Twitter Cards now auto-expand on mobile

In January, I mentioned that I added these newfangled things called “Twitter Cards” onto the FCS website (which is shorthand for adding code and testing it on Twitter’s Developers site. Then in May I finally got around to explaining why it was important to optimize your site’s metadata for social.

If you use Twitter on a regular basis or if you keep on top of tech news, you’d know that Twitter has now defaulted to having Twitter Cards expanded by default on mobile. If you only use twitter.com, you wouldn’t see a difference, but now on mobile when a link on a Twitter Cards-whitelisted site is shared without an image, it looks significantly different.

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With this change, Twitter is catching up to Facebook’s use of rich media in links (via the Open Graph protocol (OP metadata)).

As with everything else, if you’re a publisher (anyone with a website/blog) who relies on social media outreach or a CMS provider you’ll eventually need to catch up to what giants like WordPress have been doing for a while. That is, until Facebook takes over publishing entirely.

With visual content garnering more engagement and conversions that plain text, I wouldn’t be surprised if Twitter brings the change to Twitter.com sooner rather than later.

Note: Twitter Cards (dev) are different than Website Cards (ads)

The difference between SEM and SEO (paid and organic search)

The world of online marketing changes quickly. Over the years, terminology used to discuss both ways in which people market themselves or their organizations to search engines. In an effort not to re-invent the wheel, I think Hubspot’s article is a good starting place.

In practice, SEO (search engine optimization) has been used to describe practices to improve a website’s search rankings (originally primarily using keywords in titles and metadata but more and more having quality content, fast-loading pages, well-formatted URLS, quality links to your site, etc).

SEM (search engine marketing), which has at times been used by businesses and agencies to describe paid search (which includes but is not limited to PPC) exclusively. However, as more and more organizations use paid search, the term has grown to encompass both paid search and SEO strategies. Language evolves over time and there’s always going to be some splitting of hairs, but SEM is generally agreed-upon to be comprised of both paid and unpaid strategies and includes SEO, which only uses unpaid strategies.

The terminology might change over time (for instance, is using Structured Data in your website code SEM or SEO?) but whether you’re working on organic SEO or increasing visibility/traffic via SEM, an important part of your goal is influencing what appears on the SERP (search engine results page).

Both SEO and paid search matter because while the discerning internet user knows which results have been paid for, if one were in a hurry to say, find Chinese food in New York, one might be tempted to click on the groupon.com ad. This is backed up by research that found that “[c]icks on paid search listings beat out organic clicks by nearly a 2:1 margin for keywords with high commercial intent in the US.

Anyways, I hope that helps.

Advanced Certification in Video Advertising

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As I help my school stand out in this competitive environment, I often spend free time learning more and becoming proficient in using online tools to their highest potential value for us. Today I successfully passed the Google Video Advertising exam and have advanced certification in the topic. As video advertising becomes more popular, I’m glad it’s now a tool I feel comfortable using.

Google Analytics Re-certification

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In an attempt to do right by the really cool grid format made possible by the Minimum theme I use, I want to share more small victories like my re-certification in Google Analytics. For an up-to-date list of qualifications, you can always visit my LinkedIn profile.

Google Analytics 301 Course (LunaMetrics)

At the risk of repeating information I’d like to briefly discuss the value of taking an analytics course in-person. in November, when we were about to launch our new website, I was taking the advanced “GA 301: Technical Implementation” at the SUNY Global Center in NYC.

I was working to ensure

  • that I completely understood not only the difference between Classic Analytics and the now standard Universal Analytics
  • that my cross-domain tracking was implemented in the best possible way
  • I knew the best way for me to remove self-referrals

In addition, although it’s an advanced course, we briefly reviewed some of the basics (which can change from time-to-time and be pretty confusing at first (like the sessions/users change) and, if I’m remembering correctly, a review of ‘exceptions’ to the basics, like when a New Visitor (someone who hasn’t visited your site in the last 2 years) isn’t a new visitor (when they user a different browser, different device, clear their cookies, or use ad-blocking, a Chromebox etc).

Anyways, while I’m a proponent of using free resources to learn (like I’ve done to review HTML/CSS, review Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager,  learn how to best track campaigns with a team, and keep on top of the ever-changing ways one needs to keep on top of to improve your content in search results and social streams, there’s sometimes no real replacement for talking to experts one-on-one.

Anyways, if you’re ready to get to the next step in understanding Google Analytics, I’d highly recommend LunaMetric’s GA 301 course.

It never gets easier, you just get better

When you’re out in the working world, milestones can seem to get further and further apart. Once all the firsts, and seconds, and thirds are done things can seem old hat. It only occurred to me at the end of the day today how much I had accomplished without thinking too much about any one single event and how just a few years ago doing just one of them would have felt like a feat.

