We live in a data‐rich world. Digital marketers across all types of institutions are interested in using key data from Google Analytics, social media, content management systems, customer relationship management systems, and more. But these folks have full‐time jobs that don’t include tracking down data, addressing gaps, analyzing information, reporting, and gaining insights that lead to action. And without the right reporting process in place and time to do analysis, it’s hard to tell how X connects to Y and influences Z, and then turn those insights into action.
So what happens? We gather up the numbers that are easy to collect, give them a glance, share them with our boss, and put them on a shelf for later. The best of intentions can lead nowhere.
After hundreds of projects with colleges and universities of all sizes, we’ve identified the four issues that institutions struggle with the most.
Most institutions collect some amount of data, usually in Google Analytics. Far fewer institutions regularly report data and mine for insights. In some cases, data collection is limited because features such as goals and event tracking haven’t been set up to capture more detailed data on key website interactions. Reporting is often done on an ad‐hoc basis when requested. One‐off requests take more energy to respond to. Regular reporting, when practiced, doesn’t lead to a clear action or isn’t done consistently.
Here are three ways to use data to inform your decisions on a daily basis:
What if you have multiple analytics accounts or web properties across your institution?
This occurs in Google Analytics when schools and colleges have their own analytics accounts, or various institution web properties aren’t tracked consistently. It takes effort and coordination to get the the right data in one place to make reporting and analysis easier.
How do you tackle data silos?
Google Analytics alone doesn’t provide a good way to report on key actions that take place in third‐party systems or even offline. Setting up goals and event tracking in Google Analytics can help, but CRM, social media, online giving systems, and online applications also hold vital information about many of the online actions that align most closely with institutional goals. Many institutions struggle to track top‐of‐the‐admissions‐funnel activities such as scheduling campus visits, requests for information, or online application submission in Google Analytics when the transaction occurs in a third‐party system over which they have little or no control, such as a CRM form or fundraising system.
Taking the step of combining data from multiple sources requires additional tools, time, and collaboration among staff. Exporting data from Google Analytics and other sources into Excel, or using a tool such as Google Data Studio, is a good way to get started.
This is where the rubber meets the road. To truly put data at the heart of your decision making, consider what you can and should do differently because of the numbers you’ve analyzed. It takes a coordinated effort to answer these questions and implement change, and different objectives require different tactics.
Creating goals is fundamental to measuring success of these efforts, and the goals must align with marketing objectives. A number of other activities can help:
Institutions often lack someone who can be the glue between marketing, technology, content, and leadership. This might be the CMO or director of marketing and communications — someone who understands the value and enough about the areas involved to collaborate across disciplines and continually champion the value of measurement. Success means collecting comprehensive data, connecting the dots, and focusing on the right data to make that information actionable.
For example, Johnson & Wales University (JWU) hired a manager of digital analytics. He’s the steward of Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager implementations who makes sure the right tracking is in place. He’s also in position to look at data from admission’s CRM and marketing automation tools, and do reporting in and out of Google Analytics for leadership.
The ability to connect analytics with strategic initiatives enables JWU to use data more effectively. During our recent partnership with JWU to relaunch its website, JWU’s manager of digital analytics was able to plan conversion tracking for the new site, report on success measures, and analyze the existing site to help JWU keep things that were working and improve things that were not. JWU is positioned to continue making data‐driven decisions with its new website moving forward.
To be successful, today’s higher ed marketer must make data‐driven decisions and connect digital performance back to strategic and financial goals.
mStoner Insights gives institutions the information you need easily and consistently. Working with us, you’ll be able to:
We start by understanding your current environment and goals, with a focus on concrete visitor actions. Often these center on the top‐of‐the‐admissions‐funnel activities that the website is essential in enabling.
With this common ground established, we address issues and opportunities in data collection and analytics tracking. In parallel, we deploy robust reporting to help you zero in on the data we’ve agreed is most important, in a digital dashboard that is digestible, actionable, and shareable with leadership.
These fundamentals allow us to set in motion a cycle of reporting, analysis, and incremental site improvements. Each month you’ll receive an Insights report that includes analysis and recommendations to help you quickly assess what’s working and what can be improved. Over time, we evolve our reporting and analysis to focus on key data collection, website content, interactive tools such as program finders, and calls to action that matter most to your initiatives. You get the requisite reporting as well as the insight you need to make data‐driven improvements to your website.
Greg Zguta Director of Web Development 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.