Do Numbers Have Enough Value?

I often receive e-mails from people around campus asking for the “number of hits” their site received for a given time period. (My favorite is “…in the last year, so I can include it in my annual report.”) With some people, I take the time to try to get to the root of what it is they’re trying to find value in, and often times try to explain that what they actually asked for isn’t going to help their cause. Will a random number really help them? Do I really need to dig deeply into Google Analytics to give them the number they requested? Why not make one up? Will they know the difference? How does this number have context?

In academe, we’re often asked to undertake assessment projects. One of my biggest professional challenges is to find a credible, valuable way to assess the effectiveness of our electronic media. Using Web Analytics and calculated ROI for certain projects are great starts, but I think there’s more to it.

Kyle talks a lot about Web Analytics, and teaches us how to make sense of these numbers.

Karlyn talks about ROI, especially with e-mail marketing campaigns, and proves you can put a dollar and percentage return value on your efforts to share with the powers-that-be.

For a museum on our campus, what does it mean to them to have 5,000 visitors to their site a month? Does it mean a good percentage of them physically went to the museum to see a particular exhibition? Does it mean a local school teacher was influenced to schedule a field trip to the museum for her class because of what she saw? Did they see enough online exhibitions that they felt they didn’t need to come to the museum in person? Sure, there are ways to track all of these things, but not solely by providing “you had 5,000 visitors to your site last month.” And should that take into context the overall university site having nearly a million visitors in that same month? Are they the same audiences?

I think there is a way to quantify all these numbers in a way that impresses directors/administrators, but provides them greater value. I’d argue it would be more effective to provide dialog. Collect anecdotes – turn on comments and engage people in blog conversations. Share stories from your Facebook Fan Page wall. Be part of the conversation in your forums.

Can you put a number on value and influence? Say your university has a Twitter account and 100 people follow. You have over 2,000 fans of your Facebook Page. Your main university site has one million visitors on average every month. What did you do to convince those following you on Twitter, Facebook and your site, that your college is the right one for them? Were you directly involved, or was it the influence of the community sharing their thoughts and opinions? Will these efforts turn into more prospects, more applicants, higher yield rates? And are these higher quality students? What are your university’s strategic goals? How do you embed these goals into the use of social media, and further, train key players at your campus that being able to rattle off “your site had 5,000 visitors last month” doesn’t get them any closer to achieving them?

Let’s compare stats for three college Facebook Pages:

Which college would you want to be providing numbers for?

I would argue college #1 (and it’s not because of my personal bias of knowing the real college behind the curtains) – look at the activity of the community. It’s not about hard fast numbers – especially the fan numbers, as College #3 is currently in the lead. All three have very similar number of fans, but the difference is the conversation – the volume of conversation, and the topics of discussion that the community is engaged in. These are the numbers, and the anecdotes behind them, that I’d want to be sharing (and do) with my administrators on campus.

Next time you’re asked to provide numbers – throw them a curveball and provide more than just a number. Share with them anecdotes, comments on blogs, flattering Twitter messages, and engaging Facebook wall posts and discussions. More specifically:

  • Summarize the types of conversations that are taking place – share a specific anecdote or two
  • Talk about the activity that is taking place – is there interaction going on between individuals? Are they helping each other? Are you guiding them?
  • For the museum example – suggest they start tracking individuals that walk through the door with some sort of survey that asks if they’ve explored their Web site.
  • Which blog posts drew attention of commenters? Which ones didn’t?

Help give them context and illusrate how just providing them with one, or even a few, numbers, may not provide the value or insight they’re really looking for.

Live Blogging: What the Heck Do All These Numbers Mean? Web Analytics for Higher Ed

Presentation @ #stamats08

How are you making Web decisions: Did the prez tell you to do this? Build a picture with meaningful data.

What is the purpose of your college’s Web site. What do you want to get out of it?

Alfred Sloan: Chairman for GM – manages by fact rather than by intuition or emotion.

Conversions are your bread and butter. Measure that. Segment out your users. Traffic is meaningless without context. Content is king.

What is important?

Analytic terms

  • visits
  • pages/visit
  • absolute unique visits
  • % new visits
  • traffic sources
  • landing pages

Average time on site: we have no way of measuring how long they stayed on the last page. Only when a page is initially requested a time stamp is requested. If someone’s on a page for more than 30 min, it boots that too.

A bounce is always an exit, but an exit isn’t always a bounce.


  • Website Grader (includes good SEO info)
  • Google Analytics

Types of Clickstream Data – more specific way to describe Web analytics

Choosing an analytics package: no tool is perfect

Only book he recommends starting with: Web Analytics – An Hour a Day

Spend 10% of you budget on the tools, 90% on the people. With Google Analytics, spend 100% on the people – it’s free.

Data overload? Segment! Filter!

Install up to 100 profiles in Google Analytics – track specific things.

Setup site search – your bread and butter

Standardize data: “We use the “dub” some don’t” ( vs.


  • Filter sub-domain traffic: include things like —
  • Including all domains traffic filter – set this up on umbrella profile
  • Exclude IP traffic filter, such as oncampus traffic
  • directory filter — such as just the admissions site,
  • country filter – U.S. only? international? Setup city traffic for community colleges
  • tracking and tagging: how do you make sure it’s coming in the right way – destination URL tagging
  • tracking links & tagging audience segments

Site Search Report – good keyword data. People tell you how they like to see things, what they’re searching for. Address the needs they have for you.

Keyword reporting from search engines – bigger picture.

Titles are so important for search engines. Any page on your site could be the first experience they have with your school at all.

Referring sites report: important to know where your traffic/people are coming from.

404 error page report – dead links? where did we fail? what were they looking for? fix problems! Setup redirects, correct links, fix it for them without them having to do anything. Improve the user experience.

Goals & Conversions: This is where you really decide, where ROI comes from. It’s not perfect, but it’s 90/95% accurate.

There’s so much more you need to be tracking/monitoring.

Offline Campaigns: Vanity URLs: Help with tracking, but some people may strip the “extras” ( vs.

It’s all about being creative – there are unlimited ways to use this.

Check out the slide below on Wofford’s e-mail campaigns: Wofford’s DonorConnect, NewsroomConnect, eConnect. Cool graphics & layout.

ShareThis Tracking — #1 way to share content is still through e-mail (blog post, news story, etc.)

Ask your audience —, lots of others too (free & not); ask them what they care about. We can look at the data and make decisions all day, but the best info we can get is asking the people.

Video Analytics: YouTube has insights – which videos are working, which aren’t. None of this happens over night – you need to produce content, monitor what works & what doesn’t work.

Web Analytics Rules

  1. set goals before you do anything else (business goals, not Web goals, not “I want to get this much traffic to my site.” Instead – I want X people to schedule a visit, to apply to the school.
  2. always be testing
  3. don’t get caught up in the numbers, look at the trends.
  4. setup a reporting schedule and track key metrics