last Updated: April 24, 2017

The conventional wisdom within analytics and measurement is that you must measure conversions—some type of outcome or goal—and you need to measure this on every single website. But, conversions are tricky to pin down for some types of websites. Sure, on an e-commerce website you have transactions and orders that people complete, making conversions easier to define. Lead generation websites make conversion tracking relatively simple as well—people submit a lead generation form, which is an outcome or conversion that can be tracked and measured.

These conversions on e-commerce websites and lead generation websites are typically vital to the success of not just the website but the organization as well. The lifeblood of a retail company’s website is revenue from online purchases. For many companies, the leads collected from their website are just as vital to the company’s success—these businesses can’t function without a steady stream of people contacting them.

What if you aren’t running a lead generation or e-commerce website? What if you are running a website for a non-profit, a government department, an academic institution, or an association? These types of websites don’t have direct revenue goals—they aren’t worried about sales or leads because this is often mission-driven work. So, what would a conversion be? What is important enough and meaningful enough to consider a conversion? Do conversions even matter here or should we ignore conversions altogether and simply not track goals for these types of websites?

Redefining Conversions (Somewhat)

The trouble is that conversions are very closely tied to. While that makes sense for certain types of organizations, for non-profits or governmental websites, revenue doesn’t make sense. Instead, we need to think about conversions not in terms of revenue, but in terms of what is important and meaningful to the organization.

By detaching revenue from conversions, we can instead ask: what do you and your organization hope people will do on your website? Why did you make an investment in the website?

In the case of a non-profit, it may be that you want to connect people within a specific community with vital information or resources. In the case of an association, you may want to ensure members can connect with other members. Governmental websites need to make sure citizens can learn about the work they are doing and provide feedback where needed. Academic institutions may want people to find their research or other related materials.

The list is somewhat endless of what you may want your website to achieve and every organization’s website will have different objectives. But the point is that at some level you want people to come to your website and get something from that website. If you don’t want your website to achieve something, why bother spending time working on and investing in the website?

How Do I Know Which Goals Matter?

How do you know if the conversions you define though are really meaningful? Sure, you can measure an outcome to see if people come to your website and conduct a search for a research paper but did the people who found that research paper really benefit from it? How do you know if you are making a real dent toward your non-profit’s mission?

The solution is to have many different goals and outcomes to measure. By measuring many different goals, you can paint a clearer picture of what value is truly being delivered. As well, we can group all of these different goals together. That way we can know not just that people did one small thing on our website, but rather we can know if people did many of those things. If people convert in multiple ways during a visit to your website, this becomes meaningful information and starts to tell us exactly what kind of impact or difference our websites are making.

To identify these multiple goals, you want to break your big mission (“make a difference in x” or “inform people about y”) into smaller components where these components represent all the various things people could do on your website. Some of these components will be very tiny things people can do on your website—they are micro-outcomes that are only meaningful once combined with other data about other goals. Other things, though, will be somewhat bigger things people can do on your website—these are macro-goals that might be meaningful in and of themselves but are probably even more valuable when combined with data about other goal completions.

Micro & Macro Outcomes

On your website, you might have micro activities like watching a video, viewing a research paper, or conducting a search through key materials. All of these small things people can do on your website—that presumably you want people to do while visiting your website—are conversions to measure. In and of itself, it may not be that meaningful to know that people looked at one research paper or watched one video. However, people who used the search tool a dozen times, actively read through many different blog posts, and then download three different research papers clearly benefited from the website. This kind of visit, with many conversions happening, starts to more clearly tell you if your website is working toward your organization’s larger mission.

Along with the micro-outcomes, we also have macro-outcomes. For example, if people download a key resource and provide their email address, that is incredibly valuable to your organization. Similarly, if your website provides tools or services, tracking the usage of those tools or services is a critical goal for your organization. For many organizations, a common macro-goal is also how many people shared information about your organization on social media or spent a longer amount of time on the site. While macro-outcomes are interesting to report on individually, the value of macro-outcomes increases when we see how many visitors completed several macro goals during their visit to the website.

To make the goal reporting even more meaningful, you can bring the macro- and micro-outcomes together. That way, you know what percentage of your visitors are completing several different micro- and macro-goals during their visit to your website. For example, maybe you find that 16% of people who visit the website complete one or more micro-goals and also complete one or more macro-goals. Now you really have interesting data about how valuable your website is and data that tells you how your website is benefiting your organization’s larger mission.

Side note: For more ideas about specific actions to measure read my other post on informational website metrics, many of which apply to mission-driven websites too.

Do Conversions Matter?

Yes, conversions matter for every website. But you need to find the right kinds of conversion points that align with your organization. and non-profit websites will have different types of conversion points. Every type of website, though, has some type of conversion—something they’d really like people to do when visiting the website. In the case of a non-profit website, you may need to track multiple outcomes, the macro and the micro, to paint that bigger picture about how your website is helping your organization. But, remember, there is a point behind every website—a reason why you’ve invested into creating that website. That reason is your goal and you need to measure it, in both big and small ways.




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