Let me pose this question — how many hours a week do you spend creating and posting content to your school’s front end website? I’m guessing it’s a sizeable chunk of time and for good reason.
Your site ranks among the most important marketing tools you have to attract new students and to teach them about the many benefits of your school.
But how do often do we check our analytics software, and it’s most likely you’re running Google Analytics, to gauge if the content and site design decisions we’re making are generating the right ROI?
While diving into Google Analytics (GA) may be on your to do weekly checklist, it’s not uncommon for it to get pushed down the list as more and more tasks get stacked on your plate.
In episode 37 of Blackbaud K-12’s Get Connected Podcast, Daren Worcester, our resident digital marketing expert, joins me to talk about why it’s critical to spend more time in GA.
He’s here to help you focus your effort in Google Analytics, demystify reporting and give some advice on how GA can help schools who are prepping for a site redesign.
For a full breakdown of what we covered, make sure to check out the expanded episode notes/Q&A section below.
If you’re a fan of the podcast, please do us a favor and rate and review the show on iTunes. Your support is very much appreciated.
For folks who are new to website analytics, why do you recommend that they install Google analytics on their sites?
Daren Worcester (DW): Analytics are key to understanding how visitors are interacting with the site. It’s a lot more than seeing what pages are popular, and which ones aren’t—it’s about gaining insight to make informed decisions regarding the website’s navigation and content, as well as the school’s other online marketing efforts.
Why is it critical for schools to carve out time to spend with Google Analytics? While diving into GA may be on a communication office’s checklist, what are some of the reasons why it may fall down the list as time goes on?
DW: The key term there is “time.” I think a lot of people sign into Google Analytics for the first time, and they get a little overwhelmed by all of the reports and the numbers, they’re not sure what they should be taking away from the data, and therefore it all looks like work that they just don’t have time for.
I actually see it the other way around. I see Google Analytics as a potential time saver. Schools are already spending time managing their websites, from creating new pages to writing news stories—through analytics they can ensure that this is time well spent. For example, if you’re planning a content calendar for news stories, wouldn’t you want to know which news stories get read, and which ones don’t? And if you had that information, wouldn’t you want to spend your time writing stories that will get read?
Getting this information with an onMessage site is easier than you might think. By going to the all pages report and filtering for news, you can see analytics on news stories. Once you know the type of news stories that are popular, you can plan new articles with similar topics.
For a school just starting to look at their web data, what advice would you offer them to help focus their attention and not get overwhelmed?
DW: I see three key ingredients to getting started with GA, and if I can throw in a quick plug, we offer a Google Analytics basics workshop to cover these essentials:
- Make sure the school’s account is best configured so that the data being reviewed is “good” data for the school’s purposes. What I mean by this is that there are certain account configurations that can significantly alter how data displays. For example, by putting in a filter to ignore traffic from the school’s IP addresses, Google Analytics can be set only to display data from those outside of the school. This means that students and faculty who are on the site every day, many simply to log in, aren’t stacking the data deck in one direction. Of course, if you’re going to do this, it’s always important to keep a “clean” set of data that’s unfiltered, so there’s always something to compare the filtered information to.
- Take a little time to understand the basics of how the reports function. This is basic stuff such as knowing how to adjust the reporting time period and compare it to another date period. For schools, a month to month comparison often isn’t valid because website data can change significantly from one month to another. Therefore, it’s often better to compare a month such as September against the previous year.
It’s also important to understand the terminology used in the reports. For example, a lot of people ask about the difference between sessions, users and page views. Sessions refer to “visits” on a site, “users” are the amount of people, and pageviews are the total amount of times a page has been viewed regardless of whether or not someone has already viewed the page.
Tip: if you aren’t sure what something in Google Analytics means…Google it.
- It’s important for schools to understand the reports that are important to them. Google Analytics has a lot of advanced features for e-commerce sites that are studying click-through rates. You don’t need to feel like you’re using Google Analytics wrong if you aren’t utilizing these reports. Keep it simple by monitoring the reports that correspond with the school’s marketing efforts. More often than not, this is going to mean reviewing the traffic acquisition reports.
For example, a school spending a lot of time publishing on Facebook would want to look at social referrals to make sure the efforts are translating into website traffic. Take it one step further, and Landing Page traffic could be segmented to show landing pages from Facebook referrals. Now you’re seeing the top pages people came to from Facebook, which, similar to our news example before, provides insight into the types of Facebook posts that drive traffic to the website, and which ones don’t. Going forward, do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.
You mention the importance of understanding the report concepts, and not too long ago we did a blog post on demystifying bounce rate—can you elaborate on that here?
DW: Bounce rate is an often misunderstood analytic that can inadvertently cause people to jump to conclusions.
Google search doesn’t review Google Analytics data, so they aren’t looking at bounce rate the same way we are in the GA reports. They care more about dwell time, which is a measurement of the amount of time someone stays on the site after being referred by Google search results.
We often see our schools having high bounce rates on their homepages, but this is usually due to parents continuously coming to the home page to then “leave” the site via the login link. By segmenting Google Analytics to show bounce rate by organic search traffic and new users, we’re able to get a better perspective for how the Google search team is interpreting the site’s usage.
