Higher Education Marketing

Three Aspects of Managing Web Analytics for Higher Ed

Date posted: August 17, 2012

Managing analytics for a higher ed institution can get pretty complicated. It takes a range of skills sets, of varying levels of sophistication to do it well. In a recent blog post, Avinesh Kaushik, Google's Digital Marketing Evangelist, breaks down web analytics into its three component parts and then discusses some of the individual skills sets and capabilities that individuals require to manage these areas well.

In higher education marketing these three aspects bring some specific challenges that I thought would be worth pointing out.

1) Data Capture This first aspect involves the configuration of analytics so that you can accurately capture data on the traffic patterns and behavior of your visitors. In its simplest form this involves a quick account setup and pasting the appropriate analytics tracking code into your web pages. On a simple site this is quite easy to implement and shazam, you start to get your tracking data. The problem is that higher ed web ecosystems are not simple.

In fact they are generally very complicated with multiple domains, need multiple profiles, have mobile sites, flash, events, have complicated goals and registration funnels, link to CRMs, etc. These elements all quickly create some serious configuration and coding challenges that are not for the faint of heart (or beginner). Very sophisticated cross domain tracking codes may be required to fully track and capture the activity of your visitors across your complete web ecosystem. If you have a complicated web ecosystem as described above you may need the help of a configuration expert to do this well.

2) Data Reporting So now that you have your analytics set up to capture traffic data you need to summarize that data into actionable reports. It should not be a surprise that to report on the complicated web ecosystem we described above, you end up getting into serious complications in reporting. It gets even more challenging when you have a number of different individuals who need to see reports, from summary level stuff to your boss, to different big picture perspectives for marketing vs. admissions, to different segments of the traffic “pie” for different schools, departments, initiatives or events.

These different users, all having different objectives need different information to track their progress towards their goals. I am always surprised when we look into a school’s analytics and don’t see reporting linked to the objectives of the individuals involved. Why not have your analytics report to you on a monthly basis if you are on track to meet the goals that you will be measured on at the end of the year in your performance appraisal?

3) Data Analysis This is where analytics should truly shine but is often the part that is least well done. That’s partly because it is quite hard to do it well unless you have the experience, training and discipline to manage it. As we all experienced, the first time we looked into a Google Analytics account, analytics is overwhelming in the detail, and not particularly helpful in directing you to what is most important. But of course that’s because what is important is different for everyone and only you can figure it out. You have to decide what is important to you and then set up your analytics to analyze and report on it.

So the first and most important step is to determine what your objectives are and what Key Performance Indicators will measure them. KPIs should be driven by business/marketing objectives and a deep understanding of what visitor behavior is the best indicator of moving towards that objective. Once you have your KPI’s you can set up goals for them, allowing you to highlight their performance and easily track your progress with them. You can also determine what you think the financial value of a “goal” is and add that to your analysis (i.e. an organic lead generated by your marketing might be worth $50 to you based on what your conversion rate on that type of lead).

To do this kind of work well you need someone who can think as a high level business analyst and strategist, who understands the idiosyncrasies of higher education but who also understands the data capture part and the reporting part to integrate the three aspects and make your analytics sizzle and hum. This is a very high level analytics skill set that managers strive to develop internally but often need to seek outside help to obtain.

As a manager responsible for your institution's digital marketing you rely on your analytics to tell you how your marketing plans are performing and where to direct (and redirect) your scare resources most effectively. Next time you get that feeling of being overwhelmed by the complexity of your analytics, try breaking the issue down into these three aspects and the light will get a little brighter in the tunnel.

How have you developed your resources to address the three different aspects of your analytics? How much time are you spending with your web analytics on a weekly basis to manage them?


Scott Duncan has worked in post-secondary educational marketing for over 25 years developing and marketing curriculum materials, marketing educational software, consulting to post-secondary institutions and most recently focusing on developing traditional and e-marketing solutions for student recruitment. He has extensive experience in student recruiting for continuing education and non-credit programs.