Are we there yet when it comes to digital analytics in higher ed?
I’ve spent the past 5 years trying to do whatever I can to help the community move the needle in the right direction.
I ran surveys on the state of digital analytics in higher ed in the past. Numbers can tell a story up to a point. Benchmarking metrics can help raise awareness and even shame institutions into action, but data points will always lack the power of vivid words from peers.
While Google Analytics and more recently its young sibling: Universal Analytics have been widely implemented in universities and colleges, the time invested on analytics in most institutions was… ridiculously short only 5 years ago. According to the 2010 State of Digital Analytics in Higher Ed Survey, 72% of the people surveyed spent less than 2 hours per week working on Analytics data.
Have 5 years made a difference for digital analytics in higher ed?
That’s what I wanted to know when I asked the 12 speakers of the 2015 Higher Ed Analytics Conference (now available on-demand) about the state of digital analytics at their institutions.
As you’ll see below in the answers from your higher ed colleagues, there are still many differences between institutions. However, digital analytics plays a strategic role in many schools.
Matt Hames, Manager of Media Communications at Colgate University
We’re moving towards digital analytics.
We don’t have a director of data, or someone who is tasked with specifically looking at data and making decisions.
That said, we are meeting interdisciplinarily to look at data. I think the secret for higher ed is collecting data, then showing it to people. Everyone looks at data in a different way.
Erik Hagen, Director of Web Communications at California Lutheran University
Over the past few years I’ve been producing quarterly reports for key stakeholders as part of our larger marketing and enrollment reports, and presenting the results in person.
That’s helped elevate the awareness and importance of analytics data in assessing our activities. I’m still trying to educate and push past basic metrics like pageviews and time on site to more specific and actionable things like conversions and business impact.
For some stakeholders there isn’t an obvious conversion goal like leads or donations, so I help them think about why their website really exists and what needle they’re trying to move.
Avalee Harlton, Service Coordinator & Web Content Designer/Editor at York University
We all want more effective content on our webpages and it allows us to monitor how our content is performing. Up until recently, it was done in a very piecemeal manner, so moving to a more centralised system is allowing us to get a better idea of what is going on both site-wide and page-by-page. That’s getting people really excited both about Analytics and about their content!
Top decision makers are interested in making informed decisions based on data but developing the process to supply that data effectively is still underway. Many website stakeholders are still unfamiliar with Analytics, so getting people familiar and comfortable with the tool’s capabilities is really important. One element of that process we’re currently trying is creating dashboards with meaningful data specific to the stakeholders in question.
Ted Hattemer, Assistant Vice President, Interactive Communications at The Ohio State University
Ohio State is at a mid-point in our use of digital analytics.
We have rolled out access to Hootsuite and Email on Acid for social media and broadcast email measurement, but a common Ohio State Google Analytics approach is still months or more away. Laddering into a single GA account will move our usage from scratching the surface to establishing goals and benchmarks around communications and marketing campaigns.
Liz Gross, Social Media & Market Research Strategist at Great Lakes Educational LS
We’re at the beginning of a movement to collect all the relevant data that allows us to do more of what works and stop doing what doesn’t.
We have a complicated system of communication channels and message campaigns that needs to be fully understood before adding the appropriate measurement tools and analysis. Our top decision makers are extremely supportive of analytics, as long as the data result in actionable insights that allow us to impact key outcomes.
Vanessa Theoharis, Integrated Marketing Manager at Babson College
Our centralized marketing team is tasked with being the key resource for our cross-campus partners on analytics and how they can apply analytics to their marketing decision making processes.
We infuse analytics into as many digital projects as possible to 1) provide deeper insight into our audiences’ behaviors and 2) continually educate on the depth of what analytics are available.
For example, prior to making any major changes to architecture or navigation of a particular subsite, we first dive into analytics to prevent subjectivity from driving our decision making. In our quarterly Social Media Council meetings, we bring learnings from the Google Analytics Social Report to share insights into our social media audiences and in turn provide content recommendations. By bringing analytics to the table from the ground up, we are able to continually educate on its value.
Tatjana Salcedo, Web Strategist at University of Vermont
At UVM I’ve seen a lot more interest in analytics in 2014.
Around campus many units have finally moved past simple data collection to the point where they are now seeking ways to leverage the data to drive decisions about their web development efforts.
Our president and provost now expect all discussions about the institution’s website will include detailed analytics reports on web traffic as it relates to desired institutional outcomes. And with more and more pockets of the website now incorporating our central analytics account, there is lots of actionable data to tap into for everyone involved with the website.
Stephanie Hatch Leishman, Social Media Strategist at MIT
We enjoy analytics.
In MIT’s Social Media Working Group, I encourage a culture of sharing successes and failures. We talk about numbers. We reflect on what we’ve done. We discuss metrics and the stories behind them. Creating this culture over the past few years has been important to me. We need to learn from what we have done or we cannot adequately move forward.
Shannan Palma, Senior Online Producer at Emory University
As a former academic, I’m all about the data, and I’ve found digital analytics an effective tool for evidence-based decision making at Emory.
In my previous position in another division of the university, I successfully used analytics data to shape social media strategy, and my department included our web analytics data in all our success reporting.
In my current role doing “Big E” marketing, I use analytics to make recommendations about content strategy and to identify elements for consideration for redesign of the main university site. I also collaborate with my news center and health sciences counterparts to keep an eye on our referral flow within all our enterprise communications outlets to see what’s working and what’s not.
Whether undergirding the business case for redesigning the website to be mobile responsive or for hiring an SEO consulting firm to help us understand fluctuations in our organic search traffic, analytics functions instrumentally in persuading Emory’s top decision makers to devote funding and attention to a particular area of concern.
Todd Gregory, Digital Analyst at Penn State University
The last year and a half has seen a major shift in regards to developing a data driven decision making culture.
A large part of that has been the investment in a role dedicated to training on analytics and SEO across the university. While we are still working on getting stakeholders to clearly define their business objectives to measure, they are extremely aware of the importance of performance metrics.
Most have moved beyond the mindset of “not interested” and are now “very interested” and working towards business objective definitions.
Alan Etkin, Project & Web Analytics Manager at BCIT
The state of digital analytics at BCIT is ripe, but it needs to be nurtured.
There’s a growing appreciation for the information we’re able to provide with analytics. I’m seeing more cooperation with development teams to implement code changes, I’m getting more requests for thoughtful analysis, and I’m getting more managerial support to spend time working on analytics. With a receptive environment, the next step is to develop and strategically share reports that demonstrate the ROI of our work.
Joshua Dodson, Digital Marketing Strategy and Optimization Manager at EKU
Analytics is a hot topic at Eastern Kentucky University.
We now have multiple positions on campus that are focused on the strategic use of web analytics data for making informed decisions.
Senior administration now highly emphasize this and are encouraging a better, more strategic use of data in marketing and communications.
So, what’s the state of analytics at YOUR institution?
Is it better or worse? Tell us by posting a comment below!
And, if you want to learn more from these higher ed analytics pros, make sure you get a pass for your team for the 2015 Higher Ed Analytics Conference (now available on-demand).