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Higher Education Analytics: More Questions and Frustrations Than Answers

Our team at Johnson & Wales University has been using Google products for analytics for at least the past six years.

When our site was static HTML, Urchin worked brilliantly. You could see honest numbers, get popular click paths (in aggregate), view search terms, and everything you would expect to see when monitoring site traffic.

Four years ago we made a switch to the Ektron content management system and Urchin became a bit less useful. Then Google Analytics matured and we'd hope it would be the analytics savior we had been looking for. It hasn't been.

I'm suspecting that a good foundational setup with the tool still needs to be done, but we share some of that responsibility with our IT department and neither side has a full picture to merge the admin settings, code, and business needs together.

I go to higher ed conferences on analytics and read diligently to try and make sense of it all because it seems like nobody else has these problems or they just don't want to fess up. Conferences are filled with hope and sunshine, but when I get back to my desk those promises just don't exist.

I'd like to hear from people on the forum to figure out if...

  • I just don't know what to look for?
  • Our analytics demands are too aggressive?
  • I'm just plain doing it wrong?
  • Content management systems have problems with analytics reporting?
  • What kind of perfomance indicators do you measure the success and failure of the site on?
  • Is defining a goal and funnel the only way to truly see a click path? It's a pain point for me that Google Analytics will give you portions of click paths, but not the raw data it's using.
  • What are users reporting to their team, executives, and other stakeholders on how the site doing? I can't grab some of these executive-useful items and make a dashboard from them.
  • How much customization and under-the-hood tinkering does it take to make GA useful for reporting?

Right now it seems like all I can do is look at general traffic, which doesn't really differ throughout the year and maybe utilize In-Page Analytics to get a loose sense of what paths site viewers are taking. I can report on site technology being used to view the site, such as mobile, browsers, etc.

Like many of you, I have multiple audiences hungry for information about the website, who don't really know what they are looking for, and I just can't extract the data I need from GA to satisfy their needs.

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Avinash makes a good point with #8: Quit Google Analytics (http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/google-analytics-tutorial-8-valuable...) and it's something that I will be looking into as well.

Scott,

It sounds like your issue can be summed up by this part of your post:

I have multiple audiences hungry for information about the website, who don't really know what they are looking for

I'm not sure there's any tool out there that will solve that particular issue.

Until folks can define what success is, there really is no way to measure it - regardless of what tool is being used. Just starting with a goal in GA can help steer things in the right direction. Using campaign parameters can help show people what external methods are working to achieve that goal. What sources contribute the most. What keywords people are using to convert.

As for your other questions:

I just don't know what to look for? AND Our analytics demands are too aggressive? AND I'm just plain doing it wrong?

See above. Without knowing what you're measuring and what success looks like, I don't think you can answer these.

Content management systems have problems with analytics reporting?

Our experience: no. We user Sitecore and have a number of tools implemented and in use: Customized GA, KISS Metrics, KISS Insights, Crazyegg. Looking at implementing the Sitecore DMS piece in the next 6-8 months.

What kind of perfomance indicators do you measure the success and failure of the site on?

Will depend on your goals, but it could boil down to the standards like students applying and online giving. There may also be others. We've done something as simple as making changes to a site and the performance indicator was a decrease in the search volume for a particular group of terms.

Is defining a goal and funnel the only way to truly see a click path? It's a pain point for me that Google Analytics will give you portions of click paths, but not the raw data it's using.


The new flow views can help with this, but are still a bit cumbersome. We use KISS Metrics for this by tracking specific paths.

What are users reporting to their team, executives, and other stakeholders on how the site doing? I can't grab some of these executive-useful items and make a dashboard from them.

Conversion rates, sources, landing pages, campaign specific stuff. Once again, depends on what succes is for your site. Often, GA can't give you this in a format that is acceptable for Execs. We design our own using charts built in excel and laid out in InDesign and we've also done online dashboards using Google Charts.

How much customization and under-the-hood tinkering does it take to make GA useful for reporting?

Depending on what you need to measure, this can be a lot (or a little). We've done custom click tracking, custom variables, events that track things like mouseovers to video completion to external links being clicked.

Within the GA interface, advanced segments, custom reports and multiple custom dashboards are your friend.

TS

Tim,

Thank you for the insights. You have hit the nail on the head and reinforced some of my assumptions about how involved I need to be, not just with GA, but a variety of tools, to help get a clear picture.

The goals are the tough parts because stakeholders will only go so far in saying what they want, which is usually just, "how is this section/set of pages doing?" Since these questions are asked responsively, a critical amount of time has passed where I can setup goals and funnels to provide insightful answers to those burning, unknown questions.

It sounds like you have a solid, proven system in place with clear goals. What is the percentage of time you or your team spend on analysis and reporting of site traffic data? Does it become more streamlined and take less time as your develop a toolkit? I'm the Web Producer for my team and kind of a catch-all resource. Historically I've only been able to devote about 10% of my time to this and it's all very reactionary to requests. I'm hoping to change that over the course of this year.

Hi Scott,

We've been working on the process and are slowly getting there.

Since Jan 1, my role has been 100% focused on analytics/reporting/strategy. As of today, my team consists of 1 writer/editor, 2 digital analysts and myself. We are now fully focused on content and analytics and servicing the rest of the University.

Because all of our time is dedicated to these areas, we find we are more able to ask people "what is the purpose of this site/page/app?" - usually steering them away from the standard pageviews or visits questions they tend to focus on.

And yes, over time as we educate folks and show them success stories, we have been able to streamline the process.

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