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Getting our ducks in a row: How a Web Analytics Strategy can help

Understanding user needs and behaviours is a key component to the success of modern digital services. Having the appropriate data and insight at the right time, can trigger an individual or a team to take action to improve the digital experience, and thereferore support a successful organisation realise its strategic targets. With that in mind, as well as our experiences with our highly devolved and mostly disconnected web estate, we have kicked off a project to develop a University-wide Web Analytics Strategy earlier in the year.

Web analytics is a term that captures all the aspects required to gather data to understand and optimize web usage. This includes measurement, collection, analysis and reporting, amongst others. We can regard web analytics not just as a process for measuring web traffic, but as a business and market research tool which supports assessing and improving website effectiveness. Web analytics are part of a full function that covers gathering data, which help understand usage trends and inform setting appropriate goals to take action, which can then be monitored, gathering new data, and thus supporting a continuous improvement model.

The purpose of the strategy

The goals that were set for the development of this strategy were:

  • Identify the risks and costs of not having a defined strategy..
  • Provide recommendations to mitigate and address these risks.
  • Outline the resource requirements, and costs, to implement, support and deliver the strategy and its targets.
  • Draw an action plan.

The aim of a well-defined and well implemented strategy, is for the University to become a better place to:

  • Self-serve on its digital, web and marketing objectives.
  • Align business objectives to individual campaigns.
  • Further enhance the reach and engagement of the web services with existing and prospective students.

The impact, and lack, of analytics is significant

During the development of the strategy itself, which included desk research and engagement with more than 30 stakeholders representing various functions of the University, several risks were identified. These were, mostly, caused by our highly devolved web estate and its lack of governance. The main recognised themes that a strategy should adress were:

  • Legislative and regulatory compliance
  • Governance and ownership
  • Skills and expertise
  • Trust in data
  • Environmental sustainability

More importantly, though, with the lack of a coherent approach for web analytics there is a significant, and growing, impact in understanding our users’ behaviour across our platforms. The lack of detailed understanding of how key groups, such as prospective students, navigate through our web estate, and which are their interaction points is preventing us from prioritising appropriate actions to improve their journeys. The migration to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) has escalated this issue. This new platform is extremely complex and aimed to be used by highly trained professionals with dedicated roles, with the ability to configure and apply such a powerful tool across an organisations’ web estate, or at least its high-impact components. Not having a governed, managed approach for analytics in any organisation, let alone in one as complex as our University, not only leads to the lack of necessary understanding of our users, but eventually in a constantly degrading digital experiences which affects all of our audiences, and foremost our existing and prospective students.

Web analytics strategic plan

Based on the findings of the research, and taking in consideration the strategic objectives of the University, as expressed in its Strategy 2030, the Digital Strategy (University login required) and the Web Strategy Programme, there are four areas which require our focus and effort:

Establish strong governance

We need to agree clear web estate ownership, which will apply to web analytics, and align governance, strategy, tactical projects under a single vision. A maturity plan needs to be developed, having clear goals and supporting continuous improvement models.

Measure the right things

We should identify and develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which reflect our strategic objectives. Furthermore, define custom objectives that reflect departmental targets. As part of those targets, we should consider measuring the environmental impact of our data and content.

Get the right tools

We need to understand the University’s analytics requirements and, based on a set of defined criteria, to research and assess analytics platforms, and select the one that will be appropriate in the long term. This should be used to develop dashboards covering end-to-end user journeys, measuring agreed KPIs, and triggering meaningful action to optimise the digital experience of our audiences.

Build the right skills

Our web publishing, marketing and service management communities require support to improve their skills. This will be achieved by training, and publication of relevant documentation, guidance and best practice. To further support our analytics’ capabilities, additional resource by either recruitment or bringing external expertise, will be required, too.

Making the strategy real (and how you can help us)

The development of this strategy has helped escalate the core role and significant impact of web analytics in delivering successful digital services nowadays. We will be following up with actions related to centrally-provided services, and promoting the need for a more significant programme of work that aligns with the goals of the strategy.

If you are a member of the University, you can read the full strategy document and review a presentation from the November Web Publishing Community event.

University of Edinburgh Web Analytics Strategy (University Login Required)

Web Publishing Community November 2023 – Web Analytics Strategy presentation recording (University Login Required)

If it’s of interest to you, please get in contact to discuss.

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