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A deep dive into college data

The state of higher ed analytics 2018
University Business, April 2018

Why is digital marketing—so easily measurable—not measured in higher education at the level it is in other industries?

I introduced the Higher Ed Digital Marketing Analytics Roadmap (HEDMAR), a year-long research project on digital measurement practices in my March 2017 UB column. This project was set to change the status quo in our industry by accelerating the adoption of best analytics practices.

By defining and sharing widely the detailed steps of the road to performance measurement for digital marketing, social media and communications, I’ve tried to offer a practical solution to a systemic problem.

A year later, I’m pleased to report that more than 222 busy professionals took this comprehensive, lengthy online assessment.

What the numbers show

The research report will soon be shared with all the study participants, but I’d like to give you an exclusive preview of its top findings.

Since this project was conducted around an assessment—and not a mere survey—of the gap between best and current practices, the study participants all received a final grade computed on a 100-point scale to illustrate the distance completed on the road to digital marketing analytics, the HEDMAR score.

The distribution of these resulting scores is a great tool to visualize the digital marketing analytics maturity of the industry.

With 77 percent of participants scoring under 50 on the HEDMAR scale, the need for improvement across the industry couldn’t be clearer. Yet, the 14 percent of participants scoring between 55 and 80 prove that higher levels of analytics maturity are possible in higher education.

The majority of schools are still far behind, but this is attainable.

The real problem

A deeper look into the numbers shows the biggest stumbling block to digital marketing performance measurement isn’t actually a data problem. The root of the issue is at the strategic level.

While 64 percent of participants report they have defined unit strategic goals aligned with institutional goals, only half of them have attached a success metric to each of these high-level goals. Measurement isn’t more integrated further down in the marketing process.

Almost 57 percent report having defined a tactical plan of action, but only half of those have selected a key performance indicator (KPI) to evaluate what is done at the operational level. Fortunately, access to data isn’t a big concern for the HEDMAR research participants.

Yet 64 percent haven’t done their preliminary—and necessary—homework of mapping every KPI to its data source. This step isn’t terribly complicated or time-consuming, so closing this gap should be easy.

If access to data sources is a prerequisite to any measurement process, then tagging (adding identifying strings of code to call-to-action web links) is key to tracking the outcomes of any digital marketing campaign.

When it comes to tagging, the tools are in place for most—almost 52 percent of the participants have Google Tag Manager (GTM) installed. Yet, only 30 percent use GTM to automate tagging on their website—such a missed opportunity for the rest.

Moreover, only 15 percent have a unified tagging process in place to tag every CTA link they use.

When more than 68 percent of digital marketers can’t rely on a systematic process to keep track of their campaigns, it’s impossible for measurement to take its rightful place in digital marketing.

But when more than one-quarter of the study participants report that they don’t tag anything, it’s time to wake up, stop focusing on content or campaigns for a minute and start talking strategy.

The good news is that the main roadblocks to digital marketing measurement in higher education are not hard capacity problems.

The lack of time and basic expertise is what’s preventing campus teams from setting up processes to measure and improve the performance of digital marketing, communications or social media in higher education. 


Karine Joly is the web editor behind www.collegewebeditor.com, a blog about higher ed web marketing, public relations and technologies. She is also the founder of www.higheredexperts.com.