The new year ushers in a host of fresh hopes and goals for organisations, institutions, as well as individuals; it can be an excellent time for international student recruiters to review KPIs and other strategies to make sure they’re on track.
Of course these days, the institutional website is a key recruitment tool, which is why we’re devoting this post to best practices in website analytics as they relate to measuring and improving conversions (defined as any desired outcome of your online marketing). We’ll be basing much of this post on articles written by Scott Duncan on the Higher Education Marketing blog; the articles are excellent so our advice is to use this post as an entry point into them and we encourage you to read them in full.
It bears saying right up front that the key to optimising one’s website for recruitment goals is as much about strategy as technology. For example, you will want to make sure you have:
- linked website operation to overall operational goals (i.e., the website must be in the service of the overall operation – so its mission must be seriously linked to the overall goals of the institution);
- set up reasonable goals for website performance via measurable KPIs (key performance indicators);
- established a data capture system that will let you know what you need to know regarding those KPIs (i.e., you don’t need to know everything a website can be measured against – only those analytics that relate to your KPIs);
- created a data reporting and analysis system that is not overwhelming but again, linked to KPIs so you have a clear sense of what’s happening.
Using Google Analytics to track website performance
Given the expense of so many marketing initiatives, it’s reassuring to know that there are best-of-class analytics tools freely available from Google for measuring website performance, lead generation and conversion. The trick to using them properly is to translate website KPIs into Google Analytics Goals.
Higher Education Marketing’s “Tips on How to Develop Google Anayltics Goals for Your Higher Ed Website” notes that you can begin with as simple (and informative) a metric as page views of your “Thank you for registering in this course” page, but Google Analytics Goals can go much further than this:
“Let’s say, through careful tracking and analysis of the recruitment funnel at your institution, you know that inquiries from engaged, prospective students for detailed information about financial assistance is an extremely good indicator of student’s interest and their propensity to register. So your Google Analytics goal might become tracking and increasing the number of requests from prospective students for information on financial assistance. You can quantify this action by tracking the number of visitor page views on the financial assistance page on your site. As a final step in this process, set an expectation for what your baseline activity should be.
So to summarise:
Business objective = increase total registrations
Google Analytics Goal = page views of financial assistance page
Monthly goal = 50 page views of financial assistance page
Now that this goal is established, you can repeat the process and apply it to your other main business objectives to produce 5–10 Google Analytics Goals. By focusing on 5–10 KPIs, you should see improved results.”
Once you’ve set up your Google Analytics Goals, establish a good tracking system complete with regular opportunities to change things up if need be. That’s the beauty of website analytics: you can always switch which goals you’re tracking for a better sense of how your website is helping to encourage prospects to become students.
The whole picture: analytics that capture the complexity of the conversion process
As any education marketer knows, the journey of turning an international prospect into a student can involve many steps – particularly if the students are using multiple channels to engage with your institution.
Thankfully, Google Analytics offers ways to analyse this journey and thus, an opportunity to both shorten conversion processes (e.g., by setting up more effective navigational paths on websites) and understand how the various elements of a recruitment strategy are working together.
Again, Higher Education Marketing provides a helpful article on this topic: “Tracking Student Interaction That Converts: An Intro to Multi-Channel Funnels and Conversion Attribution.” The article demonstrates how Google’s Multi-Funnel Channels can:
- show how much various channels (e.g., paid search, referral, direct, organic search, email) are contributing to ultimate conversion;
- visualise the extent of each channel’s overlap with others in the conversion process (e.g., students used both paid and organic search to engage with the institution, ideally to the point of enrolling);
- determine and rank (in terms of contribution to conversion) the paths students are taking in their engagement with your institution (e.g., searched for a programme, found your institution via organic search, provided email to request further info, books a visit to your school) and orders them in terms of First, Assisting, or Last Interactions;
- assign monetary value to various steps in the conversion process;
- identify how much time is elapsing between steps of the conversion path, and how many steps are involved.
CRO: Conversion rate optimisation
Another very exciting tool at hand for marketers is conversion rate optimisation, or CRO, which is defined by Wikipedia as “a method of creating an experience for a website or landing page visitor with the goal of increasing the percentage of visitors that convert into customers.”
In short, CRO involves regularly tuning and testing the content on a website (far more often than a website redesign) to make sure it is optimised for conversion.
A pioneer of CRO, Bryan Eisenberg explains the questions to ask in order to change content for the better via a short and handy three-step formula:
- Relevance – Are you relevant to my wants/needs/desires (search query)?
- Value – Do I know why you are the right solution for me? Have you explained your value proposition/offer well?
- Call to action – Is it obvious what I need to do next? Have you given me the confidence to take that action?
Once you have made adjustments according to this formula, the next step would be to check the performance of old pages to the new ones you have created via Google Analytics Content Experiments.
Here’s a compelling example of how one CRO initiative, changing a “Submit” button to a “Get Info Package” button (and changing the colour of the font) yielded vastly superior conversion results:
“Over 6 days the new button produced 29 leads; the old button produced 13. Conversions increased by 121%.”
Further on the optimisation mission
This post has pointed to Google Analytics Goals, Multi-Channel Funnels, and CRO as essential elements of the education marketer’s toolkit, but of course it’s important not to forget the basics. From a 2012 ICEF Monitor article, here are some essential bases to cover in making sure your institutional website is driving conversions:
- Step 1: Appeal – Look good; have great, inspiring copy; make sure all essential info is on your homepage; be optimised for mobile viewing.
- Step 2: Intrigue – Make the student want to explore your site further; ensure you provide clear and easy navigational cues; do not confuse in any way, shape, or form; include excellent explanatory features (e.g., well-made video, clear explanations of what things mean and how to proceed to find out more).
- Step 3: Invite – Include prominent invitations to phone or email, or possibly include a live-chat feature with a genuine representative from your organisation for immediate questions.
- Step 4: Follow-Up – In the event a student does proceed towards conversion (by applying online, registering for an open house, requesting info, making use of “contact us,” or registering a proﬁle), follow up immediately in a friendly, professional, non-pushy but very helpful manner. Make it abundantly clear how important the potential student’s interest is to you, and offer to answer any questions he/she may have in any form they would like (e.g., emailed info, personal phone chat, etc.)
All our best to you in 2013 as you work on optimising your website for international student recruitment! We will continue to post articles this year designed to help you achieve success in this goal and other best practices in international student recruitment.