KPIs for Higher Ed Admission Advertising

The title of this post could have been “17 must-have metrics you need to be measuring that matter”. That’s the kind of result you find when looking for KPIs. This post will hopefully clear up why picking KPIs first is imperfect (but provides a few, to provide a basic understanding).

If your job has to do with website or content management, you’ve probably (hopefully) been asked to provide some measure of your or your organization’s performance. Some platforms provide some built-in basics (WordPress.com’s post-views and other generic dashboards), but you’re likely (hopefully) looking beyond the basics. This not a com

I first started actually using Google Analytics when I was blogging for my alma mater in 2008, what was then called “Advanced Segmentation” and Custom Reports were introduced. Then when I shared information it really wasn’t much.

Hopefully you’ll forgive me. In seven years the web analytics industry has undergone a tremendous transformation. Google Analytics was released in 2005 and has become the most popular analytics software among top websites on the internet and over 27,000,000 sites are using it.

Still, despite the massive increase in usage, not everybody “using” analytics has a real understanding the importance of measuring what matters.

As you can see in this screenshot, there are a great many claims on what metrics you need to/should be using. Let’s take a step back though. Back in 2008, experts like Avinash Kaushik cautioned people that “Analyzing data in aggregate is a crime.” It is still being done by companies to this day.

Digital Marketing and Measurement

Whenever there is knowledge that’s not self-evident and there’s money to be made in ‘expertise’, you tend to see a lot of quick answers. True, for many, there are some key ideas and commonly used KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), and I’ll cover them below.

The problem with starting with the data or the tool is that you’re not putting meaningful thought into what objectively measures success or failure. Here I need to include some high-level process that’s crucial to having an effective model in place. The following is from Avinash’s aptly-named Occam’s Razor website:

“Step one is to force us to identify the business objectives upfront and set the broadest parameters for the work we are doing….

Step two is to identify crisp goals for each business objective….

Step three is to write down the key performance indicators….

Step four is to set the parameters for success upfront by identifying targets for each KPI….

Step five, finally, is to identify the segments of people / behavior / outcomes that we’ll analyze to understand why we succeed or failed.”

Many start with the behavior/outcomes first and seem to have some web data spin-off of shiny toy syndrome. Adopting some magical web metrics isn’t going to lead to optimal decision-making. Figuring out what’s important to you and then figuring out what most accurately measures that is a better process.

That being said, that’s not a good answer if you need to provide an web/digital update by tomorrow. Here’s a simplified guide to identifying some key metrics/measures of success you can look at in order to explain the outcomes of different marketing efforts (some of this advice assumes you’re in independent school or higher ed admission marketing but can be used more broadly). Specifically, this post looks at paid advertising numbers that are often used with other web metrics (time on page, bounce rate, conversions..more on how to connect the two later).

Digital Advertising using Google AdWords

Managing digital advertising (AdWords, in particular) is a service that some outsource to different vendors, which may or may not understand your specific situation and consequently may not have AdWords campaigns optimized to meet your goals. Conversely, if your vendor understands your business objectives, how the various ad options help you reach them, and what results are expected, it may be more cost-effective for you to let a vendor do the technical work of implementing that plan.

Let’s say you have the collateral together (all the images/copy you need) for a specific campaign, and know how much money you’re willing to spend over which time period. For simplicity’s sake, let’s also say that your ultimate goal is an x% increase in event registrations compared to the same time last year. Having those basic decisions made helps the data can help sharpen the focus of whoever is planning or analyzing the success of a campaign. Below are some columns you’ll see across different ad platforms. The availability and specific definitions of these metrics may differ, but the primary concepts carry across platforms. The following list are a few (not all) of the important metrics you’ll likely to include when reporting on AdWords effectiveness.

Impressions: The number of times your ad was served. For brand-building campaigns, this is the important measure (and one can often optimize for impressions and pay per thousand impressions). This should not be confused with the number of times your ad was viewable. Viewable ads are bid on with the vCPM option. For campaigns made for event registrations (or form completions, etc), this number in isolation is not the most useful.

Clicks/CTR: I prefer to discuss these together because clicks (simply the number of legitimate (however your platform defines that) an ad got can be put into context with the clickthrough rate (CTR). CTR is the number of clicks divided by the number of impressions and can be used to gauge how well your ads are doing/whether the audience you chose finds your ad useful/relevant. In AdWords this is important because it contributes to your keyword’s expected CTR (which is a component of Quality Score).

Average CPC: The amount paid for your ad divided by the number of clicks.

Average Position (AdWords): Where your ads rank compared to other advertisers. If your/your competitor’s quality score are the same, you’ll have to bid higher to place higher than that advertiser.

Conversions: The number of times an ad led someone to an action you find valuable (ex. event registration.

Cost per conversion: The total you spent on an ad divided by the number of conversions.

Depending on the Bidding Strategy you choose (set at the campaign level), you may not need to focus on some of the above. For example, if you choose to focus on clicks, you’ll bid on clicks, whereas if you focus on conversions you’ll pay per acquisition (CPA).

Putting it all together

Many of the above metrics are the same of similar when managing or reporting on Facebook and Twitter ads. While I haven’t seen a perfect way to combine all of one’s advertising and the result in one place, some companies are offering paid add-ons (HubSpot) or standalone services (AdTaxi) that aim to do just that. While not the holy grail of digital advertising (a clear ROI), an integrated part of online advertising that everyone should consider is to use UTM parameters on all of your ads to measure what your paid visitors do once they get to your website, in detail, compared to other channels. By linking Google Analytics and AdWords, those details carry over (and allow you to see more information in AdWords as well). If you put in the work, you can track the effectiveness of individual Facebook and Twitter ads. Unless you’re using  a 3rd party service this will involve work on the Power Editor (easier than the regular ads manager) and ads.twitter.com.

Web measurement is an imperfect art/science regardless of which service you use, but hopefully the above has given you an understanding of some of the more important metrics (and an understanding you should start with a discussion about your goals before picking numbers).

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About Geoff Campbell

Geoff Campbell is an Assistant Director, Communications & Marketing at American University.

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