Web Strategy in Higher Education

In my new role as the Manager, Marketing & Web Development at NorQuest College, one of my tasks is to work stakeholders to develop a web strategy document that will set the direction for our redesign project and future development.

I’ve been doing a lot of research and have read many web strategy documents from higher education institutions.  They have a lot of similarities and have your traditional elements (which are required) like vision, objectives, guiding principles, audiences, and web governance.

The challenge with higher education, and maybe all large non-profits, is there is strong emphasis on web governance.

That in itself is not necessarily a bad idea.  But when governance becomes such an emphasis, institutions often overlook a critical piece: measurement.

As I’ve reviewed a number of web strategies from other higher education institutions and reconfirmed the similar lack of focus on measurement, I became frustrated.  And I’m not the only one that’s frustrated with the lack of measurements.  My friend Michael Klien, wrote a great piece on why he’s given up on traditional marketing which revolves around the lack of measurements in traditional marketing.

If your web strategy speaks to your vision, objectives, goals, audience, principles, processes, governance, but doesn’t address measurements, then you’re doing your institution a disservice.

More Than Pageviews

Those inexperienced in the world of web analytics may default to using pageviews or visits as an indicator of success.  While that very well may be one, it’s not the only one.  Other indicators of success could include:

  • goal conversions (did they do something you want)
  • time on page
  • geographic location
  • increase/decrease in phone inquiries
  • web surveys
  • more accurate content
  • and the list goes on.

The bottom line is that what you measure should be directly connect to your goal or objective.

For example, if one of your goals was to increase your brand footprint outside of your regular catchment area, then a way to measure would be to review web visits from those identified areas.  Obviously you would need tactics to support that goal which the measurement tool would validate success or not.

It’s Not Hard

I think one reason why measurements may be left out of a web strategy document is that people are either afraid to hold themselves accountable or they don’t know where to start.

I’ve even found myself wondering, “where do I start” or “what do I measure?” These are good questions to ask, but dwelling on them too deeply can lead to paralysis.

I heard a quote from a management consultant years ago that I still live by today:

generally correct, not specifically wrong

Pick something to measure that’s connected to your goals, put it in your web strategy, and start measuring.  You can always adjust or change your measurements later.

  • http://jmalikow.net/ Jason Malikow

    Good perspective, Mike, thank you. When I’ve worked with organizations that traditionally rely on direct marketing I’ve sold them on incremental rollouts of digital projects because of the flexibility of measurement. 

    For managers and orgs like this I think it’s useful to distinguish between data collection, which should be value neutral, and reporting or accountability, which can be baised for or against taking an action. 

    My question is: how can we help reduce fear of failure or fear of the unknown to make accountability a positive, constructive part of an online marketing project? 

  • michaelklein

    Thanks for the mention, man. I think higher ed needs to examine how it operates when it comes to the web. Having a web committee – and shudder, web governance – made up of ‘representative departments’ is a complete waste of time. You need people that have web skills, and the reality is that lots of web committees consist of token department or unit heads who may not know the web from their ass. Having led one big university redesign project, the trick is to relentlessly used data driven decision making. This helps get out of the ‘trap of listening to web lore’.

    The primary metrics of higher ed web should be tied to organizational goals. For example student/staff lead generation and perhaps story engagement. Closed loop reporting is possible, if only higher ed leaders would put the decision making in the right hands.

    Don’t get me start on higher ed marketing dysfunction… Lol

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