Are Vanity Metrics on higher education websites informative or a distraction?

Opinion Piece

“You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you”, Carly Simon.

It’s a rarity that we get to start a blog post with a Carly Simon classic but when opportunity knocks answer the door. And while it seem a little out of left field there’s a genuine and legitimate purpose behind it. We’ve been promoting our 3rd Annual Higher Education Web/Digital Marketing Report for the past week. Some understandings we hoped to garner in relation to digital marketing in higher education were the underlying motivations and success criteria behind web performance i.e. what does success look like.

44% of respondents to our survey stated that the metric their institution most relied on to measure online success was ‘the number of visits to the website’. This is something that shocked us (if we’re being honest). It’s commonly accepted by many marketing practitioners that traffic numbers are merely a vanity metric i.e. they make us feel good about ourselves and we love to share them but they hold very little substance.

To give it context the other metrics identified were: form submissions (31%), social media engagement (10%), time spent on the website (7%), SEO/SEM ranking (3%) and reduced bounce rate at (2%).

But there you have it; 44% stated web traffic is where it’s at - the number one metric of success. And perhaps this is the metric that drives performance or loosens the purse strings for investment or is even a bellwether to institutional success e.g. meeting student recruitment targets. Who are we to argue with numbers?

That said Web Traffic and other similar ‘vanity metrics’ like bounce rate seem hollow to us. Admittedly they’re easy to track and certainly they can indicate a trend and, yes, they’re a very useful indicator of performance. But are they actionable? What can you do with this information? Unlike a conversion or submitted form whereby you have a contact’s name and can start nurturing them through the sales funnel, what can you do with a traffic statistic?

We’re all about conversion and engagement metrics at TERMINALFOUR. They are the basis on which we measure our own marketing performance but also how we try shape our approach to client projects. Preaching to the choir I’m sure but engagement metrics provide a solid understanding of the impact of your web and social presence and the direct influence on your student recruitment activities.

Obviously there is no one size fits all approach and every institution needs to thoughtfully consider the metrics that are meaningful to them and identify the specific data points they should be tracking. These metrics must be considered in the context of their website’s structure and conversion process.

80% Student Recruitment Figure

It’s also worth noting that 80% of respondents stated that student recruitment is the organizational goal that has the most impact on defining the web strategy for their institution. Therefore, thought must be given to ensuring that the performance indicators for your website can be tracked to that goal. 

You can download our full report (for FREE) here.

P.S. We know the song is in your head so have a listen (you know you want to).