As church leaders, we are dealt with the task of measuring a near impossible thing, spiritual growth. While we understand that God is the only one that knows the heart, we still need to be able to use data to inform us of what important steps of faith people might be taking and then to act upon this information. In this digital age, we find ourselves capable of measuring many things and having copious amounts of data by which to gauge interactions. You may have seen information regarding clicks, opens, reach, engagements, and many others. But which of these really matter and help give us an idea of what people are actually doing? In this article, we’ll help guide you to the important things we feel churches should be looking for instead of “vanity metrics”. What are “vanity metrics” you ask? Vanity metrics are statistics provided to you by many social media platforms that give you the illusion that your posts are doing well, when in reality they may not be doing well at all. The goal of social media platforms is to entice you to continue to spend money to increase the reach of your marketing efforts. They do this by using metrics that can mislead you to thinking there has been real engagement with your content when that isn’t the case. So it is important to know the metrics that really matter.
Understanding the information about how users are interacting with your website is one of the most crucial steps you can take to know what is actually happening. Most websites are not set up with proper analytics to get this information. But if yours is, then you’re off to the right start. Some of the most crucial data to track on your website is “New Users”. This is the metric that tells you, of all of the users on your website, how many are new. The primary goal of your church website is to attract new visitors and secondarily to be a resource for existing members. If new users aren’t looking at your website then it is not accomplishing its primary goal. It could need an SEO optimization to help it be found better in searches or possibly a visual upgrade to make it more appealing to visitors, either way though you need to know and track how many new users are coming to your website each month.
Another good metric to track is bounce rate. This lets you know how often people are landing on your website and immediately leaving. This should show a percentage of your total traffic. If your bounce rate is high, don’t freak out, there is a lot of searching going on online and people are looking for the right information at lighting speed. If your website is getting higher than 60% bounce rate then it may be time to do something about it. You may be using the wrong keywords and attracting the wrong audience or you may not have the information that your audience is looking for. Either way this deserves a deeper dive as to why. If your website has both a higher new user count and low bounce rate, you’re doing things right!
Bonus metric: While it’s important to track overall website traffic, it’s also important to track clicks on your primary call to action. Whether it’s a “Plan Your Visit” button or “Watch Online”, you need to know how many people are clicking on that button. This requires adding a tracking code to that button to know how many users are coming to your website and clicking on that link. We call this a “Next Step” metric. If a website user has come to your website and also clicked on a next step metric then your website is working well. Congrats! If you don’t have this information, consider putting a tracking code on your website’s primary calls to action. Another great way to get this information is through heat maps. These heat maps give you a look as to what part of your website most people are using. Like a traditional heat map, the parts that people click on the most are highlighted with darker and darker shades of orange and red. This gives you valuable information on the pages you put it on so you can know what is of most interest to those going to your website. We use a platform called HotJar to get this information and if your site is built on WordPress then setting it up is pretty easy and the data you get from this is priceless.
If your church is using email, and it should be, there are some important metrics to measure here too. Email marketing is not about the number of emails on your list, but rather, it is about the quality of your list. This quality over quantity approach will help you reach the right people with the right information.The goal with email marketing is to have a high click through rate. This click through rate refers to the people who are opening and clicking on your primary call to action buttons in the email. A good click through rate for emails is 2-5%. So whether it’s to sign up for an event, view a previous sermon, or to schedule a call, these are the next step metrics that you need to be looking for. If your emails have a high open rate, great! But are those opens converting to clicks on actions? If not, then you may need to optimize your email list. There is nothing wrong with dropping emails from your list that haven’t been active in a while. A good email marketing platform should help you with this. If you take this quality over quantity approach, you can achieve better engagement with your email list. This leaves you with less cluttered data so you’ll be able to see who clicked on what and gauge potential next steps of a member or visitor.
