February 21, 2017
Web Metrics in Higher Education Pt. 2: Discovery

In part two of our series on tracking web metrics in Higher Education, we'll take a close look at the path a user took to find your content, also known as "Discovery."

In my last blog, we established metrics to understand who is visiting our websites. Now, we need to know how they found us. To do this, we can track the top referring sites, campaign traffic, and keywords, but we're going to take this even further... 

How Did They Find Us

We can look at a report to determine where traffic is coming from, but that does not provide actionable analytics. Instead, let's cut this data to get more helpful information. In this example, we'll look for two things:

  1. If organic search is leading to academic programs information
  2. If paid traffic targeted at a neighboring state is leading to a campus visit

To start, you'll want to track the main Calls-to-Action you're promoting as part of your marketing strategy. Here are some admissions examples that might look familiar: 

  • Request Information
  • Schedule Campus Visit
  • Submit Application 

Look at the page traffic for each of these actions. Our first step is to trend the information to set a baseline. Look back a year or two to establish traffic patterns. This will give you comparison information as you move through this year. Once baseline information is established, you can add more targeted audiences and dive deeper into what terms work in organic search, which referring sites you need to pay attention to, and when the best time of the year is to advertise.

Metric #5: Understand internal search traffic.

One commonly overlooked metric is internal search. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is something that most higher education marketers are familiar with. It's important to analyze and improve site and page-level structure for Google, Bing, and Yahoo, and determine which paid terms drive the best traffic. Good SEO practices trickle to internal search results.

But by not paying more attention to internal search, you may be missing an opportunity.

Internal search data can provide valuable information about which keywords might work for external search, where navigation or scanning falls flat, and/or that your internal search tool is not set up properly. I am told all too often when evaluating sites that "our search doesn't work very well," or "I can never find what I'm looking for."

To start collecting good internal search data, first choose a long enough timeframe. Internal search data may require a year's timeframe, since volume for key terms may be low. If you just did a redesign, there may be a difference in how search is used by visitors before and after launch. Start setting a baseline with an internal search segment. The basic data sets are search terms and top pages, but the devil is in the secondary data.

Start with Destination Page information based on terms. There is a lot of internal traffic to filter through. Look for the pages that mean something to you. Did users find your key pages through internal search, rather than natural navigation or a targeted landing page? Did they refine their search?

Finally, if you are not seeing enough internal search traffic, your search box may not be set up properly, or your content may need better structure. Sometimes, meta information is critical, sometimes it's not. Discover the ways to make search work for your users, and take that knowledge back to your external search practices. 

Metric #6: Combine web analytics with your other tools.

Once you've set up your GA and are collecting the data you need you'll need to find a place to gather the information and analyze the data in order to make informed decisions about next steps. Ask yourself the following questions: Which tools am I using? What integration options are there? What data do I want to see?

Google Analytics has come a long way in integrating data from CRMs, email marketing tools, and other third party tools that gather and analyze data. Still, I often find myself analyzing data from Google Analytics in an excel document. 

The Google Analytics UTM tracking code is essential for any campaign, especially when an integration option isn't available from your marketing platform. But you can dive even deeper. Hobsons provides powerful in-application reporting. Salesforce integrates segments and goals with Google Analytics.

Regardless of the method you use - whether that is in Google Analytics, a BI tool, or Excel - it's critical to your analytics strategy that you set up a reporting system that works for your organization's specific needs. 

In the next installment of this blog series we'll look at user behavior. In the meantime, check out these resources to help improve your higher education web strategy:

Posted by Eric Hodgson
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