202.577.3350 will@willmarlow.com

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If you are serious about using the Internet to communicate with customers, alumni or donors, you also need to be serious about measuring your success.  If you don’t measure your results, you have no way of knowing if you’re improving, and you’ll have no way of knowing if you should do more of the same, or more of something else.

1. Google Analytics.  Install it on all your websites even if you don’t plan on analyzing it.  (It will collect data now that can be dissected later.)  At first it will tell you basic stuff like how many people find you via Twitter, Facebook, or your blog – but later it will tell you more interesting things, like how the quality of the visitors varies depending on how the visitor finds you.)

2. Website Grader.  This will literally “grade” your website, and the report that it generates will go a long way to teaching you about search engine optimization, site indexing, and how your site should be (and is) built.  If you aren’t a techie, this application will generate a report that will help you ask the right questions of the people who maintain your site.  It may also convince you to find new people to help take you to the next level of online communication.

3. Yahoo Site Explorer.  Other than Flickr and Delicious, this is probably the only Yahoo product I use.  It will quickly tell you how many links are pointing to your site.   The more you measure things, the more you learn how difficult it is to get accurate measurements; there are lots of good reasons for why each measurement tool seems to give you a different reading, but the primary takeaway from this is that you should use lots of tools and look for trends, not exact reports.)

4.  Bit.ly.  Whenever you send out a link, you should use a bit.ly link from your bit.ly account, because this will tell you how many times the link was clicked, where else the link was placed, and the countries in which the clicks took place.  

There’s more voodoo in the field of analyzing web traffic than there is in Louisiana, and using these four free tools will give you an idea of the limitations of web analytics.  Each tool will give you different data, even when they each claim to be measuring the same thing.  This shouldn’t discourage you.  You can extract tremendously valuable insights from the data, but you should be wary of people who offer you easy, simple answers.  As you get more advanced, you’ll be more comfortable combining all of this “clickstream” data with the softer qualitative data you get from talking to your people on the telephone, over email, and in surveys.

And before you ask, the answer is yes, the picture at the top of this post doesn’t have anything to do with this topic.  It’s just a picture I took this morning of a dog having a good time in the snow.

Will Marlow co-founded AlumniFidelity to help his clients reposition their fundraising to benefit from Web 2.0 technology and marketing techniques. He’s working with clients such as UVA, the College of William & Mary, the University of Oklahoma, Bowling Green State University, Randolph Macon College, and he loves nothing better than a thorny marketing challenge.  Email him at will@alumnifidelity.com