Co-written with Jennifer Croft and Alan Etkin. Jennifer Croft is an SEO consultant with 30 years of marketing experience who has worked on more than 500 websites, including 50 higher education websites. Alan Etkin has extensive experience using web analytics to manage large transactional websites, including 10 years in higher education.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the single most cost-effective way to drive qualified traffic from prospective students to your campus website. Yet many campuses do not track key search metrics effectively, and either have an incomplete assessment of their search performance or are completely in the dark about it.
Skeptical about how important this is? Try using these tips on how web analytics can measure the return on SEO, and then see how it compares to your other promotional efforts.
If you do not already have a web analytics tool in place, you’ll need to install one first. Google Analytics is the most popular application for web analytics tracking. It’s a free program that can provide most of the metrics you’ll need. We’ll use this as our reference tool for the strategies we’ll discuss.
Keep track of organic traffic
Organic traffic refers to visitors who arrive at your site after clicking on a search result (not one of the paid search ads you see at the top or to the side of your search results). Google Analytics provides an Organic Search Channel Report that tracks how many visits you get from search engines. For an additional level of insight, you can combine this source information with behavior data—for example, how long search visitors stayed on your site, how many pages they clicked, and so on.
Getting around the “not provided” block of keyword phrases
Back in the good old days, Google Analytics tracked the keyword phrases that visitors used to get to your site, and it was easy to separate branded terms from non-branded, and qualified phrases from non-qualified. Beginning in November 2011, however, Google started withholding keyword phrases from users who were logged into a Google account. Then in September 2013, Google completely shut off this flow of information, citing privacy concerns. Yahoo followed suit in January 2014, and as a result, little information remains in this section of Google Analytics.
There are two silver linings to this otherwise dark cloud. First, you can recapture some of that keyword data in Google Webmaster Tools, by looking in the Search Traffic/Search Queries section. Second, if your Google Analytics account has been active for years, you still have a trove of keyword data on hand from before we entered the “not provided” era. You want to be careful about relying on old search data, but it can still provide useful insights into your current SEO strategies.
Use “Page Views” + “Organic Traffic” + “Entrances” + “New Visits” to measure progress
Given that so much keyword phrase data has been eliminated from Google Analytics, you’ll need to focus your measurement efforts in a new direction.