What Is A Conversion? What Are Goals?

What Is A Conversion? What Are Goals?
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. Conversions here are easy 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 the volume of sales. For many companies, the leads collected from their website are just as vital—these companies can’t function without a steady stream of people contacting them.

The problem is that this sets the mindset that the conversions must not only be tracked but that they must be important and meaningful to the organization.

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 goals even matter here or should just ignore them altogether?

Redefining Conversions (Somewhat)

I think the trouble starts by tying conversions to money, especially for organizations that aren’t particularly focused on money but rather are focused on a mission. So, let’s detach money from conversions and 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?

But My Goals Are Too Nebulous

Easy enough – what do you want your website to do, measure it and voila you have a conversion! But…is that really all that meaningful? Sure, I can measure an outcome to see if people come to my website and conduct a search for research by non-profit but did they really benefit from that research? How do I know if I’m making a real dent toward my non-profit’s mission?

This is where measuring many different outcomes becomes important—that’s right, the solution is to have many different goals and outcomes to measure. You want to break your big mission (“make a difference in x” or “inform people about y”) into smaller components (or micro outcomes). These are all the various things people could do on your website and all of these small things build up to a bigger mission.

On your website, you might have small activities like letting people watch a video, access a research paper, or conduct 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. (For more about things to measure read my other post on informational website metrics.)

But is knowing that people downloaded one research paper, visited an important page, or conducted a search all that interesting or meaningful? Any one of those can tell you if people are using your website in the way you had hoped when designing and developing your website.

We want something bigger—did we make a difference, make an impact, or inform people about a particular subject matter? Knowing people did one small activity is nice, but maybe not as meaningful as we’d like. People doing one of these small activities isn’t the lifeblood of the organization in the same way sales or leads might be for an e-commerce or lead generation website.

Instead, we want to group all of these smaller tasks together. That way we can know not just that people did one of those things, 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.

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.

Do Conversions Matter?

Yes, conversions do matter for every website. But you need to find the right kinds of conversion points that align to your organization. E-commerce and non-profit websites will have different types of conversion points. But, they each have 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 things 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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