Avinash Kaushik on Higher Ed Websites and Web Analytics

October 28th, 2010 Karine Joly 14 Comments

Avinash Kaushik, THE expert in Web Analytics, gave the opening keynote at the SIM Tech Conference last week (Oct. 21st, 2010) in Las Vegas, NV.

Avinash Kaushik at SIM Tech 2010 - Photo by Michael Fienen

Avinash Kaushik at the SIM Tech 2010 Conference Photo by Michael Fienen

It’s not often that you get a chance to listen to one of the best minds in Web Analytics trying to help higher ed institutions stop making faith-based marketing decisions and switch to a more data-driven approach.

And, it was a real treat (pretty nerve-racking as well as I was scheduled to present about the Higher Ed Analytics Revolution just after his session – and he sat in the back of the room during the whole presentation we gave with Shelby Thayer).

Later at lunch, when I asked Avinash if he would answer a couple of questions via email to share some of his insights with folks who could not attend SIM Tech, he agreed right away. He actually got back to me in less than 8 hours after I emailed my questions a couple of days later.

So here’s your treat: an opportunity to hear the truth about the State of Higher Ed Websites from the Master of Web Analytics with this short interview of Avinash Kaushik.

1) Avinash, in preparation of your SIM Tech 2010 keynote you reviewed many higher ed websites. So, how is higher education doing when it comes to websites? What did strike you?

I hate to admit this but it was mostly heartbreaking. I went to at least 50 websites of education institutions ranging from the really large universities to small private colleges to truly niche outsiders. Even a cursory review would indicated that most websites engage in this type of online marketing:

1. Shout Marketing. “We don’t care what you want or consider any signals of relevance you might provide, we’ll just shout at you about what we want to “pimp”.

2. Offline Marketing. “We know how to print glossy brochures, and look how cool it is that now we can put all that online exactly as we did in the offline world.”

3. Unimaginative Marketing. “Our site was created in 1990 as soon as the web got cool. We are really working hard to figure out what has changed since then. Meanwhile here’s our 1990 site with the addition of Follow On Twitter & Facebook buttons.”

Sad right?

Let me hasten to add that lots of non-education websites do the above type of marketing, many Fortune 500 websites are still that sad.

But higher ed is where everything cool and now and imaginative and killing of the lame happens. That made the sites by universities so heart breaking.

We need a fresh infusion of people who truly get online marketing. We need a fresh infusion of people who understand the agility and awesomeness of the web. We need a fresh infusion of people who understand how to use data on higher ed sites to experiment, execute and fail faster.

2) You gave great insights and tips to the conference attendees on how to use Web Analytics 2.0 to improve their websites. Can you share your most important point for those who were not in attendance?

My singular hope was for the attendees to understand that Web Analytics is not simply analyzing clickstream data spewing out of Google Analytics / Omniture / WebTrends etc. Web Analytics means understanding the What, How Much, Why and What Else.

All that translates into an obsession with identifying Macro & Micro Conversions and computing Economic Value (yes even for Higher Ed sites!!). It means listening to the prospective students and website users by being agile and nimble in using Surveys, Online Usability, Testing and doing so at scale (UCD and HCI are integral to Web Analytics 2.0!).

And all this does not have to be hard.

Avinash Kaushik at the SIM Tech 2010 Conference   Photo by Michael Fienen

Avinash Kaushik at the SIM Tech 2010 Conference Photo by Michael Fienen

Every tool you could ever want to have, from clickstream to mobile analytics to testing to surveys, can be had for free or cheap. See: Best Web Analytics 2.0 Tools.

You don’t have to do all of it overnight. You execute in small steps and in a particular order of priority (see above post). Baby steps. Lovely amazing exciting baby steps.

And you can start fixing things today. It takes less than a day to identify your top landing pages with high bounce rates, or ensure you know how horrible your internal site search engine is (takes 5 mins to configure Analytics to get that data), or start tracking three key goals, or type some of your top queries into Bing and Google related to your higher education institution and see how good or stinky your customer experience is (pull some of your hair out, it is ok).

Start today. Start small. Fix things.

Rinse & Repeat.