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Smarter Digital Marketing Reports for The Education Sector

Published December 1, 2017
The normal school of thought about digital marketing reports may not be enough when it comes to providing analytics data for higher education institutions. Colleges and universities are businesses and share some of the same needs as organizations in other sectors, but there are specific requirements, goals and user behaviors that are unique to this vertical. These nuances raise the degree of difficulty involved in providing truly insightful and meaningful reports.
 
In this article, we review some ideas for ways to dig deeper, and ultimately, learn more from your digital marketing analysis for institutions providing higher education to students. 

Filter and Segment Content Based on User Audiences

While all websites have different user groups and must speak to the various personas that comprise their audiences, this is particularly true of websites in the education sector. Some of the most prominent users of education websites include:

  • Current Students
  • Alumni
  • Parents
  • Prospective Students
  • Faculty and Staff

All of these groups are valuable in their own right. However, behavior patterns among them will shift and when the entire visitor base is measured as a collective, we can miss out on the insights that are important to determine how to focus pathways on actions that will ultimately generate growth.

With that in mind, metrics should be evaluated by focusing analysis on content that is filtered by user group. For example, current students are less likely to be reviewing a college’s content on admissions standards and the application process.

To do this, use the advanced filters to focus on content that begins (or contains based on your URL structure) with the directory containing the content that is most relevant to the user group whose behaviors you want to assess.

 

Google Analytics Advanced Filter for Admissions Content

 

Of course, there are some sections of content that are a bit ambiguous in user intent like programs of study and course requirements. Prospective students and their parents might be reviewing this information to determine if an institution offers the major their child is looking for, while current students may be looking at this content to help make their course sections for the upcoming semester. Financial aid might also be a section of content that applies to both prospective students who are seeking assistance, and current students who need to reapply for financial assistance.

One way to analyze and report on behaviors associated with content where user groups may overlap is to layer a segment into the advanced filter. Fortunately, current students are often frequent site users, which helps create a behavior pattern that can be isolated and segmented out.

 

Google Analytics Segment for Prospective Students

 

This time, use the advanced filter to review content in the /Academics directory and then use a New Segment to include only users with sessions less than or equal to 5. You are now viewing a segment of users who are more likely to be prospective students than current students.

While this isn’t necessarily a perfect snapshot, entirely free of current students or alumni, it is closer than an un-filtered, un-segmented view.

There is a caveat here that requires a site’s information architecture to be structured in such a way that pages regarding subjects like Admissions and Academics are stored in separate directories. It may also involve creating unique, but customized content that applies to programs and financial aid that is maintained within separate directories for current students and prospective students. These are important concepts, particularly as they pertain to site builds and redesigns. For these scenarios, URL creation and overall structural hierarchy should include considerations associated with future measurement and analysis.

Behaviors and Traits within User Groups

Within these user groups, there are several metrics that apply to acquisition and engagement that are relevant because they apply to the needs and cycles associated with educational organizations.

Longer “Sales” Cycles
Choosing a college or university is a major decision that can affect the course of a person’s life. But, no pressure. When it comes to user engagement, the gravity of that commitment must be taken into account. This means close attention to metrics like session duration, pages per session and even the navigation summary that shows the order in which users consume content. The time spent on a page should be higher, showing that users are actually reading or watching embedded videos. It should also involve user behaviors as they apply to return users to content sections that are geared toward new student attraction.

Seasonality & Events
There is a distinct seasonal trend as it applies to the school year. Traffic will generally rise when application or enrollment dates and financial aid deadlines approach. There are also ebbs and flows associated with events like orientations and open houses. In order to gauge growth fairly, these trends must be taken into account with regard to time frame comparisons. Judging behaviors compared with previous periods may not be as complete a picture as comparing year over year data. It may also warrant custom time periods that compare a fall open house against a spring open house, which demands the creation of an equitable custom time period to gauge site performance prior to and immediately following these events.

Social Media and Blog Performance
The Hannover Research 2016 Trends In Higher Education Marketing, Enrollment, And Technology report, found “that 'nearly all' respondent institutions are now using some form of social media.” It also determined that over two-thirds of institutions surveyed were using active blogging in their online marketing strategy. This indicates an important need for the inclusion of metrics associated with social media and blog performance and engagement as it applies to attracting potential new students. The behaviors and conversions associated with activities from these channels are important to assess. Particularly as they apply to attracting new users and funneling them forward in the admissions process. At the very least, you should track requests for more information, and other actions requiring follow-ups by representatives of the college.

