What is the Measurable Impact of a Higher Education Website Redesign?by Greg Zguta
ESTIMATED READING TIME: 3 minutes
Measurement is part of any digital project, particularly a full website redesign.
At mStoner, we talk with our clients about goals from the start and how we’ll measure success.
- The primary audience for full-scale website redesigns is typically a prospective student. Goals focus on ways to engage them with great content, how to help them find information better and faster, and strategies for bringing prospects into the admissions funnel.
- We also measure and consider the overall impact of a website redesign. Did we increase the overall audience size, and are they more engaged than before? Is the site easier to use and more appealing? Does it help our client tell their stories better?
What’s the measurable impact of a redesign?
Google Analytics (GA) is a great resource for measuring overall site improvement, among many other things. Here are the average results for five common and high-level GA metrics from our clients who launched their sites within the last year. (Caveat: Results can vary for a variety of reasons from one institution to the next.)
For the three months after a website redesign, compared with the same three months in the prior year:
- Sessions increased 7 percent
- Users increased 15 percent
- Pageviews increased 22 percent
- Pages/Session increased 14 percent
- New sessions increased 11 percent
It is clear there’s a real impact on increasing audience size and engagement after a website redesign.
Specific goals for key audiences still matter a great deal, but it’s also important (often to senior leadership) to deliver positive top-level web traffic improvements with website redesign projects. Within these numbers are opportunities to increase goal conversions based on higher traffic and more engaged visitors. Web analytics work is an ongoing effort to understand and improve a site, but starting a project with positive gains is always a bonus and provides plenty to work with.
What about bounce rate and session duration?
Both numbers were flat, on average, for these sites. Here’s why:
- Bounce rate is often a function of how well analytics tracking is implemented across a site. If pages are missing tracking code, or visitors move between subdomains, bounce rate can increase, even when visitors stay within institutional web properties. Internal audiences negatively impact this number if a website redesign includes gateway pages for them with direct links to other systems, such as email, learning management systems, and other web properties tracked outside of the .edu GA account.
- Session duration often follows the same pattern as bounce rate. Internal audiences spend less time on the site as a function of better information architecture. Better navigation pathways, search results, and their heavy use of other internal systems take internal audiences away from the .edu site by design.
When goals are at odds.
When looking at top-level metrics such as pages per session or time on site for higher ed sites, goals for internal and external audiences are at odds with one another. We must engage and move some visitors to clear calls-to-action. Visitors in this camp include your local community who are getting to know the institution, prospective students considering applying, and alumni visiting the site to re-connect or donate. On the flip side, internal visitors (whether students, faculty, or staff) need to find what they’re looking for quickly and move on.
Set your site up for measurement success.
It might be difficult to compare analytics before and after a website redesign because the before and after data isn’t present or isn’t tracking the same content. If that’s the case, here are three things to consider to help tell the story of a redesign to your stakeholders:
- Establish tracking for internal and external visitors (using IP address ranges) and collect this data for the site before a redesign. This helps split up these constituencies with very different goals.
- Ensure you are tracking visitors across the site, both before and after a redesign. For example, if visitors move from the homepage to a separate admissions website, make sure these journeys are tracked in a single analytics account, before and after a relaunch.
- Most importantly, set goals for the redesign and identify how you’ll track them. These might be GA goals, visitor actions that require event tracking, or reporting elements like segments within your GA reports. This is the key step to being able to move beyond high-level metrics and get to the real value of analytics with specific and tactical goals.
So what’s the punchline? Numbers like these are just the beginning of the analytics story. They may be “vanity metrics,” but they are numbers our clients and their stakeholders ask about. Every project doesn’t experience gains in every high-level website metric. Each project is different in terms of how analytics are tracked prior to a relaunch, including how effective the previous site was, how much information architecture changed, how much new content was developed, and many other factors. It’s encouraging for our clients to see the impact of a website redesign and the opportunities a new site presents with a new set of tools. With mStoner’s approach to strategy and analytics, a website redesign can offer a terrific springboard for an institution’s website to better serve its audiences.
I presented a two-part webinar series on Google Analytics and Tag Manager back in August. We’ve packaged up the content and the webinar is available on-demand for $299. During the sessions, I covered how to identify meaningful and actionable data in Google Analytics and when to use (and how to implement) key features, including event tracking, goal-setting, campaigns, segments, and Tag Manager. Taking this training is a great first step to setting your site up for measurement success. If you have any questions, just leave a comment below!