Web Goals for 2015

One of the lessons I’ve learned in grad school (and have learned through experience to be true) is that goal-setting is important but also that those goals should be S.M.A.R.T. Though there are a number of alternates, SMART generally stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. Once I get back to the office in January I know there will be a lot of news and changing variables (sports championships, college acceptances, compelling senior projects, etc) and so it will be important to know where true north is and to prioritize things that are within my area of responsibility and are most helpful to the school. The goals I chose take into account how unpredictable a year can be and therefore measure “big picture” movements that are generated over time and are the end result of much of my effort instead of overly specific goals (# of videos, # of posts written, new likes, followers, total website users) that could distract from important year-end goals and lead me to water down my efforts (creating videos that aren’t purpose-driven, write link-bait posts unrelated to the school’s mission and goals, etc). Although it doesn’t provide a full picture to asses job performance on numbers alone I think my top three goals in particular are directly related to my job responsibilities and will demonstrate the contribution I’ve made to the school’s larger goals. The specific numbers are currently private but I’ll post my results at the end of next year.

Goals

Video Reach – % increase in average Unique views over 2014
An indicator of how interesting/share-worthy my videos are to our target audiences.

Website traffic- Social Source- X% increase over 2014
An indicator of whether or not my posts were compelling and contributed to web traffic.

Inquiries – X% increase over 2014
An indicator of UX optimization, and the effectiveness of my written, photo, and other work

Below are some guideline (templates) to make sure I’m on the right track day-by-day:

Video Reach: View count per video: X

Facebook: X% engagement per post

Twitter: X% average daily engagement rate

Never Stop Learning (CASE D2 Conference Scholarship)

One of the biggest lessons I learned in a classroom was during 4th year at Mount Allison. It was in a seminar class about “Political and Technological Innovation”…or something. The point of the class wasn’t to memorize names and dates but to understand the how and why behind different political and economic distributions in history.

It covered everything from a guest lecture on Monsanto’s genetically modified crops, to Steve Jobs’ mixing art and science, and to Václav Havel’s role as a public intellectual. One of the most important lectures wasn’t on those topics but the future of the Class of 2012 and what we’d do. Assuming we weren’t going to earn a living in manual labor, my professor said, the most important thing we could do is to learn how to learn and do it quickly.

With that in mind I’m humbled to announce that I’ve been awarded a scholarship to attend the CASE District 2 Annual Conference – #CASE2DC: Monumental Shifts. I think it’ll be an amazing opportunity to learn from the among the best educational marketers, including insights from Holton-Arms School, Finalsite, George Washington University, Binghamton University, American University.

In the near future I hope to again be a conference presenter and attending conferences like this will help in understanding the current issues and challenges facing other independent schools, colleges, and universities.

Why Private Schools Should Dig Deeper into Analytics

“Big Data” was the big catchphrase in 2012-2013. As a graduate student at Newhouse I got a big taste of that. In 2013, my alma mater held a Social Commerce Day where a speaker Chuck Hemann, (then of PR firm WCG, now Manger of Analytics for Intel) came to talk to us about how research is changing to meet the new communications landscape. He mentioned the importance of analytics and mentioned a number of social media monitoring and engagement tools.

In the nearly two years since some of the examples are out of date but the primary message holds true- listen to what your audience cares about and cater to that. If you do it right, then you can connect that to business goals and convert social media followers into customers.

Having used web analytics for years to examine the effect of different online efforts businesses use, I’m even more convinced that higher ed and independent schools can learn a lot from digging into the metrics that mean the most to them.

From a perfunctory search of schools looking to improve their marketing, schools are currently looking to hire at least 87 positions for those who understand analytics, from the Marketing Manager at USF at Harvard to the Assistant Director for Web Communications at SJU (just down the street from FCS).

A quick aside- I must address somewhat humorous requirement that one of the minimum qualifications is the “Ability to articulate why ‘Click Here’ is never a thing.”

[Answer: in 2014, it’s like saying “After the beep say something and your voice will be recorded” in your voice-mail greeting (if you still use one). Not only do you risk insulting someone’s intelligence (people know what links are and how to click on them, it distracts from the user experience and requires people to think (or at least continue reading) to know what they’ll get by clicking. Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the World Wide Web), in 1992 made the case against discussing mechanics, it has been a best practice for 14 years, and just makes your site seem out-dated. Smashing Magazine can tell you more.]

That being said, sometimes you’re limited by your CMS in terms of ways to ensure an important link is obviously a link. It’s not ideal, but in some unfortunate cases it may be the least bad option. In other cases, where your audience is accustomed to clicking “click here”, it still isn’t the ideal choice, but is understandable.

But I digress. In the same job description (and alluded to in many others) is the notion that people working in web communications not only have to be able to produce written content and collaborate with designers (vendors, developers, etc), but also need to be able mine for trends in Google Analytics that will lead to “recommendations on improvements that will help further the University’s marketing and communication objectives”. This means not simply reporting on the ‘big picture’ (we got this much traffic this month, “people like these pages”, etc) but on the multiple smaller (and more important) pictures.

