The key metrics & marketing tech stack you need to measure success in higher ed. The key metrics & marketing tech stack you need to measure success in higher ed.

For higher ed. institutions, knowing the best digital marketing data to track is ambiguous and ever-changing. With so many stakeholders and campaigns, it’s daunting and tricky to know what to track, how to track it — and how to make sense of what you find.

But if your institution captures the wrong stats, you’re sure to end up with data that’s messy and unreliable. And if that’s the case, how can you properly prove your ROI? How will you know what strategies to tweak? 

The truth is, tracking the success of your digital efforts and setting achievable goals requires a purposeful and cohesive approach. This means defining your key performance indicators (KPIs), measuring them for each stakeholder group, and gleaning insights to guide your decision making.  

If you’re mixed up about metrics or stumped about statistics, don’t worry. It’s well within your reach to identify the metrics that matter and distill the just-right information into something that makes sense. 

As you gather the proper data and shoot for the right goals, your stakeholders’ actions will be easier to predict and understand. And you’ll be able to create targeted campaigns that work.

How to define KPIs for your higher ed. institution

The solution to a targeted data tracking approach starts with your KPI definitions and management at the strategic and tactical planning level. 

Your first step will be defining your diverse stakeholder groups (prospective students, prospective faculty, donors, alumni, and so on). 

From there, map out the funnel for each of them to pair the right moment with the right message and channel mix. Following this process, KPIs can be defined for each area of the funnel.

We’ll show you an example. Say you’re looking at your prospective student stakeholders. These individuals may go through the following stages of the funnel: 

  1. Unaware (Top of the funnel, higher-level metrics look like new followers on Instagram or YouTube views on your latest ad campaign video.)

  2. Aware (Still top of the funnel, with similar higher-level metrics, but looking at how many likes you’re getting or the impressions on your ad video.)

  3. Considering (Middle of the funnel, metrics look like inquiries into admissions information.)

  4. Deciding (Middle and bottom of the funnel, more granular metrics that look like inquiries into faculties, programs, and enrolment.)

  5. Advocating (Bottom of the funnel, metrics look like measuring the number of recipients on your newsletter list or how many alumni attend alumni events.)

To further refine what you’re tracking at each stage of the funnel and why, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What moment are your stakeholders in?
  • What is the goal of each funnel stage?
  • What platform(s) are you using to reach them, in each stage? (For example, Gen Z is all about TikTok while Gen X is more likely on LinkedIn)
  • What content is being shared during each stage? (For example, are you sharing about campus life, student’s research stories, or cool faculty news?)
  • What content can you create to get them from one stage to the next?

Congrats, now that you’ve determined what you’re going to measure, you get to move on to the how.

Establishing a foolproof KPI tracking and analyzing process.

You have your KPI roadmap lined out. Next is putting your plan into action by putting the proper tools and processes in place. Skip this step and you won’t accurately capture the data your institution is looking for. 

Here are the key elements you need to consider. 

How are you gathering and compiling the data?

Between your institution’s social media platforms, your website, email, CRM, and marketing automation tools, you’re going to have a lot of data to manage. Therefore, you have to map out how you’re going to collect the data from all of those platforms in a way that actually allows you to make decisions. Usually, that hub is Google Analytics, where you feed all of your ads and any organic activity into. More on that later.

When will you have enough data to review? 

You want to make sure that you’re making decisions based on statistically significant data. If there were only 50 clicks that came through on a campaign, that wouldn’t be enough data to say what’s working and what’s not. Set a cadence for reporting (and therefore for decision making) that allows you to be confident in the data that you’re using.

What are the key findings, and how do your insights alter your approach?

Your data is useless unless you pull insights out of it. So, what are you finding out, and how will it affect your strategy going forward? How does this impact the original strategy that you mapped out to accomplish your goals? And then, how do you implement those changes?

The ultimate tech stack for measuring your higher ed. institution’s KPIs.

Building robust and lasting metric tracking is nothing without the right tech. Getting set up with the right software platforms makes it easier. If you don’t know where to turn to integrate all your programs and software together, an agency can be a good resource to guide you.

From need-to-haves to nice-to-haves, here are ED’s recommendations on the tech services and software to include in your institution’s marketing tech stack.

Need-to-haves (if you don’t have these now, get them) 

  • Ad channels (Google Ads, programmatic, paid social). These tools allow you to expand your reach to those who haven’t heard of you yet through paid media ads.

  • Organic social media (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube). Each stakeholder group is active on some, or many, of these channels. Using these channels is a direct way for your institution to build connections and relationships.

  • Content management system (CMS for short. Drupal, WordPress, Sitecore). This tool runs your website. It’s where all your website’s content is uploaded, organized, and stored.

  • Email marketing tool (Mailchimp, SendInBlue, HubSpot). Create, send, test, optimize, and report on your email campaigns with this tool.

  • Relationship management software or donor management software (Salesforce, Raiser’s Edge). Learn where your stakeholders started engaging with your institution, where are they at in their journey to converting. 

  • Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager Essential for tracking your web traffic, impressions on videos and social media posts, and measuring your ROI.

  • SEO technical website tool (SEMRush, GT Metrix, Screaming Frog). People can’t find your institution if it doesn’t rank well on Google. That’s why you need to measure the SEO quality of your content. These tools allow you to identify keywords, as well as any potentially detrimental tech setups that impact page load time, and more.

Nice to have (if you can swing it, add these to your stack)

  • Inbound marketing software (HubSpot, Active Campaign). Track your leads and organize them into lists to target with these tools.

  • Text messaging tool – (Twilio) Because it’s important to communicate to your stakeholder group in the way they want to be communicated with, a text messaging tool may be a lifesaver. Because, you know, Gen Z.

  • Dashboard software (Databox, Google Data Studio). Oh, to be able to view all your various programs’ data in one central location. These tools do! Customize with KPIs, connect software, and have your data automatically pulled with this software.

  • Landing page software (Unbounce, Instapage). With these tools, you’re able to build single web pages outside your actual website. Think: new campaign, new corresponding website. Just make sure your friends in IT approve.

  • Heat mapping and click mapping software (HotJar, Smartlook) If you really want to get in your stakeholder’s head, use this tool that gives you direct insight into their sessions. Where do they get tripped up in the user experience? Where do they scroll?

Today’s digital landscape is fractured and disjointed. But your institution’s KPI measurement and implementation don’t have to be. 

Develop a KPI roadmap and learn from what you find. When you let the data drive your decision making, you’ll never look back.

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