Online marketing professional Michiel Doetjes shares his insights into how to best measure your results
For most institutions for higher education, the use of online marketing channels to recruit domestic and international students is a no-brainer. Online is where we’ll find our target audiences, whether in using social media to communicate with peers and express themselves or browsing the web to find education that matches their (international) ambitions. In terms of ROI, online marketing has an unprecedented potential to measure the results of marketing activities, but for many institutions it is difficult to tap into the vast amount of data that’s available.
Typical mistakes when measuring ROI
Starting an online marketing campaign is easy. I bet you - like me - have been called many times by different marketing agencies, publications, and portals with “an offer you can’t refuse.” There are different reasons to start working with a new online marketing channel. Sometimes it’s as simple as joining your competition and being “visible” on a certain channel. But, a mistake I’ve seen many institutions make (and honestly, I’ve made this mistake, too), is starting campaigns without thinking about two simple but important things:
What are my goals in using this specific channel?
How am I going to measure “success” for this campaign?
The first mistake seems like an obvious one: you just can’t start a campaign without aligning its goals with your business objectives and describing how this campaign contributes to that overall objective. Define goals, target audiences and how this specific campaign fits in your overall strategy. Online marketing should always start here!
After setting goals for a campaign, a measurement plan is needed. Because; how are you going to measure results when you’ve not set up tracking? When setting up a measurement plan, you should ask yourself the question; “How am I going to measure the goals I set for this campaign?” In the end, we all want “bums on seats,” so setting conversion goals is important. Is your website “ready” for conversions? What do you measure as a conversion? Is that a completed application? Then work on making that measurable by setting goals in Google Analytics.
The holy grail of ROI: closing the circle
Now more than ever, prospective students use a great number of tools and services to gather information about your institution. Some might visit you at an education fair, while others use search engines or online portals when researching different options. Although there is a lot you can measure, it can be hard to close the circle and track prospective students throughout the “funnel.”
In this journey, a student uses multiple touchpoints with your institution. Tracking these touch points and attributing conversions to these channels has been a challenge. A tool I love to use is the multi-channel funnel report in Google Analytics. This report not only offers valuable insights on my top-converting channels, but also offers the possibility to look into the funnel and see what channel contributed to a conversion. If, for example, a student starts their journey by clicking-through to your website on a portal and comes back via organic search and finally converts through a direct visit, multi-channel funnels allow you to attribute value to each touchpoint.
It is not easy to use all this data to close the circle and track a student from their initial contact with your institution to walking through the doors of your campus. In my experience, this involves combining data sources and digging deep into data from the marketing channels used and the institution’s student registration system.
Attributing value to converting channels
How you attribute value to converting channels is a matter of personal preference and how well you can measure conversions. Sometimes you’ll only be able to focus on last-click conversions where the last interaction will get all the credit. But the truth is, in many cases, multiple channels contributed to a conversion. It’s only fair to try and attribute value to contributing channels as well.
Over the years, I’ve developed a framework for measuring the ROI of my online marketing campaigns, where I try to use as much data as available. I’m counting the last-click or direct conversions and attribute a value of 50% to contributing conversions. Besides these webmetrics, I look into the leads I receive through a channel and try to match these leads with registration systems. These calculations are flawed: they’re not a 100% accurate, but at least they allow me to benchmark the online marketing channels. In the end, I’ll change my strategy based on these outcomes.
This is a guest article written by Michiel Doetjes, who helps institutions set up, implement and report on results of online marketing campaigns. He has over 10 years of experience in higher education and mainly focuses on online marketing.