Tag Archives: analytics

.eduGuru Summit: Online conference for online communicators.

Screen shot 2013-03-19 at 4.25.33 PMCommunicating in higher education, especially via web and social media, is a fast-evolving field, so it’s marvelous that so many options for professional development exist. Next week comes one such opportunity you can tackle without even leaving your office or home: the 2013 .eduGuru Summit on Wednesday and Thursday, March 27 and 28.

I’m thrilled to be part of a lineup that tackles timely topics in strategy (day one) and technology (day two). Full lineup as follows:

Wednesday, March 27, Strategy Track (eastern time zone, presuming my math skills still work):

  • 10 a.m.: “How to Create a Culture of Sharing,” Donna Talarico, Elizabethtown College
  • 11 a.m.: “Building a Successful Web Team,” Matt Herzberger, FIU
  • noon: “Establishing a Social Media Program,” Michael McCready, NorQuest College
  • 2 p.m.: “What Robocop Can Teach Us About Alumni Engagement,” Jeff Stephens, University of Florida
  • 3 p.m.: “How Student Blogs, Video and More Can Help You Meet Goals and Provide Solutions,” Tim Nekritz (me), SUNY Oswego
  • 4 p.m.: “I Don’t Have Your Ph.D.: Working with Faculty and the Web,” Amanda Costello, University of Minnesota

Thursday, March 28, Technical Track:

  • 1o a.m.: “SEO for the Modern College Newsroom,” Kyle James, nuCloud
  • 11 a.m.: “WordPress FUNctions,” Lacy Tite, Vanderbuilt University
  • noon: “WordPress Themes 101,” Curtis Grymala, University of Mary Washington
  • 2 p.m.: “Designing Responsively from Mobile to HD,” Philip Zastrow, University of Notre Dame
  • 3 p.m.: “Rebuilding a University Homepage to be ‘Responsive.’ Twice. In Less Than a Year,” Erik Runyon, University of Notre Dame
  • 4 p.m.: “Making Analytics Reporting Actionable,” Becky Vardaman

Honestly, I find every one of those tracks fascinating and several extremely useful. So consider registering for the .eduGuru online conference and joining us next week. It’s an outstanding lineup, and you don’t have to worry about canceled flights and lost luggage to attend.

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nate silver and the rise of analytics: what it means to you.

As the election drew near, many political and stats junkies (like me) became fans of Nate Silver, aka @fivethirtyeight, the shrewd political number-cruncher and blogger for the New York Times. His way of aggregating the most reliable presidential polls into megapolls, and factoring in those polls’ historical accuracies, was considered by some to be as revolutionary as the introduction of “Moneyball” — or use of undervalued stats — on baseball.

Like anyone who develops a following, Silver soon drew his shares of detractors. Newsmen, pundits and politicians alike scoffed at his methodology, and Silver tended to respond quite intelligently with an unrivaled grasp of statistics. Even as the news networks hyped the election as anyone’s game last week, Silver said his estimations “represent powerful evidence against the idea that the race is a ‘tossup.’ A tossup race isn’t likely to produce 19 leads for one candidate and one for the other —  any more than a fair coin is likely to come up heads 19 times and tails just once in 20 tosses.” And, yes, unless Florida reverses course, he will have called 50 of 50 states correctly. That he even triggered the briefly popular Is Nate Silver A Witch? website tells something about his crossover success.

But let’s forget politics for a moment (please!); what’s impressive here is the rise of analytics writ large. Silver succeeded by keen understanding of statistics, willingness to discard dubious assumptions and eagerness to innovate. In higher education, we always talk about working smarter not harder and trying innovative things … then everyone rushes to “best practices” and well-plowed ground and research (like that on “Millennials”) based on questionable assumptions.

It all starts with data. Working with the web and social media avails us to a wealth of analytics and metrics via Google and other methods. But as Silver cautions, it’s about looking for the right data, not necessarily the most obvious or easiest. Avinash Kaushik, perhaps one of the top experts in web analytics, jokes that “hits” is short for “how idiots track success” … i.e. the number of visits to your website tells you only surface information. Instead, he says, look at things like bounce rates (how many people visit one page and immediately leave), average number of pages per visit and what paths and tasks users complete while on your site.

