Web Analytics Sharpen University's Marketing Buys
- By Linda L. Briggs
Being on television doubles visits to the school's Web site, Seton Hall University recently learned during this spring's March Madness basketball coverage. That nugget of knowledge came via a Web analytics tool that Seton Hall is using to better tease out the complex patterns hidden in visits to its public-facing Web site. That information, in turn, is helping the university to better target its marketing dollars.
In the expensive and crowded media market outside New York, in which Seton Hall competes, buying the right mix of media and reaching the right prospective students can show an immediate return ... or can waste an expensive marketing campaign. That's why it became critical to the university a few years ago to find a better system for analyzing Web traffic, and hence how various marketing approaches were being received.
The university, which is only 14 miles from New York in South Orange, NJ, depends on tuition for a full 90 percent of revenues, so, without lots of large endowments, marketing efforts targeting prospective students were especially crucial. On the plus side, making improvements in the recruiting cycle could have an immediate impact on the bottom line.
It was during an overhaul of the university's public Web site, according to Rob Brosnan, director of Web and digital communications, that he realized how little he and his team knew about the effectiveness of various marketing efforts. "We really had no clue as to how well our materials were performing out there in the wild," Brosnan candidly admitted. "We knew we had a problem. We just didn't have much experience in how to solve it."
Seton Hall was using a Web analytics product called Urchin, which was in the process of becoming Google Analytics. Through that tool, Brosnan and his staff had page view counts, unique visitors, and other basic metrics but lacked information on what to do with the raw numbers. "It really wasn't helping us understand how people were using the site," Brosnan said.
Selecting a better Web analytics tool was a challenge though because administrators simply didn't know enough. Fortunately, Brosnan said, he and his team found an advanced Web analytics product called Coremetrics that has offered the capabilities--and the necessary customer support from time to time--that the university needed.
Using Coremetrics, Seton Hall has been able to capture complete, precise behavioral data to trace the conversion of prospective student to current student based on any and all campaign influences. This, in turn, allows Seton Hall marketers to make carefully informed decisions on spending, as well as on Web site design. For example, Brosnan and his team discovered that prospective students often reached pages deep in the Seton Hall public Web site through a Google-type search without ever passing through the home page or earlier introductory pages. That information made it clear that even deep within the site, pages needed to be designed to accommodate first-time visitors.
The return on investment from using a Web analytics tool is huge, Brosnan said, although he and his staff are tapping into only a small portion of the software's capabilities so far. "We're seeing things we can control without a deeper investment in our media mix," he said. "Buying the right media and putting it in the right place can immediately show a return [on investment]."
In addition to better-targeted marketing, Brosnan said, there have been some surprises in the course of using Coremetrics. He has come to some new realizations that have changed not just marketing materials and their reach but the university's design of its Web sites--and even what information the university offers to its current students.
"This tool has had a profound impact on how we serve current students and, hence, the university community itself," Brosnan explained. "Universities are interesting platforms to be working with on the Web.... We're not just about donations but about supporting communities and the cultural life of the surrounding community." But a university's public Web site tends to focus on current students, sometimes to the exclusion of prospective students. That was true at Seton Hall, where portals were primarily used to serve information to current students.
But based on detailed visitor and usage data from Coremetrics, Seton Hall began changing its portal design to put more community and cultural information onto its internal sites. "We started including more and more events, more and more branding campaigns," Brosnan explained. That, in turn, has had an impact on what employees, students, and faculty think about the university, he said.
One important aspect of Coremetrics, Brosnan said, is its ability to allow segmentation of data, particularly on an ad hoc basis. That is, based on the data, he may want to examine not just which potential students are responding to what marketing piece, but to then to examine that information from another angle based on other demographics--where were those students located? What was average family income? How soon are they planning to attend Seton?
Even users with little knowledge of analytics, Brosnan said, can find the data from Coremetrics useful. "You can do tremendous work even if all you want to know is: How is the site performing today?" he said.