What goes into a web/analytics report for higher ed?

Last week, I posted about Key Performance Indicators for independent school and higher ed admission advertising. Those figures can be used together to measure the performance of online advertising efforts and their impact on conversions and overall business goals.

Today, I’d like to discuss how things like those metrics and other insights can be combined into a seasonal, quarterly or annual web report that tracks progress and provides useful insights. Unsurprisingly, it’s difficult to find recent examples of insightful web reports in higher ed. As you know, colleges are increasingly competitive and (aside from conferences, and the like) can be unwilling to share their playbook so how others can copy their success.

When it comes to showing off performance- when hard work pays off – there are often case studies released by partner organizations. For instance, when helping my school plan our use of HubSpot, I referenced the Proctor Academy’s example and got in touch with Scott Allenby, their Director of Communications and Marketing and their Inbound Marketing Specialist (yes, a title at an independent school) Lesley Fisher about their success. They were very helpful and gave insights into their progress.

In other cases, when it’s the routine reporting that can ultimately to these changes, there is less information available. At FCS we’re doing well in terms of improving our performance in key areas, I’m still not sharing inside information that could be helpful to our competitors.

Guidelines/Examples

What I can share, and what there are many examples of, including a great guide on digitalgov.gov, is an example of things to include in a web metrics report.

Those guidelines can be very helpful and I think a lot of schools could incorporate a lot of those examples. One issue in transferring the report to indy school/higher ed world, which may not have been an issue for government agencies, is that the report is long. Yes…in 2016, eight standard (letter) length pages is too long. The report I made for Fall 2014 was 12 slimmed down slides and that was too long. When making anything it can be easy to write more than necessary because it interests you but chances are the report is written for people that have only a small fraction of the interest or the responsibility that you do. While it’s nice to have more details available, it seems most useful to have highlights up front as other may not have time to examine smaller details (or watch a 40-minute video on making that report). That being said, individual circumstances vary and the applicability of this advice subject to a school’s individual needs and should adjusted in length depending on the level of breadth and depth required (program-specific web/admission information, etc).

Keeping in mind that these everything online is subject to change and individual circumstances (what YOUR school finds important). Also, these are only excerpts and the examples are dated and don’t include advances this academic year (sorry, competitors).

Comparative numbers can be “period compared to last” unless otherwise noted. The numbers for your likely primary audience (defined as a segment in GA) can be included alongside total numbers.

Examples of points to include in a web report

Main website: (# of sessions by filtered audience, users, pages/session, avg. session duration, % increase in sessions/session duration compared to last quarter, and new sessions). Include why traffic may have changed. This page can include a daily visits to your website with annotations explaining spikes in traffic.

Search: What people search for on your site. Thankfully I added Google Custom Search to our site. This could lead to navigation changes or notes that your audience may prefer searching for their terms rather than navigating.

Path/User Flow Analysis: This could be an entirely separate report so keep it simple. Start with the standard landing page as the start.

Engagement: Mention bounce rate on key pages this period compared to last.

Referrals (where traffic came by referral source including details on social sources)

Behavior (most popular pages, and notable changes in device used)

Geography (notable mentions regarding where your audience is physically)

Notable sections (Changes to pages that affect target audience, including UX (simplifying Admission sections, altering the workflow for users, etc), and future work in those areas.

Campaigns: # and % increase of important measurements, # of conversions due to ads vs. other efforts, % increase in important campaign-related metrics/micro-conversions (time on site, page visited), results (ex. event registration increase, event attendance increase, increase in admission inquiries, etc). Consider adding a goal flow analysis screenshot starting with source/medium for the campaign page for a conversion you’d like to highlight.

NB: This section often includes the sources of conversions (discussed in a previous post) doesn’t necessarily need to include all of a campaign’s constituent parts (email campaign details like email open/click rates) or details of digital advertising KPIs).

Mobile (top-line figures to be cognizant of changing ways your audience experiences your website)

Other web

YouTube: Top videos by views, avg. % viewed

Facebook (new fans, impression breakdown, use by day (to inform future posting)

Twitter and Facebook (most engaging posts (different examples (top shared, clicked, post views, etc depending on type)

Summary including and issues and next steps to work on.

Things to note

It’s important to have your audience in mind. Do all the recipients of the report care about each section equally? Of course not. Should you report cover the basics for the areas of your responsibility and top-line figures that people you report to would be interested in? Of course. I’ve found that since I began assembling reports like this (starting with Cision in 2012), that good internal reports lead to interesting questions that can be answered later in depth (how do those who create an admission account differ from website visitors who do not?) or discussed in a formal presentation (like the follow-up to my report).

These reports can be made in addition to providing customized dashboards (like this one I created that could answer the above admission question) or reports shared regularly.

A note to regular readers: yes, a year ago I did say the sort of ‘vanity metrics’ recommended above aren’t enough. That’s still true but I meant that in terms of having a full grasp of improving the user experience and taking steps to improve your performance, these numbers are necessary but not sufficient for a complete understanding on your part.

In terms of a report, they’re necessary preface to a larger conversation. The changes you made that led to X larger change can be discussed in response to larger questions. Remember: think of your audience first: they often want a bird’s eye view, not necessary your view from the thickets.

Advertisements

Responses to my article in CURRENTS (CASE’s Magazine)

Back in January, CASE published my article on using inbound marketing to reach admissions marketing goals in their magazine and online. I’ve been trying to keep track of the responses so far and it seems keeping a running tally here makes the most sense. If you haven’t read it yet, take a look and tell me what you think!

I’m looking forward to seeing if there are any traditional reader responses in the next issue but this is what I’ve heard so far:

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?