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.