I attended the eduWeb Conference last week and was delighted by a reoccurring theme: measured results. The topic of analytics was front and center. During Karine Joly’s opening-session talk on marketing measurement strategy it was highlighted that many people in higher education are using analytics. This is a positive sign. However, an important question to ask is how are people using analytics and is that use effective? Do they simply view broad analytics data, such as visits and pageviews, or do they view meaningful metrics that inform decision-making? During my eduWeb Conference talk, Making Better Decisions with Web Analytics, I discussed the distinction and efficacy of analytics reporting vs. analytics strategy.
Using analytics effectively is a process that aligns your business objectives and website goals, allowing you to track relevant metrics that answer meaningful questions about your website. Analytics strategy puts data in context. Without context, data is meaningless. Consider the value of the following web metrics:
- 2,000 pageviews
- 70% returning visitors
- 80% direct traffic
What does 2,000 pageviews tell you? What action can be taken based on this metric?
Is 70% returning visitors a positive sign? Is this better than 70% new visitors? We all want to attract new visitors, right?
Is 80% direct traffic good or bad? It suggests a strong brand name because people don’t rely on search engines or referrals to find your website. However, it may also mean that your SEO efforts are ineffective or that you need to improve your linking strategy.
Analytics reporting vs. analytics strategy
Analytics reporting is achieved the moment you open your analytics software and look at the dashboard. Analytics strategy is achieved when you have defined business objectives, website goals, and measurement benchmarks (key performance indicators) that allow you to continuously make informed decisions.
Web analytics strategy is determined by:
- Business objectives. What is the purpose of your website?
- Website goals. What actions do you want people to take on your website to meet your business objectives?
- Key performance indicators (KPIs). What relevant web metrics can be used to measure the efficacy of your website goals over time?
When you have defined objectives and goals you are able to ask meaningful questions that can be answered by relevant metrics. The questions you ask should cater to your organization’s needs, but here are sample analytics questions (PDF) that all web teams should be asking (and answering):
- How do we decide what new content to publish?
- How do we decide what content to update?
- How do we decide what technology to use?
- How do we decide where to target ads?
- How do we prioritize web projects?
- How do we determine appropriate communication channels?
- How do we know if our content is effective?
- How do we measure success?
I never meant to be an analyst
My principal function is content strategy. Web analytics analysis is not my primary responsibility. (Ideally, every web team would have a dedicated web analyst.) But, like most higher education web professionals I’m charged with making decisions and recommendations about the direction of web strategy and the efficacy of marketing, communications, design, and content. As a result, web analytics strategy needs to be part of my professional portfolio, and likely yours.
I’ve had some great conversations with folks from eduWeb since my analytics talk and would love to bring the discussion online. How do you use analytics at your school and what are the challenges in making data provide valuable insights? Let’s talk.