Web Analytics Are A Tool, Not a Strategy
Posted: October 31, 2012
At VisionPoint Marketing, all of our processes are guided by a simple, but vital methodology. First think, then create, then measure.
This post is about measurement. It’s one thing to create a beautiful higher education website, but it’s another to know how your investment in time and money is paying off.
Web Analytics Tools and How We Use Them
There are a lot of options out there, both paid and free, but for most of our clients, Google Analytics is the perfect fit. It’s a free and robust tool that integrates directly with other search marketing products like Google AdWords and HubSpot’s multi-channel marketing platform.
The ability to track so many different elements and actions on a website is both extremely powerful and potentially dangerous. That being said, knowing how to use them correctly is a must. With so much information available, the danger is that you could make a decision based off either statistically irrelevant information, or just the wrong metric.
But how do you know what to measure? Before you can answer that question, you need to revisit two important considerations – your goals and your audience.
Who are you doing this all for? And Why?
As with all marketing initiatives, the first step is to understand your goals. What are you ultimately trying to achieve? If you work at a higher education institution, you’re well aware that you market to a variety of people and have an equally diverse set of desired actions and goals for each segment of that audience.
Your audience segments might include prospective and current students, alumni, community members and other stakeholders. The goals you have for each group are varied as well. Maybe they include driving enrollment, being a resource for information and increase giving.
Web analytics tools can help you gauge how well you are achieving those goals through your website. But how?
Key Performance Indicators (What to Measure)
Once you have outlined the goals and audience of your website, you can start to identify what we call KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators.
KPIs are not one size fits all and they are used to measure a variety of different areas of performance on your website.
Consider the these four categories of KPIs marketers can measure using web analytics tools:
- Audience size – Analytics tools show you the volume of traffic and visitors to your site. Metrics like Total Monthly Site Visits or Unique Visitors indicate the reach of your website. This is critical for proving Return on Investment.
- Traffic sources – The way that users find your site is important to creating an online experience that serves users’ goals as well as your business goals. Referring sites and the search queries that resulted in views of your site are critical pieces of information that you can use to understand your audience.
- User experience – The metrics in this area can help you understand how users interact with your site once they arrive. Do they leave after landing on your home page? Do they spend a lot of time on the admissions site, but never make it to the application? The answers to these questions and others about the flow of traffic across your site can help you increase conversions and achieve an overall better user experience.
- Conversions – In most cases, your ultimate goal is to drive conversions. Whether it’s prospective student to enrolled student or prospective donor to full-fledged donor, web analytics tools allow you to optimize your site through a variety of means specifically for conversions. Real conversion optimization deserves its own post because its complexity. So keep an eye out for that post coming up soon.
Tying it all together
Now that you know some of the questions you can answer and the metrics available to you, you can start to narrow for your focus to KPIs that specifically speak to your goals and priorities.
Here are a few examples:
Goal: Increase applications.
- Total Visitors – If you don’t have significant volume on your site, that indicates that not enough people are even looking at you and doing research to result in an increased number of applications.
- Traffic flow to admissions section – You can see aggregated numbers of how users move across your site and use that information to inform enhancements to design, Information Architecture and content that promote the conversion point — your application.
- Conversion Rate – How successful are you at turning prospects into enrolled students? This KPI tells you exactly how many hits and misses you make.
Goal: Improve navigation for important content pieces like forms and enrollment information.
- Visitor flow – The visitor flow will help you identify the areas most trafficked on your site and can help you determine the success of your Information Architecture.
- Average time on page – How engaging or useful is your content? If users don’t spend as much time as it takes you to read it, then chances are, you need higher quality content on those pages.
Goal: Improve user experience across all platforms.
- Traffic sources by device to see portion of mobile visitors – Considering mobile? How do you know that your audience is there? You can segment your audience by device type, browser and even screen resolution to make sure that your technology fits your audience.
Web analytics are powerful tools that give you great insight into the performance and quality of your website and its content. Think of it as the ultimate voice of the consumer. After all you’re looking at user behavior in nearly real time.
Keep in mind, though, that because every organization, institution and business is different, they will all measure success in different ways. Make sure that anything and everything you do and measure in online marketing has a reason. That’s why at VisionPoint, we love analytics and live off of data, but we tailor the KPIs that we use for our clients’ strategic goals.