Colleges and Universities Are Spending Millions Each Year on Student Acquisition

Higher education institutions’ investment in marketing is significant, with for-profit colleges spending tens of millions per year. Some schools have amped up their digital spend considerably since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, especially on social channels such as Facebook.

Prior to the pandemic, colleges were spending as much as $400 per student enrolled.

Ad Spend Efficiency And Great Website Analytics Work Together

With so many dollars on the line, colleges should be working to get the most out of every digital marketing investment. Once ads are running and properly targeted with effective messaging, the next step is the website experience.

So, how can universities discover and optimize their user experience? These four website analytics data points are vital.

1. Your Mix of Incoming Website Visits From Organic Search and Digital Advertising

Most colleges have more than half of website visits already coming in from search engine results. This is because searches that end up on a university website are typically branded, highly localized (coming from the geographic area around the school), or tailored to the name of a specific degree offered.

Digital advertising website visits are a different story. They may or may not show up as a significant incoming channel, depending on how much advertising on social platforms, Google search, and display advertising a college is currently doing. It will also depend on the type of advertising used, as some ads will either capture lead information without visiting the school website, or are designed to visit purpose-built pages from a vendor that may not reside on the website at all.

Regardless, the “baseline” state of both of these channels will tell you a lot about how well your digital marketing is bringing in potential students.

Don’t Forget About College Website Visit Seasonality

Month-over-month variations in website visits for a university are likely to be dramatic. Long-term trends will show a natural rise and fall in visits for time frames where there is more or less enrollment interest (late spring, late summer, etc.). This means that, most of the time, your most useful comparisons will be from one year to the next over the same period.

Do Your Website Analytics Visits Match Your Investment?

college digital advertising
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A key takeaway is whether the percentage of all visits you receive, and the value of those visits, matches the effort and spend that is being put into them.

In other words, if your college has spent considerable time and money on optimizing for search engines, have website visits from organic search risen since those investments to match?

Speaking of college search engine optimization, most universities have a large volume of pages, such that they need to prioritize individual pages or groups for SEO work. Once the pages are improved, the next logical step is monitoring performance. Two key performance indicators for those pages are:

  • Landing page sessions from Organic Search: this metric shows whether the page itself is doing a good job of showing up in search results for keywords that match the page content, and earning clicks from the SERP (search engine results page) through to the university’s page content.
  • Engagement after view of the page: after the page is viewed, what kind of additional user actions occur? Do visitors go on to view other pages, especially to learn more about your school, look at admissions or plan a visit? Data captured here will show how effective your page content and cross-links are at persuasion and user education.

3. Activity and Engagement on Digital Advertising Landing Pages

college website visitor tracking
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Most of the time, even colleges that hire digital agencies to manage their advertising are only tracking two primary metrics: ad clicks and on-page conversions. I’ve been surprised at how many times there is little to no detail available for optimizing digital ad landing pages.

Instead, just as with organic search above, universities should have enough website tracking set up to have a good idea about how or less engaged users coming in from different ad campaigns and landing pages are.

This means adding tracking elements that cover all landing pages in general across the board, and then specific interactive elements for any pages that need extra attention.

4. Website User Outcomes and Journeys

Last, but certainly not least, is to monitor user journeys through the website. This includes landing or entrance pages, additional pages viewed, any interactions on those pages, and the outcome from the visit.

A university website designed with purpose should guide visitors from one step in the enrollment process to the next with clear, obvious links and information. Examining whether users are moving through the experience the website lays out for them is an indicator of the effectiveness of your content and user experience.

Does Your University Need Help With Website Analytics And Tracking?

I’m always glad to consult with colleges and universities to help them set up effective website tracking and reporting. Contact me to set up a free consultation.