Listening To Your Parishioners Through Numbers: Understanding ‘Analytics’

As a manager for over 17 years, numbers have a great deal of importance to me.  The biggest lesson I’ve learned in regards to interpreting data is that numbers “tell a story” and they are a key means to “hearing” your customers.  The great thing about the internet is that a lot of data is available to webmasters and social media efforts for making better decisions.  For example, our parish website was recently handed over to a young man to gain some experience.  I’m all for it, but knew that change shouldn’t be disruptive to parishioners.  The site recently has taken on a look and feel that is “nicer” but doesn’t match up to the content that visitors have told us they want.  How do we know?  From the numbers.  The website stats tell us that among the top visited pages consistently have been Mass times and the Ministry Directory.  This is information that our parishioners have been “telling us” they want to be able to get easily through the website.

Where do the numbers come from online?  One of the services I typically use for websites is Google Analytics.   The service is free and simple to set up on a website.  The data is very detailed as well (i.e. top visited pages, popular days, popular times, types of browsers used, time on your site, etc.).  There are other data services as well, but this is the one I typically use.  Let’s look at websites first and then we’ll touch on Facebook’s Page Insights which is really eye-opening. So what should you be looking for in these numbers and hat decisions do they help you make?

  1. Number of visits.  This tells you if people are even visiting the website.  This is the foundation to everything.  If people aren’t coming, then you really can’t go any further with anything else.  If not, you need to find out why.  That’s when you should be out actually talking with people.  Do they know the parish has a website?  Have they ever visited it?  What did they like or not like about it?  What would they like to see on there or differently on there?
  2. The type of browser people are mainly using.  This is one that often gets missed and speaks a lot to the experience people are having.  It’s important to check and see how your site is working on all browsers (i.e. Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, etc.).
  3. Number of returning visitors.  You might have great SEO (search Engine Optimization) that brings in a significant amount of traffic, but if they are not coming back you have an effectiveness problem.  This goes back to experience and you need to find out what it is you are not delivering on in terms of information for your parishioners.
  4. Times that people are visiting.  Traffic will vary by day and time of day.  This is great information to know.  This tells you when you should get important new information out prior to those days and times.  It also tells you the best time to make major chnages or updates (i.e. when traffic is the lightest typically).
  5. The pages people are mostly visiting and for how long.  This is how people are telling you how they are using your website.  What’s important to them in term of information.  These pages should be a lot of focus on keeping them top-notch and up-to-date.
In any of these situations you may find that what you “thought” and what is “reality” is different in terms of your site.  don’t get discouraged, and use the information to run some “tests”.  Maybe there is a portion of the site you were hoping would be used more.  So put focus on that in your bulletin (offline impacts online) or on the home page/throughout the site.
Facebook Insights
If you have a parish Facebook Page, you probably have noticed some much better data coming through.  On the right hand side of the

Example from my wife's business page

page (if you are an admin), you’ll see “View Insights”.  Typically most have been measuring “effectiveness” on Facebook by the number of “Likes” and comments to posts.  These are important, but do not really tell the “whole story”.  Are you reaching people is more important, but it’s been difficult to tell that in the past.  Now you can see the number of “impressions” you are making and when.  For example, although you might not be getting a lot of commenting; you may see that you are getting a lot of visitors to your page and views on your posts.  The question obviously becomes why isn’t the “conversation” happening you might have been hoping for?  That’s what you need to find out, and again need to start asking people.  Look at other pages where great conversations are happening in the Catholic community and tweak your posts to better engage visitors.

In terms of “likes”, I tend to view this the in same the same manner as SEO with websites.  You need to have a balance with exposure and effectiveness.  I tend to put slightly more focus on effectiveness.  Think of it this way in terms of a store . . . a large crowd coming in and buying nothing because your store doesn’t meet their needs gains you nothing.  A smaller crowd that you have focused on truly serving their unique needs that buys a lot is what keeps you in business.  So gaining “likes” of people who truly are interested and leveraging that by delivering the information and cultivating the dialogue that is important to them is where the true benefit is in terms of a Facebook page.  “Likes” will grow from there.  Jesus started with small groups, and when His message spreads . . . they come.
Numbers can be interesting.  Again, they are one of the biggest advantages to the online world and gaining feedback that would can be really daunting in the offline world.  When you put them together they tell a “story” that gives you a lot of insight to make decisions that allow you to provide the best service to your community.  They are ever-changing too, and again by keeping an eye on them you can continue to make the best decisions.
How are you using online analytics to make decisions?  What service do you use?  What would you recommend as the most important components to look for?
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Author:Brad West

I live in Palm Coast, FL with my family and have assisted my local parish with our website and communications. Our parishes today can benefit a great deal from technology. Whether it's improving communications, community building, evangelizing, business operations, and much more; we have the tools today. To help provide some direction and advice to parishes and parishioners, I wrote and published an eBook titled "The Connected Church" which is available through Barnes and Noble (Nooks and Nook apps) as well as Amazon (Kindle and Kindle apps).
  • Rfoley

    Thanks for the article. I would say it’s equally as important to measure engagement. The Gallup Faith Practice, a division of Gallup provides a way parishes to measure the percentage of engagement (sense of belonging) that parishioners have for their parish. The survey is called ME25.