Understanding SEO Performance: Traffic Metrics

by Brian Coughlin on September 28, 2015 , No comments

Brand and product visibility, site traffic and lead generation are the goals of most business school digital marketing campaigns. While traffic can come from many sources, results generated by organic search yields the highest ROI. Here’s how to sort through mountains of data to assess your organic traffic success.

In my most recent blog, I discussed the pitfalls of using keyword rankings as your school’s benchmark for SEO performance. Today, let’s focus on how to evaluate your organic traffic.

First: Isolate Organic Traffic

Depending on which analytics software you use (most schools use Google Analytics, but not all), you’ll find several ways to filter organic search traffic. Be sure it’s only organic search traffic, and not all search traffic (which can include paid search traffic).

Second: Pick Your Date Range

I suggest looking at two date ranges:

  1. A graph with a single line for the last 3 years
    • This helps you avoid misinterpretations due to seasonality
  2. A graph showing year over year traffic – the last twelve months vs. the same period a year before (e.g. September 2014 – August 2015 vs September 2013 – August 2014)
    • Helpful note: As you want to see the overall health of your SEO program, look at the data on a monthly basis instead of daily (the default).

Below are examples of these two graphs using dummy data. Note I’ve isolated organic search traffic (top left) and adjusted the scale to monthly (middle right).

 

Google Organic Traffic Over Time

 

Google Organic Traffic Year over Year

You can see organic traffic for this dummy data is struggling. The first chart shows minimal growth during the past three years.   Looking at year over year performance, there’s been a 2.49% decline. It’s time to call your SEO team and start asking questions.

Metrics to Consider, Their Meanings, and What You Want to See

When you open your analytics software, you’ll be inundated with metrics. They all serve a purpose, but three are most important:

  1. Sessions
    • What it is: A visitor. Sessions will include new & returning visitors, so 20,000 sessions does not mean 20,000 people. Still, it provides the best high-level overview of performance and is the default option for most graphs (including those above).
    • What you want to see: Traffic should be increasing by a minimum of 5% per year. 5% is essentially adjusting for inflation. There are more users online every year, so if your organic traffic is stagnant, your site is underperforming.
  2. Bounce Rate
    • What it is: Google’s Definition: Bounce Rate is the percentage of single-page sessions.
      • Simpler: Percentage of people who came to your site and left almost immediately. This usually means they clicked on your search result, didn’t find what they were looking for, and clicked the back button on their browser. It also means they probably went to a competitor.
    • What you want to see: The average bounce rate is about 40%, but you may see anywhere from the 25% range (amazing) to the 60% range (not great). Look for changes. If the number is declining, you may be on the right track. If it’s increasing, users may not be finding your site useful.
      • Note: While lower is generally better, too high or too low are both potentially causes for concern. Too high (>60%) means you aren’t serving the right content to your users. Too low (<30%) may mean you aren’t capturing enough casual visitors (often the best lead prospects), who always leave websites at a higher rate than returning users.
  3. Goal Completions
    • What it is: Goals are manually set up in your analytics software and can track a large number of different things, from specific actions to time on site. Consult with your marketing team to understand what goals, if any, you have set up.
      • Tip: The best goals are directly related to lead-generation, such as form or application completions.
    • What you want to see: Goal completions should be increasing at about the same rate as traffic. Depending on site redesigns, you may see bigger improvements to goal completions than traffic, so consult with your team if you see extraordinary changes.

Consider these three metrics in relation to one another. The calibration you are seeking is steady traffic, a declining bounce rate and more leads. If you are there, congratulations. That’s a good sign your SEO program may be driving better traffic, not just more.

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Brian CoughlinUnderstanding SEO Performance: Traffic Metrics

The 80/20 Digital Marketing Reality

by Grant Sabatier on May 27, 2015 , No comments

Based on our work with many institutions, I am sorry to report it is not uncommon to find examples of schools that have spent $100,000 + on a single digital campaign that resulted in no more than a handful of inquiries. Do the ROI math on that.

There are three basic reasons this is happening in a surprising number of situations:

  • The money is spent on poorly conceived strategies that have led to bad display ad placements, inappropriately targeted keywords and other such misfires.
  • Increased competition, driven by more sophisticated digital marketers in the higher education space, has led to most institutions losing up to 40% of their market visibility in the past year. That means 4 out of every 10 people who used to see your institution when searching online no longer see you.
  • Most institutions have not made peace with the reality that they are simply not spending enough money on digital advertising to have a chance of competing with the growing number of institutions that have accepted the reality that in digital marketing you literally have to pay to play. It is a new cost of doing business in higher education — and institutions that don’t factor this into their models will find themselves first marginalized, and soon literally out of the game.

What to do?

The third point above is a longer conversation. Again, most institutions have to seriously rethink their business and pricing models to include significantly higher costs of lead acquisition in the digital age. We spend a fair amount of time at Eduvantis introducing institutions to the data, models and metrics that demonstrate and contextualize this point.

The immediate response for most institutions is to at the least seriously up their game in terms of the sophistication with which they approach digital marketing. Our experience analyzing many institutions is that Pareto’s Principle — more popularly known as the 80/20 rule — is alive and well. 80% of what schools invest in digital marketing creates little impact. 20% of what they do is responsible for most of the enrollment impact they do achieve.

Here is the catch: Most institutions do not have in place the things it takes to actually know which of their hard-earned dollars is actually making a difference. The good news is that in the days of “Mad Men,” advertisers literally didn’t know what was actually producing results — which spawned the old adage, “half of my advertising dollars are wasted, I just don’t know which half.” In the digital age, things have changed. Here’s what you can do.

The easiest way to determine what has historically given you the best results is to look at the past performance of your Google Analytics conversion goals (if you haven’t set them up or don’t know if they are set-up correctly click here). For most institutions it makes sense to track prospect and/or other website visitor actions – such as inquiries, information session signups, applications started, and applications submitted (sometimes more challenging if you use Hobson’s Apply Yourself – but it is possible to find ways around this system). These conversion goals in Google Analytics can then be mapped back directly to measure your direct and in-direct marketing efforts.

channel

 

 

 

When analyzing your conversion efforts we recommend using the “secondary dimensions tab” or the “reverse goal path” in Google Analytics to analyze the referral source, traffic source, landing page, keywords, and other points of origin that led to conversions. At Eduvantis Digital we recommend exporting all of your conversion data into Excel to make it easier to sort. After you have gathered your conversion data – then sort all of your conversion sources and look at where the majority of your conversions originated over the past 1, 2, and 3 years. Using this approach you will easily be able to isolate the 20% of your efforts that generated 80%+ of your conversion results. These are where you should focus and invest in your marketing efforts.

For most of our clients these are organic search, paid search, and increasingly paid social media – which can be isolated all the way down to a specific keyword set or target. The least effective digital ads from a conversion standpoint are general display placements (like on popular news website). Over time we recommend our clients use simple referral tracking source codes for all of their digital efforts to make attribution modeling with Google Analytics possible (finding the source + touch points leading to conversions). It is always better to focus your budget and efforts on finding ways to make your most effective tactics work harder for you.

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Grant SabatierThe 80/20 Digital Marketing Reality