Web analytics is all about goals, and the all-important goal is donations. If you’re tracking donations as a goal in Google Analytics, you’re already ahead of the curve, gathering great data about these valuable users and how they behave on your site.

But you could get even better data about donations.

A serious limitation comes with Google Analytics goals: they track key actions but no related information. You can know that someone donated, but not how much or even what form they used. With many actions (for example, email signup), that’s just fine. But for donations, wouldn’t it be nice to know if your high-converting segments are donating $5 or $500?

Of course, there is a “value” setting that you can set for each goal. The downside is it’s purely symbolic.

You choose the value of each goal, and it’s the same every time the goal is completed. This is a great way to account for the potential value of non-donation actions – for example, if you feel that a new email address is worth about $5, but your average donation is $60, you can compare the value of content that drives email acquisition, versus content that drives donations. But you won’t see the differences in actual donation amounts.

There’s a better way to track donations: instead of goals, use eCommerce tracking.

eCommerce is built into Google Analytics, but it requires some technical know-how to set up – as a result, it’s less used than goals. But it captures a wealth of information about transactions, including transaction amounts, that gives you a richer view of your donation data.

You get better data on your transactions, and it opens up access to a world of useful reports: most valuable traffic sources, most popular products, and even the number of visits made before a user donates. You can view eCommerce data as a separate tab in most reports and measure the value of landing pages that contribute the most towards conversion.

“Wait a minute,” you might say. “We don’t have eCommerce on our site. We take donations.” No big deal. A transaction is a transaction. Where a robust eCommerce tool might send back data about a cart full of multiple products, your tracking treats the donation as basically an eCommerce transaction with a single item.

To set up eCommerce tracking, you follow these steps:

  1. Enable eCommerce in the settings on each profile where you want to use it. (That’s easy.)
  2. Write some code. This is where the technical know-how comes in – you’ll need to edit javascript to do this. In your code, you’ll create a transaction (defined by a transaction ID) and add a single “item” (your donation). Then, you’ll submit the transaction to Google Analytics. Google has good documentation and examples that you can build on.
  3. Add the code to the thank you page of your donation form, and add whatever hooks you need to plug in the appropriate information about the transaction.

Depending on your donation management tool, it may be easy to pull out transaction details or very difficult. We’ve had fun doing this recently with Convio, which has a handy shorthand for displaying transaction information. If your system has something similar, drop that shorthand into your eCommerce code, and you’re all set. (If it doesn’t, you may need to do more complex coding to pull data from an API or, in the worst case, scrape it off the confirmation page.)

What data do you pass to Google Analytics? The details of a donation aren’t a perfect fit for the parameters in eCommerce tracking, which means you need to be a little creative about mapping your fields – but it also allows you to pull in data you might not otherwise. For example, the Item details allow for a product code, product name, and a “category or variation.”

Your “product” is just a donation, but you can use these fields in whatever best meets your needs. If you run many different campaigns, you might use the campaign name as the product name. If you’re testing ask strings, maybe the donation level name is the product name. The category field is open-ended and could capture any other donation aspect. Are you interested in honor gifts? Monthly gifts? You can catch that information in the category.

Once you’ve set up eCommerce tracking, you’ll be able to assign an actual dollar value to almost every interaction, segment, and source in your analytics setup. If you’re an analytics geek like me, be prepared to have lots of fun digging into a whole new dataset.