If someone is new to Google Analytics, how do they know what a “good” bounce rate or time on page result is?
DW: There are some basic measuring sticks for each. For bounce rate:
26-40% — Excellent
41-55% — Average
55-70% — Above Average (not necessarily cause for concern)
> 70% — Concerning
Time on page:
< 30 seconds — Concerning
31 seconds to 2 minutes — Average
> 2 minutes — Outstanding
If a school’s considering a re-design, it’s important to make the commitment to understanding their site analytics. How can grabbing hold of the numbers help them make better decisions when it comes time to design the new site? Daren offers advice along with the following instructions on how to set up the Site Search/Search Terms report that’s under the Behavior reports. See it all below:
DW: Great question. For starters, Google Analytics can help a school make a business case for when the right time to redesign is. Historically, this has meant monitoring trends to see what the width of a website is compared to the user’s screen resolution. Today, measuring width is out the window because it’s all about mobile usage. A school looking to convince leadership and trustees that it’s time to redesign to a responsive website need only look at the traffic reports by a device. Some schools are seeing as much as 50% of traffic on mobile devices, but for most the average is likely in the mid-thirties. Also, since Google updated its mobile search algorithm in April of 2015, non-mobile websites could be losing search referral traffic, and Google Analytics can show whether this is happening.
On the flip side of the coin, schools that have redeveloped to a mobile-friendly site can monitor mobile search referrals to see if they are getting more traffic since the Google release.
The other aspect to redesign planning would be to do a navigation and content audit. Running a pageviews report will quickly show the pages that are the top performers, and those that aren’t. For everything in between, reviewing bounce rate with time on page will help show pages that are underperforming. This may be because a page really isn’t necessary on the site, or it could be because it needs a content makeover.
When I’m doing a content audit, one of my favorite reports is the Site Search/Search Terms report that’s under the Behavior reports. This report needs to be activated in the Admin > View Settings by turning on “Site Search Tracking” and then in Query parameter field enter the letter “Q” for onMessage and Podium sites. What this report does is it will show the search terms people are using when using the on-site search feature. This is invaluable info from a navigation and content perspective as it shows whether there’s info people are looking for that is either missing from the site or hard to find.
What are dashboards within GA? Why are they a helpful tool to keep school leaders in the loop when it comes to site growth?
DW: Dashboards are great because they rollup information from various reports into one location for a quick review. Think of it as one-stop shopping for the school’s website KPIs. Of course, Google makes it easy to create, customize, and share dashboards.
What sort of things should be on a dashboard for an admission director, head of school, communications director?
DW: There’s likely a lot of crossover between what the roles would be interested in seeing, but this can be a fun little exercise. Let’s start with Admission Directors; they’re probably concerned pageviews, especially those in the admissions section. One exercise I like to do with schools is to look at the amount of pageviews on the application process page, and then compare it to the actual number of applications received over a specific period. Most schools have a ratio of 8-11% of pageviews resulting in applications, so this number holds pretty steady. Once a school figures this out, then can then forecast what they’ll need in increased pageviews to meet future application goals. Knowing the goal then enables them to plan how they will make that number—whether it be through SEO, social media, traditional advertising, etc.
Sorry, that was a bit of a tangent…that leads us to the Head of School. If I were a head of school, I’d want to see a rollup of traffic acquisition data. Knowing the efforts the team is putting into things like organic search optimization, paid search campaigns, social media, e-mail campaigns, etc., I’d want to see on a monthly basis whether this work is paying off.
And if I were a communication’s director, I’d want to review that same info on a weekly basis to have time to digest and build upon it before sharing the results with the head of school. I’d also want a deeper roll up of the data then what the head of school would necessarily see. When we work with schools on Google Analytics, we typically help them set up a dashboard solely for Facebook. Here we will show the top landing pages on the site from Facebook referrals, which we talked about earlier, but we’ll also show basic counts of “new users” and “unique pageviews.” Remember, reporting doesn’t have to be overly complicated, and sometimes, the simpler, the better. Has the work we’ve done on Facebook this month earned us more or less “new user” traffic? Once you know the answer to that question, you can diagnose the “why.”
How can they add Google Analytics to an onMessage site?
DW: Within the Admin area, they need to go into the Property setting for .js Tracking Info and Tracking Code. On the Tracking Code screen, copy the embed code provided, and then go to onMessage > Site Settings > and paste the code into the Google Analytics box on the Settings page.
We have a Jing video showing how to do this here: http://screencast.com/t/90bEQsJGFIy
About the Author
As senior product marketing manager, Peter Baron is focused on illustrating how Blackbaud K-12’s software builds deeper connections among key school community stakeholders, including parents, teachers and students. Peter regularly contributes to various online communities and education conferences like NAIS, CASE/NAIS & SSATB to explain the importance of providing modern, user-friendly experiences for school constituents. Peter hosts Blackbaud K-12's Get Connected Podcast and is the founder of edSocialMedia, a community-driven site dedicated to exploring the role of social media in education. Peter also serves as a trustee for Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School and is an Executive Committee member of TABS’ North American Boarding School Initiative.Follow on Twitter More Content by Peter Baron