So just as vanity metrics (i.e. 22% increase in Twitter followers and 440 more Facebook Likes) look nice in a report, they aren’t enough. What’s more useful is what isn’t readily available on your Facebook page or Twitter profile. It’s the ‘small’ things that matter- changing the wording of an solicitation brought in X% more donations, creating/posting X type of photos/video to platform Y led linking to page Z led to X% more qualified admission leads than did linking to a different page, and that optimizing our admission process for future families increased inquiries by y% over the same period last year.

I think independent school communicators could learn a lot and help their schools by digging deeper. I’m fortunate to work at an amazing school that created my position that (in part), is responsible for making our online presence the most effective tool it can be for advancing the school’s priorities.

Without giving any actionable intelligence to our competitors, what I can share is a way of thinking By making a custom dashboard for inquiries and looking at Users by Device Category, (if one is familiar with the inquiry process), one could make specific recommendations.

In the graph below, (if it were useful data and not something I finagled into what I wanted for this example, given that a high percentage of our target audience accesses our site on mobile and tablet devices, and I might recommend front-end or other changes so that more prospective families complete an inquiry. Before doing so, I’d make sure to look at things like behavior flow, the mobile and tablet goal abandonment numbers/rates, and different segments (including prospective families who have already inquired) to see the whole picture (or, more accurately, the most important parts of the picture).

Screen shot 2014-12-31 at 2.37.04 PM

What I can also share is the Custom Dashboard I created and am using (in part) to measure the effectiveness and generate recommendations to further my schools goals. This isn’t proprietary information, it isn’t a silver bullet to anything problem (despite being one of 13,000+ Solutions in the GA Solutions Gallery), but for those who want to look beyond the “what is the number” to the “how did we get to this number and how to we increase it”, I think it’s a good starting spot.

I always love feedback. Please let me know if you see anything that you think would be a helpful addition or change.

Best,

Geoff

 

Video Marketing – What Private Schools need to learn from Higher Ed

It has been a hectic year but I’d like to share this article published in blog format by CASE and in full by NAIS’ Independent School Magazine. Although educational institutions are, in large part, slower to change than the private sector, I think many schools are doing their diligence and investing in video marketing. With our website up and running I know I’ll be focusing more on video in the new year.

Why Schools Should Invest in Video Marketing
Independent School Magazine (Fall 2014)

Why Independent Schools Should Invest in Video Marketing
CASE Blog (Winter 2014)

Improving the User Experience (friendscentral.org)

Serving as my school’s Digital and Social Media Specialist, my tasks can vary from week to week but my ultimate goal is “enhancing both internal and external marketing efforts.” A major part of that is tell the Friends’ Central story in such a way that results in increased affinity towards and interest in the school. In addition to increasing interest and affinity, a crucial part of my job is ensuring that as many people as possible who are interested complete an inquiry (and do not bounce, or get discouraged/lose interest partway and abandon the process).

The responsibility for ensuring the User Experience on our website is a positive and efficient one is inherent in these lines of my job responsibilities below but is larger than the sum of its parts.

• Manage website- content generation and oversight
• Serve as the main contact for our school community on website management issues
• Monitor website usage, trends, and analytics and work to develop strategies for optimization

I’m happy to work on such a great team and am energized by our ongoing commitment to providing the best experience to our users (current families, faculty, staff, prospective families, alumni, and friends).

After reading Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web and Mobile Usability“, I began sharing and implementing ideas about how we can improve our website based on a few principles, or as Krug refers to them, “Facts of Life”.

1. We don’t read pages. We scan them.
2. We don’t make optimal choices. We satisfice.
3. We don’t figure out how things work. We muddle through.

Organizing a website informed how people actually use websites leads to happier users, a more functional website, and a lower goal abandonment rate (about which I’ll write more in the future)

With this in mind, I’d like to share just one of the many changes we’ve made. Making changes to high-traffic and mission-critical pages like these takes discussion with and buy-in from key stakeholders and this change was no exception. I believe this improvement makes expressing interest in FCS and creating an account to apply much more straightforward. I hope that you agree and that the experience of our users (which can be understood through analytics) confirms this belief.

Formerly, our links led to the same page, neither of which was an Online Inquiry nor an Online Application.

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 1.19.09 PM

The apply page used to present two options which gave led some to the incorrect assumption that at either stage there was a choice as two which button to push at which stage in the process.

Our new approach follows Steve Krug’s advice and doesn’t make people think.

admission home page

Our new main admission page presents an unambiguous choice. The inquire button leads to an inquiry form whereas the “Apply” leads to our “Apply” page with information about the process.

admission apply page

Our “Apply” page is likewise improved, with clear directions for those who want to apply. If one doesn’t have an account, they must create one. If they have an account, the natural step is to log in. The abridged directions at left are not required reading to make the correct choice.