Users, Sessions, Pageviews (How to Interpret Website Data)
Views, channels, and visits can give great insight into who you are reaching with your website. Here’s how to move from numbers to knowledge.
The online presence of a church is one of its most important assets, maybe even as important as the physical building it meets in, to communicate with its members and to reach its community.
Moving home? Visiting somewhere new? Want to explore the Christian faith? You’ll almost certainly search for a church online first. Even if you get a personal recommendation, an online search to follow up is very likely.
Or maybe a church member wants to listen again to the latest sermon or check the starting time of an event. Online is the place to go.
Online is the place where sharing information and reaching new people is taking place. However, unlike in a physical space where a headcount or registration can be made, it is much harder to know how well your communication or outreach is going when you’re online.
There are plenty of tools to help, but when faced with a spreadsheet of numbers it’s difficult to make sense of it all. Here are some insights into what they all mean and how you can use this data to be more effective in your ministry.
Most websites will be set up with Google Analytics, which is probably the most widely used web analysis tools (if yours isn’t, here’s how to do it). Analytics will give you a wealth of data to explore, compare, and contrast.
Almost every person who accesses your website will be tracked, along with how they use your website (unless they have high privacy settings). This can give interesting and valuable information.
I’ll use ‘Barnabas’ as a test subject to explain!
A ‘user’ is an individual person who has visited your website. So, this measurement will tell you how many different individuals have visited within the date range you set.
Measuring users is a good way of seeing how many individual people you have reached.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that users are tracked by ‘cookies’ - small pieces of data placed on their device by their web browser. So, if Barnabas visited on a laptop and then a mobile it would register him as two separate users as there would be two cookies – one on each browser.
‘New Users’ tracks how many people have visited for the very first time within your date range. Although this won't always be 100% accurate and depends again on the cookies – which device is used and/or if cookies have been deleted by a visitor.
‘Sessions’ is a similar measurement to users but counts how many times your website has been visited in total. Barnabas (one user) could visit ten times during your date range – that would count as ten sessions but one user.
The higher number of sessions than users will show those who have visited multiple times. This is a good overall measure of how much your website is being used in general, including repeat visits.
A ‘pageview’ measures how many times your website’s individual pages have been viewed. Barnabas could arrive on your website’s homepage and then explore the page about staff, the page about your beliefs, and the page about Sunday services. This would be one user, one session, but three pageviews.
Although overall pageview data isn’t particularly helpful, drilling down to see the pageviews of individual pages could be. On Google Analytics you can select ‘Behaviour’ then ‘Site Content’ to see which of your web pages is viewed the most.
Understanding which pages have the most pageviews will help you know what your members or community are looking for, what information they need most. So, you should ensure these pages are kept up to date and stay helpful and welcoming.
Similarly, if there are pages on your website that are not viewed often, you could consider how to make them more visible (maybe Barnabas can’t find the page) or consider removing the page altogether (maybe Barnabas just doesn’t need to know about it).
If you run social media accounts, digital advertising, or use email for your church, Acquisition data will be helpful to know which of your efforts is engaging with people best and encouraging people to find out more on your website.
Channels and Medium explains how users arrive on your website: from a search engine, a social media news feed, an email, another website (referral), or by simply typing in the website address or clicking on a saved link (direct). Source explains exactly where the user arrived from: a search on Google, a link on Facebook, the FIEC website, or otherwise.
If you put a lot of effort into Facebook, for example, but see that not many people come to the website from that source, it might be worth putting effort elsewhere. This of course depends on what your goal is with each area of online ministry, but that’s a question for another time!
It’s worth adding a note about ‘bot traffic’: this is data that comes from non-human visitors to your website, like search engine crawlers. Although bot traffic makes up 50% of website visits online, Google Analytics will automatically exclude most of it from your data.
However, malicious bots can still sneak through, searching for personal information or spamming website servers, and this can skew your data. So, if you notice a sudden or unexpected increase in users or pageviews, or a higher than expected number of visitors from an overseas country, it might be a sign of bot traffic and it would be worth talking to your website developers to explore how to stop them.