This is the one that many churches feel the most lost on. Why? Because you are presented with a barrage of metrics, most of them vanity metrics, to entice you to spend money on paid reach. Meta (formerly known as Facebook) has made organic reach, that is, having the people that follow your page seeing your content, increasingly difficult without paying for it. This is how they make a lot of money as a platform. If your church has the budget, it may be a worthwhile investment, if your church doesn’t, then don’t fret, you can still reach that audience, it just may be a little more difficult. “Impressions” and “reach” are vanity metrics that show you how many times your posts were “seen” and by how many people. The issue with these metrics is that people consume such a vast amount of content on social media that really an impression isn’t of much value. An impression is counted when Facebook shows your content to someone, but that isn’t the same as someone actually viewing your content. Our scrolling habits have made impressions almost irrelevant. But this is the metric that social media platforms try to sell you on because it is easy for them to deliver. But the best metric to track is “engagement”. This is the metric that encompasses likes, shares, comments, and clicks. This is the metric that lets you know that your content is actually engaging people. Their like, share, or comment is the first step to know your content is connecting. But the holy grail of metrics is clicks. Again this is the next step metric that is most important to track, why? Because it lets you know that people are actually so interested that they are willing to follow through to learn more about whatever you are linking to. One big mistake is that many churches don’t actually add links to their social media posts. While this is not possible on Instagram, it is on Facebook and Twitter. Looking at the metrics for social media posts can be daunting. What you want to do is focus on engagement, specifically clicks, to a link or call to action. That way you will know how many people are taking those next steps and to know that you’re putting out engaging content.
Also, if you’re looking to improve your social media standing, check out our article on 11 Easy Wins on Social Media.
Video is here to stay and your church needs to be investing in this important medium. Millenials and Gen Z are more interested in video than any previous generation. It has the power to be a platform that your church can use to engage with your visitors and members, now and in the future. Whether you are using YouTube, Facebook, or Vimeo to host your video, there are plenty of vanity metrics that you want to be aware of. The first is “views,” this metric much like the “impressions” metric for social media platforms can falsely lead you to feeling good about how your video is doing. Most people have their videos on auto-play so if they are scrolling or watching it will give the video a short view which the platform can interpret as a “view”. The metric to look for is not just how many views your video received but also how long it was viewed. On YouTube this is called “retention”. You want to see how long people watched your video. The longer the watch the more engaged people were with your video. The other metric to pay attention to is the “total watch time”. Facebook shows this by telling you how many people watched a video over certain increments of time (3 seconds and 1 minute) and YouTube will show you the total watch time for a video. If you’ve posted a video, look for people who were engaged for at least half the length of the video you posted. This could be 30 min for a 1hr church service or 30 seconds for a 1 min video. This is the true number that tells you how well people were engaged with your content.
One next step metric is click-through rate on your video. If you post a video with a link or some sort of call to action, look at how many people clicked that vs how many people were engaged with the video. The “click through rate” is a powerful metric to know on all platforms where your church is posting content. You can even post in video links on your youtube to make it easy for people to take action on your content.
Search is the truely what powers the web and can be a great resource to help your church get found online. If you are not investing in ongoing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) then you should talk to us, or watch some Youtube videos on the topic. It might seem daunting at first, but consistent SEO of your website can dramatically increase the reach of your church. You might be wondering where you get metrics for search, Google Search Console, of course. In Google Search Console you are able to see how your website is ranking in searches and specifically what searches your website is ranking for. This is crucial to make sure you are showing up for searches that are important to people finding your church. Again the metrics you will find in the search console are similar to other places in that they use “Impressions” and “Clicks” to give you insight. These can help you to know how many people are seeing the name of your church as a search engine result. One metric to note is one called “Average Position”. This is a great metric to track as it is a summary of how your website is ranking across all the keywords that it shows for.
It is important to note that this number will most likely never be 1 unless you pay for Google Ads. But it can give you a general idea of whether your website is going up or down in rankings. This data accompanied by a good SEO plan can have your church climbing through the rankings with the goal to rank in the top 3 for certain searches or at least on the first search engine results page for other more topical searches. In the Search Console, you can see what topics people are finding you by, this is important so that you can see other opportunities to expand upon. Churches that keep a regular blog or news page will naturally have higher ranking than those that don’t simply for the fact that they have more content and topics to get ranked for. As Google crawls your website it seeks to understand your content and “serve” it to people looking for those results. A good way to reach a new audience online is to begin writing content related to the topics those people are searching for.
It is important to weigh out the good with the bad with all these metrics and pay attention to the ones that really help paint an accurate picture for your church. Don’t get lost in the weeds. We hope that by pointing out these metrics that matter, that you can help guide your church’s online engagement strategy. Whether you’re just starting out online or are seeking to increase your online engagement—the metrics that we pointed out today should get you on your way!
*This article was adapted from an article posted by One Eighty Digital