This morning, some of the top decision-makers at my school wanted a review of to what extent our digital and social media efforts had borne fruit and what our plans are for the year ahead. Before I’d had much experience with public speaking I would have been nervous but at this point I didn’t even have to ‘remind’ myself that I know the subject matter very well.

I then coordinated with people across the country what we’re doing at a conference later this month (more on that later).

After work, I made enough progress on a site project I’ve been working on that I’m confident I’ll launch it next week (along with the client).

On my way home I thought “hmm…well how about I see about taking the Google Analytics Individual Qualification to get re-certified (my certification was set to expire in September) without waiting for the weekend and reviewing more for it. I got a 91%. There were a few tricky questions but after using something regularly it becomes pretty natural.

So if there’s anything I could tell my 21-year old self about the professional world is that things don’t get easier. People are going to be just as or more critical of you right now, tests (both figurative and literal) will be objectively the same, you’ll just get better at dealing with them.

Reviewing HTML/CSS

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Just a quick FYI, I just completed Codecademy’s HTML/CSS course. It’s somewhat of a commitment (I’d guess estimate of 7 hours estimate is pretty accurate), but it doesn’t require any previous knowledge and can be immediately helpful in understanding the basic structure and styling of websites, even if you don’t plan on making them anytime soon.

It’s the only course I’ve taken of their’s so far. I might take their Javascript course to understand a bit more how Google Analytics works about the kind of manual edits I’d have to make if I weren’t using Google Tag Manager.

Anyways, if you’re interested you can try it out for free.

 

The advancement of digital and social media campaign development and analysis

You might not expect something with a title that dry to be thrilling for me to write, but it is.

[Note: This post may read as a bit of a “stream of consciousness” on the state of higher ed communications, so please forgive the tangents. Speaking of tangents, here’s a running list of things I’ve worked on since I began working in higher ed communications four years ago.]

Four years ago I was completing a project I had been working on all summer – brainstorming ideas, scripting questions, location scouting, casting, and interviewing compelling characters for a video series at Mount Allison University. I had just completed my first social media audit (sorry, it’s cover only because the full report has some proprietary information), and wanted to put my recommendations into actions. With some general oversight (and videography done by a co-worker), I went about helping to create a video series for incoming students in hopes of reducing summer melt by quelling their fears and answering some of their questions without them having to ask. We made a total of 20 videos and shared them over the month of August.

While it’s not easy to connect watching a video to a certain action (as Google’s various attribution models would attest even for simple transactions), we did set up a systematic approach to sharing the videos (via the website, social channels, and yes, even old-fashioned emails) and reporting on the effectiveness of the campaign with some basic metrics. Before long we attracted the attention of Academica Group, an equivalent Canada has to mStoner with their Top 10 emails going to thousands of leaders in higher ed research and marketing. [Here’s the reaction from #PSEweb leaders. It was pretty cool to see a project I worked so much on get a positive response.]

[Side note: It was four years ago at Mount Allison that I began working professionally in higher ed marketing and when I could first verbalize why knew I wanted to do it as a career.]

Expectations of digital marketing efforts of college-bound students, (as described in the industry-standard E-Expectations report) he internet has changed dramatically since 2011, video becoming a more and more useful source of information for prospective students. Colleges and universities, then, have (and have to) become more thoughtful in the way they measure the effectiveness of campaigns beyond number of views. I wrote about how one can infer quality, relevance and other important insights from a video’s metrics (with YouTube’s video analytics).

In addition to improved video metric reporting over time, social media campaign effectiveness has come into the spotlight. As prospective students turn to social media (with 60% of seniors seeing it as a reliable source of information), thoughtful engagement (and, of increasing importance, conversion) strategies and analysis have become more sophisticated.

To really stay ahead of the competition online, schools need to reach beyond their immediate circles and learn from the experts in the field, which often means going beyond your industry. I for one, have been doing my best to learn from that advice. I’ve read analytics, content marketing, and analytics books and blogs from beyond the silos independent school and higher ed marketers can find themselves in. It’s not a matter of becoming a coder or taking on another category of job duties, but taking the best advice from people who do digital analytics for a living. Beyond day-to-day reading to inform how I keep organized and efficient, I’ve also made a commitment to never stop learning.

Since starting at FCS and helping to launch our new website, I’ve taking advanced Google Analytics training from LunaMetrics, learned what the top CASE colleges and universities in the region are doing through a CASE D2 Scholarship, reviewed and became re-certified in AdWords ahead of the Fall admission ‘season’, and am currently reviewing HTML and re-learning CSS to make sure our landing pages are the best they can be.