Google’s In-Page Analytics (seen above) is one of my favorite tools for seeing where visitors go after hitting a page. Those orange tags are click-through percentages, which you can roll over for numbers. I look at our home page using this tool very frequently to see what is and isn’t working, and regularly check other key pages. It’s interesting to see that sometimes switching out a picture or changing wording can have an impact on click rates. Among the most basic tips:

  • Pics of students work better than anything else. (Except maybe sunsets, but that’s a whole other story.)
  • Pics of logos and/or clip art are virtually useless. The only logo anyone ever clicks is the Oswego logo at the top left to get back to the home page.
  • Don’t overpromise or mislead with link names. I’ve seen pages where users think they are getting one thing because of a page name, only to realize the info they seek is not there. In cases like these, a user is more likely to leave our site entirely than go back. (We’ve seen this fixed by merely changing a link or page name.)
  • If your page has an embedded video but a very low average time on page, it’s pretty clear that video isn’t getting watched much. You can correlate with YouTube views — there’s a chance they’re watching it on YouTube — but you can often spot a dog quickly. This also ties into our data that shows videos about students and/or made by students tend to do much better than any other videos.

Another great Google Analytics feature is event tracking, which lets you see microtrends. With our new megadropdown headers and Popular Links, developer Rick Buck inserted a Google event tracking code to get a finer picture of who clicks where. The Academics part of the header rules, as it does in breakout tracking. This underscores our longtime push that good academic content and information architecture remain key to a college website’s success.

In addition to looking small, we look big. We recently completed our third month of compiling, filing and sharing a monthly web and social media analytics report, which has provided clues into what works and what doesn’t. We will learn even more as we add and hone various measurements and see trends in longer spans of data.

On a related note, you should also look long-term and not be so hasty that you change things too quickly. Silver’s data worked because he had large sample sizes. You need to track a page for at least a month (maybe more) to ensure you have a good enough sample size to judge user activity. A day or two is too small a sample size to glean a full picture.

Some colleges are showing a need and desire to invest in data. Ithaca College, for example, recently hired Colleen Clark as a full-time marketing analyst, and Colleen describes what that entails in this interview with Karine Joly of Higher Ed Experts. Not all colleges are in a position to hire full-time web analysts, but institutions should ensure that at least one (probably more) people in their organization have enough training, knowledge and — importantly — time to look at stats and trends.

Because as Nate Silver showed with this election, relying on conventional wisdom and erratic statistics get you results that are only as good as their flawed data. The more data you have, the better you understand it, the more effectively you implement what it shows, the higher the chances you can start achieving some real wins … whatever you do.

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1 page speaks volumes on how web has evolved.

Last week I finished working on a new landing page for our Admissions Video, and it made me realize how far we have come — which I mean globally as well as locally.

Here was the old site in our old design, hosted by vendor, created several years ago:

And here’s the new one, presented (via YouTube embed) on our site:

First and most obvious, the new one represents our cleaner, sparser redesign which makes content more user-friendly. Did you notice anything else? Like that visitors no longer have to download/use RealPlayer or QuickTime to view the video?

I really think this transition reflects larger web trends over the past few years.

  • Better sharability. YouTube was not the commonly trafficked site back then, and its cloud-based platform that can be easily embedded is (overused phrase ahead) a real game-changer. Paying for outside hosting of static web video is less necessary also because of …
  • Improved metrics availability. One of the reasons I’m told we went with this vendor was the ability to track number of visitors, plays, etc. Which we easily can now do on our own site via Google Analytics as well as YouTube’s own metrics. We could also set up funnel reports to see how many people go from this video to fulfill other tasks … which, since this video is currently a conversion tool, will be increasingly interesting come next admission cycle.
  • Increased in-house web knowledge. I had only minor involvement in (and less knowledge of) the web when Admissions set up the previous system. We had limited awareness of what other options may have existed and certainly did not have access to the awesome collective resource of Twitter #highered folks. I love that Admissions will come to us now for web solutions that we can provide at no or marginal cost with greater functionality. I think (or hope) colleagues at other colleges have similar experiences.

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2011 goal: become a better five-tool player

In baseball parlance, a five-tool player is one who does many things well (batting average, power, speed, fielding, throwing). In today’s workplace, where we need to perform many, many different tasks  — how many folks get to specialize any more? — flexibility and improving several skills is at a premium.