Geography
The same report from Hannover also indicates that “The international student market is among the most competitive areas of recruitment for colleges and universities across the globe.” In a world more connected by technology, it’s important to evaluate user behaviors as they pertain to specific geographical areas. If a college is spending advertising dollars raising awareness in Canada, then reporting should include metrics specifically associated with website interactions and behaviors originating from users in Canada. This also applies within the U.S., particularly with regard to state schools that are looking to attract additional out-of-state students whose tuition requirements are often higher. Regular reporting should include metrics focused on geographical areas of interest to the institution and the site’s performance among these demographics.

Mobile
Colleges and universities are now targeting a generation of students that have been raised on access to mobile technology. For that reason, it is extremely important to isolate performance based on user devices. While parents may still be inclined to access the website from a desktop at work, prospective students may be more inclined to browse on their phones. Behaviors associated with different devices should also be taken into account because it may provide insights into areas for improvement. A positive user experience on mobile can prove crucial to appealing to new students and should be monitored closely.

Internal Audiences

When structuring digital marketing reports, as with any client in any vertical, it’s important to consider and include data for the various teams for whom you are reporting. With higher education, some of the common teams you’ll talk to include admissions and marketing, which may have different initiatives and goals. While a marketing team may be interested in social media response to a new e-book on the culture and daily life at their university, the admissions team may be more interested in users who downloaded the school’s application packet. While both downloads may be measured as goal completions, these goals are not necessarily equal and deserve to be itemized in a report to show the performance of each piece separately.

Conclusion

Collaboration and ongoing discussions about key performance indicators are the only ways to optimize the reporting techniques you use with any client, internal or external. But taking a proactive approach to understanding the needs of higher education will put you ahead of the class. Consider behaviors among the separate audiences of a college or university, and try to isolate those groups as much as possible within analytics. Focus on the sections of analytics and metrics that are specific to the institution’s users, goals and annual marketing and attraction cycles. Finally, consider the inclusion of reporting details that are particular to the different departments within the school. With these refinements in place, you will likely find new and exciting ideas to help your reports achieve top honors with your clients.

ALSO IN THIS BLOG

When the client first came to you, you talked up the value of Google Analytics. You emphasized the importance of seeing where your traffic was coming from. You went on and on about how Google Analytics can show traffic sources to pinpoint whether people came from search, social media or a specific site referral, and how valuable this data was. You sold them on it, so much so that your client looked forward to receiving that first report, the magical day when they would finally understand where visitors were coming from.
But then the report came, and it looked like this:

 

 

It showed that 10% of your client’s traffic came from “(direct)/(none)”. What does this label mean? How do you explain Direct traffic to your client? Better yet, how do you explain “none”?
Let’s take a closer look at understanding Direct traffic in Google Analytics and how we can address it with clients.
Digital marketers spend a lot of time focused on PPC and SEO campaigns in order to drive desirable traffic to a website. The phrases we’re ranking for and bidding on get meticulous attention, so much so that we often forget about some of the other ways that visitors find us.

We put a tremendous amount of the effort we put into reviewing organic search data and PPC campaign performance in analytics. But how closely do we monitor referral reports?

If that’s not a channel you review regularly, you may be missing out on seeing traffic that is coming directly from links you’ve obtained around the web, local business listings, news mentions, and more. Many times, links are only considered as a means to an end, a metric that Google uses in determining how to rank sites in the SERPs (search engine results pages). But the fact is, many of a site’s links may be directly contributing to its traffic.

In this article, we’ll review how to look at referral reports in Google Analytics, and some of the many ways to use that data to better inform your web marketing decisions.

 

Remember how your mom told you not to stand too close to the television because it might hurt your eyes?

The same rules can apply to data. If you’re too close, you may miss the patterns and trends that are crucial to understanding your website’s performance. You can’t judge a site’s performance looking at data in the bubble of a single day, you must consider any day’s traffic compared to the days before and after.

Google Analytics makes it fairly easy to analyze trends over long periods of time. But it also allows you to stand right in front of that TV, to look at more granular levels of time, right down to the hour.
There’s a better way to get that close to the data, without burning your retinas. We’ll cover how to analyze traffic effectively in today’s post.