University Web Developers

University Web Developers

As we are coming to a calendar year close and recently completed an advertising campaign, we have been looking at our web analytics to see how we did. Trying to compare overall web traffic we have seen a decrease this year (-4% +/- depending on some factors). The problem I'm running into is that it doesn't correlate to our increase in applications and accepted students.

My initial reaction is "better web traffic"? We've seen increases in: time on page/site, % of new visitors, traffic from external networks, and traffic to some of our key pages (although not all of them). We've also seen extremely high results on our direct mail/application pieces.

So am I foolish to extrapolate that our general brand awareness could have increased, our prospective students don't have to navigate all over our site, are applying quickly and easier through our direct pieces, which is cannibalizing some of our traffic?

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Hi Kevin,

I would say that lower 'qualified' traffic is much better than a large volume of  'general' visitor web traffic.  It seems to me that your brand advertising and direct marketing campaigns could be resonating better with your target audience.  This drives qualified traffic to your website and higher ratio of applications/visitor traffic.

Same here. We just brought in a record class, but overall site traffic is down 4% compared to last year. And this is after several years of growth. I haven't been able to figure it out.

The more I hear others mention this, the more I think its a technical issue or something related to privacy that was updated in browsers.....but so far I haven't found anything to validate those thoughts.

I've been speculating for some time that there might be a generalized flow of our users away from web sites and towards accessing information through social media. This could be a very soft effect: a tweeted question that replaces a hit on a web page here, a skim of a Facebook page instead a hit on an event calendar there... just a slight drift away from the web site as the first go-to resource. These slightly lower numbers would be in keeping with that kind of small shift in user behavior. If so the pattern of lower numbers would continue over time, and web resources that can be accessed on multiple social media platforms or from peers would probably show the most drop.

Keep in mind, while a 4% change in traffic might be out of the norm, it's also not statistically significant in most cases. After all, where is that dip happening? It's possible your home page views are down, while views across the rest of the site on the whole are up. That'd be because of the sheer volume of views the homepage gets, and people that might be getting to deep pages on your site via a search engine. Imagine how many views of the homepage would be cut out if just a couple computer labs on campus changed the default homepage to Google, for instance.

When I hear someone say "traffic changed by X amount," I immediately think you're talking about total pageviews or visits singularly (I also question if on-campus traffic was excluded in the report, for reason like the lab example above). It's extremely important to make sure folks understand that these are, essentially, garbage statistics. What matters is the value you get out of those. In your case, you say you're seeing increases in applications and acceptances. If that was your goal, and you achieved that goal with fewer pageviews, you're actually doing a better job since the base conversion rate is higher.

Increasing pageviews or visits isn't a goal. It might be a means to a goal, but it should be viewed as the start, not the finish, when it comes to analysis. For instance, if you've seen that drop, and you think it's because of incidental flight to social media platforms, then measure your engagement rates on Facebook and Twitter and see if there's a corresponding bump. The tough part is, there's a certain mad scientist skill that comes into play sometimes to get all the numbers to make sense, and in that process, you lose some of the folks you have to sell on the info, which is why we revert back to this basic pageview/visit scoring.

Totally agree, overall traffic is not a goal. But the narrative for most higher ups is more traffic = more reach and awareness. And so they want an explanation when it drops. I don't think it's worth worrying about unless it goes past 5-6%, but there should be an explanation for it.

In my case I'm looking at visits instead of pure pageviews because traffic patterns will always shift around, but ultimately we want more people coming to the site, or at lest the same people coming back more regularly. While "unique visitors" is up almost 6%, "visits" is down 2% - meaning we're getting more people (or the same people on more devices anyway) but they're not coming back as much. Which may be fine - all comes down to how we define success and how we're reaching out to them in other channels.

We've been considering reporting aggregate metrics for social media and web in a more unified presentation, realizing that there will be traffic shifting between channels, and that a better view of overall engagement and effectiveness will come from looking at the channels together, even as traffic flows and shifts between them.

I agree that results-oriented metrics are the ones that matter. Management knows they need this kind of more nuanced analysis too, so I think moving away from a 'views and visitors' orientation to a conversions and results orientation is on everyone's agenda.

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