In that way, I’m studying my major skillsets, or desired skillsets, to examine where I want to grow and improve:

1. Writing. This has been my bread and butter. I started writing poetry when I was 4 (didn’t say “good poetry”) and have been paid to write since I was 20. But improvement is always possible. The character constraints of Twitter (and to a lesser extent Facebook) reinforce the most important writing tip ever, Strunk and White’s “Omit needless words.” I think sometimes, with my general writing, I’m too satisfied with a first or second draft when I really need to keep trying to make it better.

2. Web communication. This could represent several tools in itself, but for the sake of keeping it to five, I’ll consider this a mashup of social media, analytics and website management. This is an area I’ve had to learn on the fly, but often with the help of reading and expert advice — much of it free from colleagues. Analytics, which I just started getting into after last year’s SIMTech Conference, represents countless opportunities for improving our web presence. Not included in this list but related is …

3. Content strategy. Thanks to the awesome book Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson (a later blog post), I gained more of a handle on, and case for, better institutional content strategy. This has resembled the Wild West in our decentralized web presence, but combining analytics with rolling content audits and content strategies could work wonders. Or so I hope …

4. Video. My communication degree had a broadcast concentration, so I know the basics. And they sat dormant for many, many years until I had to start supplying more video content a few months ago. I started using iMovie — so much easier than the analog editing I learned on ginormous machines — and now look to improve my camera work, which requires better equipment as much as anything. But I know that, underlying it all, sits a basic desire for storytelling that I cherish.

5. Management. I’ve read books, had training, but what does it mean in the real world? I supervise two full-time workers (who I view as colleagues, never subordinates), a small student social-media team (interns and volunteers) and student bloggers. I’m trying to track, prioritize and document things better, but don’t want to make it a chore. As a discipline of the Tom Peters empowerment strategy, I sometimes wonder if I’m too permissive … but my hope, especially with students, is to put them in position and with the tools and opportunities to succeed.

So, what about you? What skills would you like to gain or improve?

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follow the reader.

It is an ancient Mariner and he stoppeth one of three. — Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

In a way, I envy that ancient Mariner. Stopping one of three, especially in today’s go-go world, is a herculean task. And engaging them? What an albatross!

Links followed from the Visit Oswego page.

Fig. 1: Links followed from the Visit SUNY Oswego page.

After my Pondering the Point (.0) of Web Writing post, Rick the Indispensable Tech Guy sent the above bit of analytics showing where those landing on the Visit SUNY Oswego page go. My beloved body copy fails to stoppeth even one of three.

The most effective link, the one that reads Visit Us and sends people to the admissions visit page, nets 13 percent of readers. Another 11 percent proceed to the campus tour page. Four percent pursue the open houses link. And a big fat zero percent go to schedule your visit online from this page. Wow! Or, perhaps, ow!

The analytics don’t tell all, as we aren’t sure if readers follow the inline links or the related links of the same name. A bit more than a quarter — 27.3 percent — do follow the sibling links under Visit SUNY Oswego on the leftnav. It’s nice to see 5.8 percent check out the Fast Facts feature I sweat over. And while 1.2 percent go straight to the search box instead of navigating by this page, the overall dropoff rate — those who leave the site entirely — looks daunting at first (math is hard).

Since this is a high-level oft-visited page, these are humbling figures indeed. But what’s a Web content creator to do?

Actually, this — analyzing what readers do — is a good start. In a perfect world, you have the time and resources to assemble a focus group of future students to say what they’d like to see on the page. (In this perfect world, chocolate also grows on trees and it never rains til after sundown.) Failing that, you could ask current students their opinions. You could also look at the links people most follow and see if the links most accessed from those pages would make sense on this one.

But also remember that people can only click one link at a time. More than 3 out of 4 (75.7 percent) of visitors at any time click the top 10 links — all contextual, structural or related — so we must be doing something right.

One should also avoid overreacting, just summarily dumping links with lower clickthrough. Sure, only 1 percent click the structural College Offices link, but given the high volume of traffic, that means a significant number of readers jump from this page to find a specific office. That represents an audience being served in seeking more information.

That said, if you’re a perfectionist (as I am), anything less than 100 percent service just isn’t enough. There are readers, readers everywhere; let’s make many stop to link.

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