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Website Analytics: A Window Into Your Audience

Website Analytics: A Window Into Your Audience
Institutions can learn both whether they are efficiently communicating their strengths and what their prospective students are looking for by paying close attention to their website analytics.

Last month, my continuing education unit’s main website received over 50,000 visits from about 40,000 unique visitors. Valuable marketing data? Hardly.

Data about website usage can either be a valuable window into your audience or a confusing sea of meaningless numbers. Context is key. Used correctly, whether through Google Analytics, Omniture, or another analytics package, website analytics puts the focus back where it should be: on the people your institution is working to attract and serve. Website analytics can debunk assumptions and, most importantly, empower you to take action. They allow you to employ informed, data-driven programmatic and marketing strategies that will better help you to fulfill your mission.

First, forget about what your institution actually offers. Instead, look at what visitors are hoping to find on your site. Mine your internal search queries to discover audience needs that you aren’t fulfilling. If possible, employ a “quick survey” tool such as 4Q to get more qualitative data; are people finding what they’re looking for when they visit your institution? Is there an untapped opportunity there?

Then, worry about whether your website is serving your institution. What do you hope people are using your website for? Is it primarily a mechanism to get people “in the door”—scheduled for an advisor appointment, an information session, or to become otherwise engaged with your institution? Is it primarily a repository of information, where (you hope) visitors will read in-depth information about your programming? Use your website analytics to find out whether your website is meeting these, or other, goals. If not, take action. Iterate, analyze, then iterate and analyze again. There’s always room for improvement.

The recent explosion of tablets and smartphones brings a new dimension to this conversation. As we continue to experience the “mobile revolution,” it’s essential that you know what devices are gaining popularity among your visitors. Even if you don’t have a fully responsively designed website, you must ensure that your site renders well on whatever devices your visitors are using. Widely reporting website analytics data, such as device usage, can help align teams behind web initiatives and drive change forward.

Finally, as budget belts tighten, you must know which of your marketing tactics draws in the best visitors—not the most visitors, but visitors who are most likely to take action. Attracting huge numbers of “clicks”—or even worse, “hits”—is not going to cut it. You must be able to analyze down to the real results: what actions did those visitors take—and how many? What are those actions worth to your institution, and do they justify your marketing expenditure? As we begin a new year, consider using website analytics to help you determine whether your institution is attracting and serving students to the best of its ability. Take a look at the above, and other data points, then take (informed) action from your analytics! Happy analyzing!

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