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Moving from Project to Process Using Analytics
Moving from Project to Process Using Analytics


Moving from Project to Process Using Analytics

Apr 23, 2019By Greg Zguta

We’ve fostered a mantra of process vs. project at mStoner. The goal is to help our clients move away from big website redesign projects every five to seven years and toward an operating model in which we implement smaller, incremental changes on an ongoing basis. This doesn’t mean an institutional rebrand or broad design refresh won’t ever happen, but it positions marketing and communications units to make the best use of large investments in website redesign projects, learn from and leverage what works, and be more agile in the ability to respond to emerging needs.

Higher Ed Websites Are Growing Up

Here are five ways the higher education environment naturally supports the new transition to a more mature higher ed website:

  1. Data is everywhere: Everyone has data they can use to help make decisions. The challenge is more often keeping data and analysis lightweight and useful.
  2. Public-facing .edu sites are getting smaller: Once pruned to the necessary pages, each with a purpose and an owner and married with proper governance, the website is more likely to be a streamlined 500-page package instead of a sprawling nightmare with 10,000 pages or more.
  3. Front-end code (HTML/CSS/Javascript) is more capable and robust than ever: Web developers who manage their code base using source control and modern build methods no longer have to deal with spaghetti code within a CMS that grows to the point of needing a complete overhaul.
  4. Institutions use modern content management systems: Yes, some institutions still need to transition from old or outdated technology. But website projects are increasingly about modernizing design and content, not changing technology. When technology does change, those smaller public-facing sites are easier to migrate.
  5. Digital marketing integrations are more common: Websites are now most often owned by marketing and communications pros who can rely on software as a service (SaaS) offerings for hosting, and then plug in analytics tracking, A/B testing, CRM, personalization, social media, and other tools. Integrations aren’t trivial, but they are easier and more plug-and-play than ever.

The time is right for many institutions to make the transition from project to process. And analytics are at the heart of this transition.

Analytics Power the Process

How are those institutions already living the project-to-process transition finding success? What are the ways data fuels these iterative projects?

Here are some techniques our clients employ using various analytics tools to make incremental changes on their websites:

  • Create a few lightweight goals in Google Analytics around important actions. For example, measuring requests for information, campus visits, or application activities can answer a lot of questions about what is working on the site. These same goals aid in A/B testing of new approaches.
  • Test marketing landing page layouts to determine optimal call-to-action placement using A/B testing. Set Google Analytics goals around the page’s form conversions as the measure of success.
  • Use heat maps to evaluate information architecture decisions and guide placement of links in the header and footer, for internal and external visitors.
  • Validate the placement of content lower on pages and test different content hierarchy strategies with scroll maps. They can show where visitors pause on a page, even if they don’t click.
  • Monitor SEO issues such as crawl errors, page titles, descriptions, redirect issues, page performance, and accessibility. Tools such as Google Search Console, WebAIM Wave, and CMS-based tools yield a number of course corrections that typically aren’t high-effort.
  • Measure storytelling to capture the impact it has on audiences. Vanity metrics count here (pageviews, time on page, bounce rate), but digging deeper also helps. Some ways to do this include: 
    • Measure referral traffic to featured programs highlighted in stories.
    • Track engagement using Google Analytics event tracking to see how interactive features resonate.
    • Provide a call to action at the end of a story, either to a conversion opportunity or to more content.
    • Use Google Analytics segments see how visitors to story content engage with other areas of the site.
  • Use feedback from usability testing to validate decisions and make course corrections to information architecture, content placement, labeling, and small design adjustments. Google Analytics data can be helpful in corroborating usability testing observations.

A website redesign does not have to accomplish everything at once. You can always add new templates or functionality after a relaunch, or revamp the request for information process as part of a new CRM within admissions. The ability to prioritize these post-redesign initiatives — and use data to show what moves the needle — keeps things moving more quickly and avoids one initiative causing delays to another.

Train someone (or multiple someones!) on the marketing and communications team on your institution’s analytics tools. It is important that they know how your institution captures analytic data — but they don’t need to be expert-level. This role advocates for how initiatives will be measured and can analyze results. Getting up to speed using Google Analytics Academy’s free training courses is always a good place to start. Increasingly, more than one tool may be helpful. Don’t overlook Google Search Console, heat mapping, usability testing, A/B testing, and digital advertising platforms as potential sources of data. Trying a tool doesn’t mean keeping it forever — be willing to experiment and move on from a tool if it doesn’t help.

Your Data Is More Than a Bunch of Numbers

Moving from big website projects to a sustainable process is a more effective and pleasant way to maintain a website. There are opportunities to improve brand perceptions, web content, site performance, conversions, organic search traffic, overall user experience, and much more. Using analytics as a driver of your process is a great way to prioritize and keep focused on changes that make a difference.

As we approach the summer months and planning for the next academic year, now’s the perfect time to revisit your analytics.

Remember: Gathering the data is important, but what you do with the numbers you collect — the actionable insights you uncover for immediate improvements to your website — is what matters.

It’s time to make data-driven decisions and connect digital performance back to strategic goals. If you’re interested in learning how mStoner can help you better understand your data and put it to work, let’s find a time to chat. We offer services spanning from analytics audits and setting up Google Analytics and Tag Manager to developing insight-driven road maps and implementing iterative changes on your site.

  • Greg Zguta Director of Web Strategy I've been working on education web projects since the late 90's and enjoy visiting campuses and watching how technology has transformed higher education since I got my first email account at Oberlin College in 1992. Back then, I mostly used the web to check weather radar and sports scores . . . I suppose technology hasn't transformed everything yet.