Competition for students among private schools is not forecasted to lessen any time soon. As higher ed has had to adapt to changing realities, the responsibility of having a effective web presence has moved from being an IT webmaster’s problem to more of a communication issue. Do any search of what used to be one job in communications, say, “writer”, and you’ll see the role has become a “Web Writer and Content Strategist” who, in addition to “developing and implementing institutional social media strategy”, now is required to have an understanding of different content management systems, HTML, and Google Analytics.

Indeed, at some institutions, the responsibility for the website has been entirely subsumed by admissions and is placed into the hands of a Manager of Online Recruitment and Web Communication. This is no doubt a writing role, however, the requirement of having “strong copywriting and editing skills” coming 9th to others, including working with a CMS, experience in online marketing, PPC advertising, and HTML.

All of the above and more is why I’m proud to work at an institution that is aware of the changing nature of web development/communications/enrollment marketing and invests in a position like mine to ensure that the school’s mission is heard above the digital noise. While the ‘disruption’ seen in higher education is not going to be experienced the same way in independent schools, I’m glad to be learning how to stay ahead of whichever curve we’re on by learning from higher ed marketing experts at EduWeb Digital Summit in Chicago in a couple weeks (thanks to the school and a conference registration fee waiver provided by the conference organizers).

I’m excited to learn more about how best to keep telling our institutions’ stories in ways that reach and engage our target audiences where they are. I think sessions like “”How to Use YouTube and Hangouts on Air for Creating Differentiated Video Content” will help us get the most out of and improve upon what we’ve already done with Hangouts on Air (like our live-streamed Hour of Code Assembly).

What are you doing this summer to do things better this fall?

Retaking “Digital Analytics Fundamentals”

I’m currently at a coffee shop in suburban Philadelphia retaking “Digital Analytics Fundamentals” as part of my review to become re-certified in using Google Analytics before my current certificate expires in September. Even after 7+ years of using Google Analytics (starting with the tracking of what people liked on my blog for Mount Allison University to present day), it’s important to go back to basics to make sure you’re keeping what’s most important in focus. This course starts with Avinash Kaushik’s definition of digital analytics, which is

“1. the analysis of qualitative and quantitative data from your website and the competition,

2. to drive a continual improvement of the online experience of your customers and prospects,

3. which translates into your desired outcomes (online and offline)”

I think it’s very telling that when the instructor discusses the declining relevance of the traditional purchase funnel, I’m reminded of those who have said the traditional admissions funnel is “broken” in light of the rising of “ghost inquires” and other factors. The point is that people now start the purchase/inquiry process at different stages of the process, and businesses/schools need to understand how this impacts them and how to they can adapt and thrive.

Another important point made in the first course video is this:

It’s important to measure both micro and macro-conversions so that you’re equipped with more behavioral data to understand which experiences help drive the right outcomes for your site.

As schools improve upon their current tracking numbers (simple # of pageviews, most popular pages, etc) they may look at what differentiates people who convert (inquire, book a tour, etc) from those who do not by looking at Custom Segments and making their own Dashboards that can be used to look at dashboards that have the information that can be used to make data-informed decisions.

Google Tag Manager Course (Analytics Academy)

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Sometimes I take my advice and take Google Analytics Academy courses. This time it was something I was with which I somewhat familiar: Google Tag Manager.

When I ran into the issue of Cross-Domain tracking (tracking between a main website and a commerce/application portal, for instance), I found that learning how to use Tag Manager was a more efficient alternative to learning JavaScript and manually editing code on two sites.

 

I learned that with the help of internet research. However, it wasn’t until today that I looked into some more advanced featured (like tracking and creating reports with custom dimensions.

After learning about some of these functions, I’d have to agree with “Analytics dork” Greg Zguta that with GTM, “There is a corresponding learning curve and the high end of that curve feels more like the realm of a developer than a marketer or communications professional.” However, as more sites are using it, it certainly can’t hurt to learn it. Zguta later provided some tips for those starting out.

While I’d leave the heavy coding to real developers, I think the step necessary to implement cross-domain tracking have become so simplified that it is not hard to believe it will be an ability those in communications/public relations/marketing will be expected to have.

I think the predictions of Arik Hanson about the skills communicators will need to have by 2020 is right on track.

Chuck Hemann, then at WCG (and who spoke at Newhouse), believes that “[t]he time has long since passed where the PR pro can claim ignorance on how to gather, analyze and develop insights from data. There isn’t an expectation that he/she will be a data analyst, but if he/she isn’t comfortable working WITH a data analyst then they will be left behind.

I think this is becoming more and more true in the corporate world. As competition in higher ed (and amongst independent schools) is projected only to increase, it won’t be too very before those skills become vital for us as well.