February 13, 2017
Web Metrics in Higher Education Pt. 1: Site Visitors

As a web manager in Higher Education, getting settled into 2017 means you've probably asked yourself: What should I be paying attention to, this year specifically, in my web strategy.

Tracking web analytics and metrics year-round is important for all organizations. But as with most things in Higher Education, there are areas where we'll need to approach things differently.

Web strategy tip #1: Plenty of people work hard, your goal should be to work smarter.

Oftentimes, we do not have the luxury of beginning every project with a strong strategy behind it based off a good set of data. And even if we do, we don't always get to see projects through from start to finish. Projects get started in one department and are then handed over to us when it's time to implement.

As you are handed projects - whether it's creating a landing page for a new campaign or setting up a reporting structure for a new site - start with questions on goals, tools, and how to determine success (or failure). These are even good questions to ask yourself halfway through the project.

Web strategy tip #2: Don't engage in any project without first putting into place a strong strategy based off good data, e.g. a strong analytics strategy.  

In this blog series, we'll take a look at three ways of assessing user activity and dig into 8 essential web metrics that I believe every web manager in Higher Education should be tracking this year. I'll focus on Google Analytics (GA) in my examples, although these same concepts can be applied to other analytics and tracking platforms like Adobe Analytics, MixPanel, etc. 

Let's first introduce our three ways of assessing user activity:

  1. Who Visits Our Site? (Site Visitors)
  2. How Did They Find Us? (Discovery)
  3. What Did They Do? (Behavior)

We'll focus on one of these assessment techniques in each blog. To kick things off, we'll look more closely at who is visiting and what we need to know about them.  

Who Visits Our Site?

To improve marketing and communications efforts, it's important to know as much as possible about target visitors. Whether you're ramping up recruiting efforts in neighboring states, looking for new donors, or improving the registration process for current students, the first step is to make sure you understand who is coming to your website.

Basic geography and loyalty information on users is so 2016. It is time to dive deeper. 

Metric #1: Turn on demographic and interest data collection.

The more information you collect about your users, the better decisions you can make about your web experience. First, make sure you have Demographic and Interest information turned on. You will need to update your Privacy Policy to ensure compliance.

Once Demographic and Interest information is turned on, you can view your site traffic by the user's age, gender and interests (a user's interests are decided by their browsing habits). Perhaps most importantly, you can now cut your data through segments (see below) and secondary dimensions.

Metric #2: Create segments to quickly understand user behavior.

One of the first steps to setting up for a new marketing effort is to understand the behavior of different types of visitors. To do this, we create segments in GA.  

Segments are saved subsets of your data. Rather than always applying a secondary dimension to find data, create a segment with the handful of variables that define an audience. Now, I can view traffic based on that audience, compare that traffic to other segments, and track goals. Some common segment comparisons are mobile vs. desktop traffic, organic vs. paid sessions, and user affinity based on the number of pages visited.

With these segments set up in GA, you can create segments to compare visitors from different cities, identify trends for certain types of visitors, develop behavioral reports, and determine if marketing and admissions efforts are successful in target regions. 

Metric #3: Clear out your spam traffic.

One unfortunate reality that has gained prominence over the past couple years is Ghost Spam in Google Analytics. If you see irrelevant keywords, odd referring sites, and traffic outside your geographic markets in you GA reports, you probably have Ghost Spam. This spam traffic can skew your reporting.

It's important not to panic when you see spam appear in your GA. In most cases, this data does not mean that your website was hacked or attacked. Ghost Spam hacks Google Analytics. There are spam crawlers, but those are less common and do not change as frequently.

To combat Ghost Spam, get your filters in place. You can do this manually, but it is a chore. There is a great third-party spam filter from Moz, and Google Analytics has improved their filtering process. But this is something to address before making decisions off dirty data. And it's important to revisit this step every year. 

Wrapping It Up

By setting up the above web metrics to track information about your site visitors, you're one step closer to mastering your web experience in 2017. 

Next time we'll look at how visitors find our content online and what that tells us about our web strategy. 

Looking for more information about building your higher education web strategy? Try these useful resources:

Posted by Eric Hodgson
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