Using website analytics to understand prospective undergraduate student’s behaviour
I have been supporting the team’s current website content auditing activity by looking at corresponding website analytics. In this post I will share some early insight trends and what I’m seeing in terms of website management behaviour that impacts what we can learn from website analytics.
The team is currently auditing the University’s online provision for prospective undergraduate students as part of our research to steer the transformation of the degree finder and associated websites.
I looked at a selection of school websites, focusing on the provision for prospective undergraduates and how the demand for this content corresponded to provision within the undergraduate degree finder.
The schools and subject areas I looked at were:
- Biomedical Sciences
- Edinburgh College of Art
- Social work
- Veterinary medicine
While the aim of the content audit is to better understand where content provision at school level is unique or a repetition of what students can get from the degree finder, I wanted to learn how students were using these two sources of information.
Nicole Tweedie has written a summary of what colleagues uncovered through the content audit process.
I used Google Analytics to determine trends in user behaviour and to understand the demand for UG study content in the central UG study site, including the UG degree finder, and the audited school sites.
For this, I looked at the traffic coming to the audited websites over the 2020/21 academic cycle and made comparisons between schools and the central website.
What did we learn?
- As is always the case, all sites display a long neck. That is, a relatively small proportion of pages get the most traffic while the majority get relatively few views.
(Learn more about long necks in Neil’s previous blog)
- On most home pages, the order or priority of the homepage panels and the main navigation menu do not reflect the demand for content of the website
- The degree finder programmes account for 35% of page views within the undergraduate study website. After that, the three most popular pages, by percentage of visits are:
- entry requirements (5.4%)
- how to apply (5.4%)
- fees and funding (2.4%)
- The most popular pages in the undergraduate study website correspond to what we know about undergraduates’ top tasks and what we see in terms of enquiry trends.
- Some school sites have an emphasis on student and staff profiles, and these get a lot of engagement.
- For example, in Engineering this accounts for about 30% of both pages and views.
- Prospective postgraduate student content (taught and research programmes) was more popular than prospective undergraduate student content in both the study pages (30% more views) and the degree finder (80% more views).
- Prospective postgraduate student content was more popular than prospective undergraduate content at school level
- on average, postgraduate content got 13% more views than undergraduate content
- the Edinburgh Medical School, History, Classics and Archaeology, and Edinburgh College of Art were exceptions to this trend
- Demand for content between the degree finder and the school sites is not consistent.
- For example, the Medicine degree (MBChB) home page in the Edinburgh Medical School website had 1.5 times more visits than the same programme in the degree finder, while the Architecture – BA/MA home page in the Edinburgh College of Art website got 13 times fewer visits than its equivalent in the degree finder.
Some website management practices across the University cause problems for a performance analyst trying to provide insight into user behaviour.
During the course of this work, I came across two significant ones:
- URL redirects: Page filters in Google Analytics can be useful to segment the information we want to analyse but if the URL has a redirect, the resulting report will not include the redirected pages, making the report inaccurate and sometimes useless. I came across this issue when copying a URL from a navigation bar, not realising it had a redirect on it and only noticed when the report came up empty. But if the redirect is recent, you will still get information from the earlier URL and might not realise you are missing information. While this may not be a big issue for a single report, it becomes a problem when dealing with multiple reports and the creation and management of automated/live reports.
- What you should do as a web publisher: Only use URL redirects on critical pages, and for a limited period of time when you restructure your site. Set a date to remove them, based on what you know about user behaviour. For example, changes to prospective student content should not have URL redirects in place once the next recruitment cycle begins. When you plan a restructure of your content, be mindful that changes are going to upset your ability to gather user insight, so only make changes that are essential.
- Site hierarchy: If your site doesn’t use a logical and consistent URL hierarchy (in many ways, like a nested folder structure) the work involved in getting anything meaningful from your website analytics increases considerably. This largely is only an issue for web publishers using systems other than EdWeb, but even in EdWeb it is possible to build unintuitive structures and have pages sitting outside of a hierarchy. A coherent navigation system isn’t just good for your website users, it’s also good for the person analysing your website usage data.
- What you should do as a web publisher: Keep in mind what you want to learn from website analytics as you plan your website. Regular monitoring of analytics should be part of every web publisher’s responsibility so make it as easy as possible for yourself to get useful data out of Google Analytics with the least amount of effort.
Tell me about your use of analytics
I’d love to hear what you thought of this post, and how you use Google Analytics to inform your web publishing practices. Get in touch or leave a comment if you have any questions.